Now that the thunder-clap clatter has eased to a murmur, what are the lessons learned from L’Affaire Rainbow?
Well, we learned that the Philadelphia Flyers stand by their Russian Orthodox employees, because rearguard Ivan Provorov received not so much as a mild tsk-tsk for skipping out on a pregame warmup last Tuesday night.
While his playmates adorned themselves in rainbow-colored garments and wrapped the blades of their hockey sticks in rainbow-colored tape to signal support for the LGBT(etc.) community on Pride Night, Provorov remained in the Flyers changing room, alone in his gay-is-sin thoughts as his playmates participated in the 15-minute frolic.
Provorov later cited his old-time religion as the reason for his refusal to play Mr. Dressup, telling news snoops: “I respect everybody, I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
Oddly enough (but probably not surprising), the Russian Orthodox rearguard refused to elaborate on his choice of religion over rainbow, perhaps because further discussion might have been a bit dodgy, if not prickly. News snoops might have asked Provorov about Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus’, a man who believes a) his buddy Vlad (The Bad) Putin is a “miracle of God,” b) the Russian invasion of Ukraine is necessary to prevent an eastern-advancing scourge of gay Pride parades, and c) same-sex marriage is “a sin” and similar to “apartheid in Africa or Nazi laws.” Apparently, those are talking points Provorov would rather avoid.
Whatever, his true-to-religion soundbite was sufficient for Philly head coach, John Tortorella (“Provy did nothing wrong”), the organization (“The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity”) and the National Hockey League (“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support”). In other words, nothing to see here, kids.
So that’s another lesson learned: If an NHL player wishes to opt out of a team theme night (Pride, Military, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous, etc.), he need only dust off religious dogma to avoid the sin bin, and we have to assume that’s all-inclusive, meaning it’s an easy out available not only to Russian Orthodox but also Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. (I suppose an atheist would have to come up with a different angle, but I don’t know.)
L’Affaire Rainbow also reminded us that news snoops are quick to rally and kick up a mighty fuss, yet they’re just as lickety-split in finding a new toy to chew on.
I mean, opinionists hither and yon spent three days in full and loud yowl, most of them pooh-poohing Provorov and suggesting an appropriate level of punishment, like deportation to the bosom of Mother Russia or listening to Barry Manilow music 24/7. I swear, we haven’t heard the jock journo machine rage like this since two of its heroes, Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, pledged unwavering devotion to Donald Trump.
Yet, today, mention of Provorov’s work clothing is scant and has been pushed to the back pages of sports sections and the back half of news programs.
But here’s what the scribes and talking heads are ignoring: How many Ivan Provorovs are in the NHL? One per team? Two? Five? Surely he isn’t a lone wolf.
The jock journos decline to pursue the issue for one basic reason: They aren’t gay. Thus they can’t relate and don’t care. They’ve delivered a good and proper bawling out to Provorov, positioning themselves as LGBT(etc.) allies, so they harbor no compulsion for a deep dive into the matter.
Similarly, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wants no portion of any anti-gay discussion, unless it provides him an opportunity to apply a coating of sugar.
“When you look at all of our players and the commitments that they’ve made to social causes and to making our game welcoming and inclusive, let’s focus on the 700 that embrace it and not one or two that may have some issues for their own personal reasons,” he told news snoops the other day.
Sure, Gary, and let’s focus on all the banks Bonnie and Clyde didn’t rob.
Perhaps some reminders would be appropriate right about now…
In January 2014, TSN ran a three-part documentary, RE/ORIENTATION, which attempted to pry the lid off the issue of gays in hockey.
“We struggled to get participation from players,” said series host Aaron Ward, a former NHL defenceman and TSN talking head. “Over a nine-month period, we reached out to 12 different National Hockey League teams. (We) could not get co-operation. It was a struggle to get guys to sit down and be comfortable and honest in front of a camera. Obviously, it’s easy to sit down and read words for a PSA, but it’s another thing to sit down and be honest and in-depth and be clear about how we feel about this process and this issue. It’s almost a barometer of where we are today.”
Nine months. Twelve teams. That’s more than 200 players. And only three—Andrew Ference, Ben Scrivens and Dustin Brown—agreed to a formal, on-the-record natter. None of the three are in the NHL today.
Last month, Hockey Canada revealed results of a study into incidents of on-ice discrimination across all levels and age groups during the 2021-22 season. There were 512 penalties called, 61 per cent involving sexual orientation or gender. Males accounted for 99 per cent of the fouls.
Some of those male shinny scofflaws might grow up to perform in the NHL, which, with its shoulder shrug in L’Affaire Rainbow, has given players the official okey-dokey to go rogue and show the LGBT(etc.) collective, or any marginalized group of their choice, the cold shoulder. They can be just like Ivan Provorov. All they need do is flash a rosary or spew the Lord’s Prayer, then wait out the brief media storm.
This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.
It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.
It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:
I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.
I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.
I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.
I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.
I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.
I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.
I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.
I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.
I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Don Baizley, Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.
I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.
I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”
I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.
I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.
I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.
I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.
I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.
I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.
I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.
I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.
I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!
I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.
I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.
I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.
I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.
The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.
A return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…
Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.
It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.
Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.
And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.
Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.
One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.
Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.
Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.
He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-
beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”
Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.
Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?
But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.
Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.
“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”
Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.
It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.
Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.
Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.
Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.
Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.
Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.
Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.
The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.
I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.
One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.
Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.
Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.
Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!
Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)
Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.
Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.
That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.
Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.
Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.
As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.
Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.
Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.
Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.
Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.
The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.
Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”
Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”
Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.
Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.
The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.
Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.
I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.
So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.
Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.
And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you might want to socially distance yourself from this…
There are times when it’s difficult to know where to begin, but experience has taught me that the beginning is a good place to start.
So, in the beginning…
I initially noticed the hue of skin at age five, perhaps six, when the family had gathered for dinner one night on Melbourne Avenue in Winnipeg. There, at one corner of the table nearest my mom, sat Delbert Wagner, local jazz musician. I stared, studying him hard, like I would a freshly opened pack of Topps baseball cards.
“Is something wrong?” my mother asked, observing my fixation with our guest and perhaps thinking there was something about Delbert’s table manners that I didn’t appreciate.
“He’s a Black man,” I said, pointing. “He’s not the same color as us.”
The three adults in attendance tittered, and I made no conscious decision to accept or reject Delbert’s blackness because I was unaware that skin tone might be a matter for disagreement.
Similarly, when treated to a Saturday night out at Haynes Chicken Shack on Lulu Street, I would notice the mixture of black and white faces and think nothing of it, except to acknowledge that there were more black faces than I was accustomed to seeing. In the main, my consideration went to the musicians, who were wonderful, and it was cool when one of the owners/performers, Percy and Zena Haynes (Delbert’s step-father and mother), would work the room and join us at our table for a brief time. I likened it to a visit from Nat King Cole or Ella.
Those were my first inter-racial inter-actions, and I’m happy to report that they leaned heavily toward extremely pleasurable.
The sporting and/ or entertainment heroes of my youth, meanwhile, were an interesting collection: The elegant Wilma Rudolph, a Black woman, was the athlete I most admired; Sandy Koufax, a Jewish man, was my favorite baseball player; Floyd Patterson, a Black Catholic, was my fave boxer until Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, a Muslim; my favorite singers were Barbra Streisand, a Jew, and Frank Sinatra, a mobster; my favorite actor was Sophia Loren, an Italian.
It never occurred to me that I shouldn’t like any or all of them simply because of skin hue, choice of temple, circle of friends, or place of birth.
So you’ll have to excuse me if I fail to comprehend why anyone would stoop to the verbal and/or literal boot-stomping of Black people. I didn’t understand it in the 1950s and ’60s, when fire hoses and German Shepherd dogs were among the tools used to subdue peaceful marchers, and I don’t get it now.
I give ponder to this matter because of the great group howl that has dominated the conversation pit ever since a rogue cop executed George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis-St. Paul in late May.
Sports organizations and athletes who’ve never used their voices (hello, National Hockey League players) now raise them in a new-born awareness of racial inequity. Their chorus has invited praise. But also skepticism. That is, some wonder if there’s universal sincerity in the squawk against racism, or is the high, angered pitch a product of too many athletes with an inordinate amount of free time on their hands?
The hope, of course, is that it’s meaningful natter destined to bear fruit, but the fear is that it’ll disappear like summer wages.
In the meantime, allow me to squeeze an alternative thought into the main holler about racism and direct your attention to the real scourge of boys’ and men’s sports, particularly hockey—sexism/misogyny and homophobia.
The Greater Toronto Hockey League was bullied into releasing some interesting data the other day, numbers that break down misconduct penalties assessed in the past three seasons. In 2019-20, gender/sexism-related infractions numbered 172. Racism? Five. Yup, 172-5. Do the math. That’s 34 times as many.
I’d like to tell you I’m surprised, but I’m not. The go-to slurs, on-ice and in hockey changing rooms, are sexist or anti-gay. It’s an ugly segment of the culture, older than the back of Aurele Joliat’s head. Most disturbing is that it still holds grip at today’s grassroots level, where kids continue to recite a lesson learned from fathers, uncles and older brothers—women are lesser-thans.
Ditto gays. Homophobia is so embedded in hockey that there’s never been an openly gay player in the NHL. Not ever. In more than 100 years. There have been 60-plus Black players, but zero gays have felt comfortable enough to come out. Before or after their tour of duty.
The GTHL numbers tell us that sexism/gender and homophobia are far greater worry points than racism, and I’d suggest you’d find similar results anywhere in Canada.
And here’s a troubling notion: Those kids are our leaders of tomorrow.
At first blush, the GTHL figures don’t seem so disturbing, not when you consider we’re talking about 40,000 kids and 14,000 games per season. But then you contemplate a sound bite from GTHL executive director Scott Oakman: “I don’t think it’s a measure of the real life experiences players have in our league. We’ve heard, over the last week or so, lived experiences of players that were undetected by officials.” So what do we do, multiply the incidents by 10? By 100? Do I hear 1,000? It’s scary stuff.
I should point out that the women/gays-as-lesser-thans is strictly a male sports thing. Women’s pro hockey and Olympic rosters have featured lesbian and transgender players. Women’s National Basketball Association rosters include numerous lesbians, some of whom are married. Tennis, golf…many gay women. And, of course, there’s soccer and it’s Women’s World Cup where, according to Yankee Doodle Damsel lesbian Megan Rapinoe, “You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.” So when will male sports organizations and athletes join the 21st century?
When I called up the Sportsnet website early Saturday morning, there were 10 items on racism. TSN had five on its main page. The Athletic had five. Be interesting to note the numbers a month from now.
Wow, that was some kind of big news from the good ol’ boys in NASCAR—no one is allowed to fly or display the Confederate flag on race day anymore. Most fans actually took the news in stride, but rioting broke out when they were told they also had to put their teeth in.
Excuse me? Did I just stereotype U.S. Southerners? My apologies. I was actually talking about Saskatchewan Roughriders fans.
It looks like scribes who follow the National Basketball Association might be required to live in quarantine at Disney World for 3½ months. No big deal. Most of them are too big for the rides anyway.
I tried watching some of the Charles Schwab Challenge from the Colonial in Fort Worth on Saturday, but it wasn’t working for me. I prefer spectator sports.
So, the NHL’s disgraced and outcast misogynist Brendan Leipsic has apparently found work in Russia. Finally, something the rest of us saw coming before the Houston Astros.
Here’s what’s on my in-isolation book shelf this week…
It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Lady with Three Chins Sings: The Collected Sayings of Yogi Berra (Politically Correct Edition).
Gone with the Blowhard: How Humpty Harold Ballard Huffed and Puffed and Turned the Maple Leafs from Champs to Chumps.
Left Turns & Whistling Dixie: The Illustrated History of NASCAR.
My Pants were On Fire and Your Nose was Growing: Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa Finally Tell the Truth About Their Juiced-Up Home Run Race of 1998.
Hell,Yes, There’s Crying in Baseball: What Every Cleveland Indians Fan Needs to Know.
What’s this? Could it be that there’s an awakening in the world of women’s hockey? Appears to be so. Whereas members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association once took delight in trash talking the National Women’s Hockey League and its “beer league” product, the Dream Gappers are suddenly playing nice “What we forget about along the way is any opportunity in women’s sport right now is a good one,” says Kristen Richards, who opted to align with the PWHPA rather than join the NWHL. “Why are we women forced to say that we only deserve one league after all of this?” And here’s Jayna Hefford, main mouthpiece for the Dream Gappers: “When you look at men’s hockey, everybody knows the best players play in the NHL. It doesn’t seem confusing on the men’s side that there’s multiple professional leagues. To put it in laymen’s terms, there’s McDonald’s and there’s Burger King. They do the exact same thing. Are they pressured to be one company?” Could be that it’s just window dressing and the Dream Gappers are still as catty as ever, but I prefer to think they’ve grown some.
Here’s something only a scribe from the Republic of Tranna would write, re the Tranna Jurassics winning the NBA title a year ago: “That life-altering feeling may never go away, even now as we struggle through some of the largest challenges of our lives,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tells us. Say what? “Life-altering?” Good grief. COVID-19 is “life-altering.” The other thing is a basketball game. Get a grip, man.
Simmons also had this to say in his weekly alphabet fart that appears in many Postmedia papers: “We need to do more in this country to make sports accessible and available and cool enough for young women to participate.” Right. That coming from a guy who once said, “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” He also called women’s hockey at the Olympic Games “a charade.” When the discussion is female sports, it’s best if Simmons just sits it out.
And, finally, I’ve been watching a lot of Seinfeld lately, and I must say that those four main characters are quite unpleasant people. George Costanza, in particular, is among the smarmiest, most annoying people on TV, yet despite that and his lack of physical attractiveness, most of his girlfriends are babes. I don’t know about you, but most women I know wouldn’t date George Costanza on a dare, especially if it meant spending any time with his parents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
A Monday smorgas-bored…and farewell to September; we hardly knew ye…
There’s a ring of truth to the insulting mantra “no one wants to go to Winnipeg,” although it has nothing to do with wonky wifi and it doesn’t exactly make Good Ol’ Hometown unique.
I mean, I haven’t noticed a squadron of high-profile free agent jocks galloping to Edmonton or Ottawa, and the mighty Republic of Tranna is such a desired destination that Kawhi Leonard hopped on the first stagecoach out of Dodge, despite the deity status bestowed upon him by the rabble and his rapper groupie.
Oh, sure, the Tranna Maple Leafs landed John Tavares last year, and that was a good get. But it was more about pajamas and bed linen than The ROT being hockey heaven, and I’m guessing that if little Johnny had tucked himself under a San Jose blankie as a sprig he’d be a Shark today.
So, there are a myriad of reasons why jocks do and don’t want to work in specific locales and, as much as River City is often cited as a no-play zone, it’s important to remember that the most significant free-agent signing in hockey history occurred at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. That’s where Robert Marvin Hull became Clarence Campbell’s worst nightmare, by fleeing the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League for an upstart operation flying by the seat of its pants and propped up by overextended credit cards.
I’ve often wondered what Hull truly felt about Good Ol’ Hometown, because he was slick in front of microphones and notepads and always gave the rabble what they wanted to hear. Fact is, though, the Winnipeg Jets lured the NHL’s main glam guy (give or take Bobby Orr) to the World Hockey Association in 1972, and he stuck around for six of our cold, harsh winters, only leaving because he had heavy off-ice issues and he didn’t appreciate John Ferguson’s bedside manner.
It’s dreaming in technicolor to think that the present-day Jets would ever land a fish the size of Hull (fresh from his fifth 50-goal season when he arrived at Portage and Main) because an armpit-of-the-NHL stigma exists.
But is Good Ol’ Hometown really an armpit?
Well, Evander Kane certainly thought so. He began looking for an escape route the moment he arrived with the Atlanta caravan in 2011 and, over time, he decided that any hostility he felt from the rabble was all about the color of his skin and not his inability to produce 30-goal seasons.
We all know Jacob Trouba wanted out, and it doesn’t matter if you buy his reasons or not. He’s gone.
Even the great Dale Hawerchuk got itchy feet, although it had nothing to do with locale. He simply grew weary of GM Mikhail Smith’s hair-brained, make-work-for-Russians scheme, also the naysaying of news snoops, so Ducky begged for a new postal/zip code.
Basically, though, once the lads spend a proper amount of time in the city, Good Ol’ Hometown becomes much like Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me. Right now, you like me.”
Evidence of that can be found in the recent signings of Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor. If Winnipeg is such a hellhole, why would they choose to lock in for eight and seven years, respectively, rather than vamoose at the earliest opportunity?
Why would any of the Jets? But they do. Here’s what they’ve reupped for:
Josh Morrissey: 8 years.
Rink Rat Scheifele: 8 years.
Kyle Connor: 7 years.
Twig Ehlers: 7 years.
Connor Hellebuyck: 6 years.
Blake Wheeler: 5 years.
Bryan Little: 5 years.
Dustin Byfuglien: 5 years.
Really, the only core players Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff haven’t locked down for the long haul are Patrik Laine, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, but that appears to be more about salary cap restraints than River City.
So, like I said, there’s a ring of truth to the “no one wants to go to Winnipeg” mantra, but it’s also true that those who land on the frozen tundra tend to like the lay of the land.
Now that all the boys are back on board, perhaps someone at the Drab Slab can tell us once again how the Jets dressing room was/is “rotten to the core.” As if. Chevy, Connor and Puck Finn had gab sessions with news snoops Monday morning, and it was a 1960s love-in:
Chevy: “Signing (Connor, Laine) is a high point, and signing Josh to the contract he did really shows the commitments that these players have and the belief that they have in this room.”
Connor: “I couldn’t be more excited to join this team. Long term was definitely my preference, wanted to be here, love this team.”
Laine: “Super excited and happy to be here. My summer’s way too long.”
Asked if someone had to squirt a bit of air freshener in the dressing room, Laine added, “I don’t think so. I’m happy to be here and I think everybody seems to be happy that I’m here, so that’s it. New season…it’s awesome to be here, see my teammates, coaches, staff, everybody, you guys…ya, right.”
And this is what Morrissey had to say after agreeing to his new contract at the start of training sessions: “I love playing here. The term excited me. To be here and playing in Winnipeg from day one is kinda what I’ve always said I wanted to do.”
If that’s a team in turmoil, then I pranced down the Yellow Brick Road with Judy Garland.
Speaking of the Drab Slab and its fiction writers, here’s a Sunday tweet from Mad Mike McIntyre: “Question for #NHLJets fans: Does the Jacob Trouba trade, which seemed to be instantly panned by many as terrible for Winnipeg, look different now that you’ve seen Neal Pionk and Ville Heinola (the return) play and what Trouba ultimately signed for (7 years, $56-million)?” He cannot be serious. He’s asking that based on a handful of dress rehearsals against AHL-quality foes? The mind boggles.
Good grief. Will the Maple Leafs put a ‘C’ on someone’s sweater already? Not since E.J. Smith rammed his big boat into an iceberg has so much been said and written about a captaincy.
I see old friend Evander Kane is acting out again, shoving a linesman and getting punted from a San Jose-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish. Anyone in River City miss him at all? Didn’t think so.
This isn’t good: In a recent match, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers paddywhacked Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League 5-1, and they outshot the pros—wait for it—57-12. Allegedly, that is not a typo. As much as I hesitate to put a negative spin on women’s shinny, it isn’t exactly a selling point for Ponytail Puck when the defending NWHL champions are rag-dolled by a bunch of college kids. It doesn’t do much, if anything, to attract fans or sponsors in their quest to earn a “living wage.”
Remember how a lot of us tsk-tsked the Yankee Doodle Damsels for their excessive celebrating in a 13-0 romp over Thailand at the women’s World Cup in June? Well, that wasn’t nearly as odious as Major League Baseball outfits busting out the bubbly to celebrate a wild-card playoff berth. Seriously, champagne and caviar because you’re the fourth or fifth qualifier in a bloated post-season structure? Will the survivors of the wild-card games have another champagne shower? Honestly, I can’t think of anything dumber in sports. Well, okay, most everything that falls out of Don Cherry’s gob is dumber, but that’s about it. Put a cork in it, boys. Literally.
Now that I’ve mentioned the Yankee Doodle Damsels, if you’re wondering what they’re up to, they’re still scoring goals, celebrating and doing boffo business at the box office. Not that anyone would notice. Like most female sports, they’re out of sight, out of mind for mainstream media, but the American women have been attracting large numbers for their Victory Tour kick-abouts. Here are the head counts:
37,040 v. Ireland at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (3-0 win);
49,504 v. Portugal at Lincoln Field in Philly (4-0 win);
19,600 (sellout) v. Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul (3-0 win).
And, finally, look who’s become a street person—the Digit, Don Duguid. Dugie’s always been one of my favorite people, and it’s nice to know that folks in high places haven’t forgotten the guy who brought two world curling championships home to roost at the Mother Club at One Granite Way. A portion of the road will be known as Honorary Don Duguid Way for the next five years, and I only hope city workers in Good Ol’ Hometown fill all and any potholes before the official unveiling. I’d hate like heck for the little guy to get lost in one of them.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and life is a pitch sometimes, especially when our soccer ladies are playing…
One Canadian. The Cherry-ites must be choking on their maple syrup.
But should the rest of us care that Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Winnipeg Jets bird dogs basically ignored their own back yard during the weekend grab bag of teen hockey talent in Vancouver?
I mean, it’s not exactly a throwback to the days of Mikhail Smith, who attempted to morph the late-1980s/early-1990s Winnipeg HC into the Central Red Jets with his failed make-work-for-Russians project.
If you weren’t around to scratch your head over Comrade Mikhail’s handiwork, be advised that he fancied Russkies the way a farmer likes good weather. A rumpled man with a Doctorate in Russian Studies, the Jets general manager surrounded himself with more Ivans, Viktors, Vladimirs and Sergeis than Leonid Brezhnev. If your last name ended with the letters ‘ov’, there was a very good chance he’d stand up at the National Hockey League entry draft and give you a shout-out.
Oh, it began innocently enough, and some of us thought it mildly amusing when Mikhail commenced to collecting comrades the way some kids collect bubble gum cards. First he grabbed two. Then two more. Then four. But in 1992, he went completely coocoo, using his one dozen shout-outs to land half the Russian politburo. He took nine of them—count ’em, nine! When he snatched up five more in ’93, we wondered if the team’s marketing department would add the hammer and sickle to the logo. Russian was about to become the official language of the changing room.
Alas, Mikhail’s master plan crumbled like both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union when he was asked to leave in January 1994, freeing les Jets bird dogs from Red Square and allowing them to return home to the Red River Valley.
In sum, Mikhail recruited 22 Russkies in his five years as overlord of les Jets’ draft table, and only six of them played more than 100 NHL games.
So now we have Kevin Cheveldayoff in the GM’s chair, and you might be asking yourself is he and his scouts have developed a fondness for Finns, Swedes and Americans. Or, more to the point, do they harbor an aversion to good Canadian boys?
In Chevy’s first three summers at the wheel, 15 of his 23 shout-outs at the NHL entry draft were homebrews. Since then, it’s 12 of 40.
Chevy returns home from this weekend’s fun in Vancouver with a pair of Finns (Ville Heinola, Henri Nikkanen), a Swede (Simon Lundmark), an American (Logan Neaton) and a kid born in Britain but raised in Regina (Harrison Blaisdell). Not since 2013 has he claimed more than three homebrews at the garage sale of freshly scrubbed teens. That was also the last time he used his No. 1 shout-out to claim a hoser, Josh Morrissey.
Add to that his last two free-agent signings—a Finn, Joona Luoto, and a Russkie, Andrei Chibisov—and I think we can see a trend.
Do you have a problem with that?
The Cherry-ites, of course, bellow about the necessity of good, bent-nosed Canadian boys. Can’t win without them. That’s true and the St. Louis Blues would be Exhibit A in that argument. The St. Loo roster that just won the Stanley Cup had more Canadian passports than any one of our overseas embassies.
But…the Boston Bruins reached the final with just a handful of Canucks. When the Washington Capitals copped the Cup a year ago, their top six scorers were Euros and Americans.
So, no, I don’t think Chevy and his bid dogs have gone off their nut and adopted an anti-Canadian bias like the aforementioned Comrade Mikhail Smith. You need a happy mixture and, in case you haven’t noticed, the Finns are bloody good at hockey.
River City is the last place I’d expect to hear yelps of protest about an abundance of Finnish and/or Swedish players. Anyone who was around in the 1970s will tell you that les Jets’ rise to shinny prominence was the product of a Scandinavian invasion, with Anders and Ulf and the Shoe and Veli-Pekka and Hexi and Willy and Kenta, among others, coming on board to claim three World Hockey Association titles. That winning legacy should be enough to silence the most leather-lunged of critics.
A quick aside to the anti-Jacob Trouba element among the rabble: Give it a rest. Trouba didn’t do anything to warrant the high level of hostility that accompanied him on his way out of town. Asking for a trade? Happens all the time (see Zaitsev, Nikita; Puljujarvi, Jesse; Kane, Evander). His holdout three years ago? He was exercising his rights. Signing a bridge deal? Again, his right. Going to arbitration? Yup, his legally bargained-for right. Did he ever say anything nasty about Good Ol’ Hometown, like the zoo sucks. Not that I heard or read. Did he lie about his reasons for wanting out of Dodge? Perhaps. But everybody in hockey lies. Trouba served les Jets well, so the anger is misplaced.
One of the many knows-everything natterbugs on TSN, Dave Poulin, continues to confound and confuse. Last year, he left NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot. This year, when McDavid didn’t win the scoring title, he voted him the all-star centre. Go figure. Poulin also told us in February that “there’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner and Erik Karlsson have since inked eight-year deals, with William Karlsson on the way. I believe it’s time to remove the ear buds whenever Dave Poulin begins to talk.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association mostly gets it right in balloting for various NHL trinkets and all-star honors, but some among the rank and file lose the plot along the way. The news snoops listed below were the most heinous of offenders this year, and all are accused of the same crime: ‘Abuse of Voting Privilege’:
* Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald (New York): Apparently, the name should be Rip Van Hoppe, because he slept through the entire season. How else to explain voting for Patrick Kane as the all-star right winger instead of Nikita Kucherov, who performed well enough to win the Ted Lindsey Award (most outstanding player), the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) and the Art Ross Trophy (scoring leader)? Hoppe doubled and tripled down on his sleep-induced voting by giving Johnny Gaudreau the nod as league MVP and Rasmus Dahlin as top rookie. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Voting privilege revoked. * Arthur Staple, The Athletic: He voted Rink Rat Scheifele of les Jets as the all-star centre. Yup. Staple reckons our guy Rink Rat had a better season than McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Nathan McKinnon et al. Staple also voted Miro Heiskanen the top rookie. No surprise, though. Last year, Staple left McDavid completely off his all-star centre ballot. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: As a repeat offender, his voting privilege is revoked. For-freaking-ever.
* John Vogl, The Athletic Buffalo: Nick Bonino the best defensive forward in the NHL? Seriously? Ya, and Looch Lucic is Barbara Ann Scott. Verdict: Guilty as charged.Sentence: Vogl can keep his voting privilege. Living and working in Buffalo is punishment enough.
* Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News: Voted Patrick Kane the all-star left winger. Kane is a right winger. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must attend a summer-long series of lectures on right wingers and left wing pinkos delivered by Don Cherry.
* Seth Rorabaugh, The Athletic: Voted Johnny Gaudreau as MVP and Marc-Andre Fleury the all-star goaltender. Wrong, just wrong. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must undergo thorough eye examination. * Iain MacIntyre, Sportsnet Vancouver: Gave Roberto Luongo a vote for Lady Byng Trophy. Luongo is a goaltender. Voting for a goalie in this category isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must spend a year at hard labor—covering the Canucks.
* Russ Cohen, Sportsology: He must have been drinking the Kool-Aid they were serving in the Republic of Tranna, because his first-team all-star centre was John Tavares of les Leafs. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must wear Tavares’ Maple Leafs pajamas in public.
* Eric Engels, Sportsnet Montreal: He voted Carey Price as first-team all-star goalie, even though les Canadiens keeper was outside the top 10 in save percentage and goals-against average and 10th in shutouts. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must take mandatory course in Journalism 101—No Cheering In the Press Box.
On the subject of D’oh! Boys, it’s about the Tranna Argonauts. Here’s what the Canadian Football League club served up in an effort to wins friends and influence people at their home opener on the weekend: 7,000 Derel Walker bobblehead dolls, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. Then they trundled onto BMO Field and promptly soiled the sheets, dropping a 64-14 squeaker to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Won’t that make for boffo box office in the future. The head count was 16,734 on Saturday, so I’m thinking the over-under for their next home date should be 10,000. And I’ll take the under.
The Argos want to sell more tickets? Simple. Have a Kawhi Leonard bobblehead doll night. And have the man himself attend the game.
And, finally, if the Tranna Jurassics truly are “Canada’s team,” why would the hoops champions even contemplate the notion of a visit to the Trump household at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? The only connection Canada has to the White House is the torch job the British did on it in 1814.
Not the usual Sunday smorgas-bored today, kids, because Sports Santa is on his way to town and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department…
GOAL: Wasn’t that a party that Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and their Winnipeg Jets accomplices threw last spring on their merry way to the National Hockey League semifinals? They fell seven victories shy of a Stanley Cup parade, but good times were had by all, especially the mosh pit on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.
COAL: Frank Seravalli of TSN wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty, and he proved it by describing the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Ya, like Don Cherry has been the face of Mother Russia since the days of the Soviet politburo. Seravalli is a mook. A Philly mook.
GOAL: Brooke Henderson, the sweetheart of the golf rodeo. Delightful, charming and all those other good things we like in our athletes, Brooke earned two LPGA titles, including the Canadian Open, something no home-grown woman had done in 45 years.
COAL:Brad Marchand, the Boston Licker. The Bruins agitator just couldn’t keep his tongue to himself, twice mistaking foes for lollipops. Ugh. Beyond disgusting.
GOAL: Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris struck for Olympic Games gold in the quirky brand of curling known as mixed doubles. Kaitlyn, like Brooke Henderson, is an absolute delight, and Johnny Mo is both a great curler and a great quote.
COAL: TSN gets an entire coal bin for its shameful adulation of Johnny Manziel, on-again/off-again quarterback with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats/Montreal Alouettes. Let’s forget for a moment that Manziel once beat up and threatened to kill a woman and should not be allowed to play in the Canadian Football League. As a QB, he was dreadful. The absolute worst. Yet the talking heads on the TSN panel and in the broadcast booth created a Cult of Johnny. They were like teenage groupies, gasping in worship for their favorite lousy QB. Totally creepy.
GOAL: Tessa Virtue is another sweetheart and her fancy skating partner, Scott Moir, is a total hoser, eh? After striking gold twice at the Olympics in South Korea, Tessa had fans swooning while Scott went all McKenzie Brothers by tossing back pints of beer and getting glassy-eyed and noodle-legged during the Canada-U.S. women’s hockey game. Beauty, eh?
COAL: Phil Mickelson is a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater. After missing a putt at the U.S. Open, Lefty scurried after his still-moving ball like a donut-fueled cop in pursuit of a bad guy, then stopped the Titleist before it could roll off the green. He laughed and shrugged it off as no big deal, telling everyone to lighten up. What a drip.
GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Dawn McEwen and Shannon Birchard got it done on the pebble. Together, they won a provincial curling title, a Canadian curling title, a world curling title, two Grand Slam titles, and an Olympic curling title. That’s the best haul this side of Santa’s bag of goodies.
COAL: Fans booed when Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Matt Nichols appeared on a giant screen at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to deliver a public service announcement against the evils of drunk driving. Are you kidding me people? Can you slink any lower than that? Who will you boo next? Rudolph if his red nose goes on the fritz Christmas eve? Shame, shame.
GOAL: Barry Trotz, a local boy who made good by coaching the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup. The former Dauphin Kings and University of Manitoba bench maestro was out of work shortly after swilling beer from Stanley, but he landed safely on Long Island, so it’s all good.
COAL: If Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star wasn’t blaming victims for cyber bullying, he was describing the Vegas Golden Knights as a “shitty” team. Well, that “shitty” team reached the Stanley Cup final. Mr. Smarm was a creepy irritant on Hockey Central at Noon, although I haven’t seen him taking up space on the gum-flapper this season. Perhaps a suit at Sportsnet finally wised up.
GOAL: Andrew Harris of the Bombers earned himself another Canadian Football League rushing title.
COAL: Darian Durant stiffed the Bombers on the eve of training camp by promptly retiring, then kept the $70,000 signing bonus he’d been paid. Bad form. Truly lame. Sort of like many of the passes he threw in his final season in the CFL. So, hey, good riddance.
GOAL: Former Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons offered this quote during another trying season for the Tranna Nine: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Somewhere Yogi Berra is nodding in approval.
COAL: I’m not sure you could mine enough coal to stuff into Steve Simmons’ Christmas stocking. The Postmedia Tranna print hitman totally trashed mixed doubles curling (he presented fiction as fact) at the Olympics, he totally trashed team fancy skating at the Olympics, he totally trashed Pedro Martinez’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, he totally trashed Marc Savard for not returning phone calls…basically, his entire year was a trash-a-thon. He really is Grandpa Simpson at the keyboard.
GOAL: Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals went into party-animal mode with Lord Stanley, dragging him hither and yon while acting like drunken curlers. Apparently they ran out of booze, so they agreed to start playing hockey again in October.
COAL: Serena Williams staged a different kind of party—a pity party at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The former world No. 1 woman came completely unglued in the final vs. Naomi Osaka and attempted to turn her temper tantrum into a crusade for motherhood and gender equality. In reality, she simply behaved like a spoiled-brat loser that no mother could be proud of.
GOAL: Chris Streveler came out of nowhere and gave rise to the possibility that the Blue Bombers have actually unearthed their QB of the future.
COAL: Postmedia has completely destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports section for readers interested in local clubs not named Jets, Bombers or Goldeyes. If you aren’t one of the big three, you no longer exist. Instead, Sun readers are force-fed a steady diet of copy on athletes and teams from the Republic of Tranna, pro rasslin’, UFC, sports betting, fantasy sports, etc.
GOAL:Winnipeg Free Press football scribe Jeff Hamilton’s podcast with Andrew Harris—The Handoff—was boffo stuff.
COAL: Randy Ambrosie kicked Jerome Messam out of the CFL after the running back was charged with voyeurism, but the commish allowed Johnny Manziel to play, even though he beat up a woman and threatened to kill her. As I have written: “What part of its own policy on violence against women does the CFL not understand?”
GOAL: Kirk Penton keeps cranking out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic.
COAL: Jock journos in the Republic of Tranna couldn’t stop slobbering over hip-hopper Drake at Raptors games. I haven’t seen that much drool since the day I brought a St. Bernard home for my kids. The press box in The ROT is groupie central. It’s really quite simple: Ignore Drake.
GOAL: Mike O’Shea, who doesn’t share warm-and-fuzzies with the media, gets high marks for this glib response in an exchange with a news snoop…
“Do you have any plans for your bye week coming up?” the Bombers coach was asked.
“I do…you’re not included in them,” he replied.
COAL: Mark Masters, a man, actually asked another man, Darren Cahill, to put the last year of Serena Williams’ life into context. Given that tennis analyst Cahill has never been pregnant or given birth (we won’t even talk about breast feeding), he could not possibly relate to what Williams had lived through. It was the dumbest question. Ever, ever, ever.
GOAL: Curmudgeonly Brian Burke is as grumpy as Scrooge with a toothache, as blunt as the business end of a hammer, and as harsh as turpentine. He’s also extremely insightful and a boffo addition to Sportsnet’s stable of gum-flappers. He even wears his necktie properly some nights.
COAL:The Houston Astros claim to have a zero-tolerance policy re domestic violence. Any man who strikes a women need not apply. Unless, of course, he can also strike out the side in the ninth inning. In that case, the Astros will overlook domestic violence and sign a relief pitcher like Roberto Osuna. When the disgraced former Blue Jays hurler imploded in the Major League Baseball playoffs, it was poetic justice.
GOAL & COAL: Dave Dickenson is a yappy, little lap dog, but Coach Chihuahua of the Calgary Stampeders also came up with a perfect description of the Bombers braintrust during one of his sideline squawk sessions—The Canadian Mafia.
COAL: TSN continues to trot out Dave Poulin as a hockey expert. Ya, and I’m Julia Roberts’ movie double. Any guy who leaves Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot is no expert, and Poulin’s no expert.
GOAL:A lot of people don’t like Bo Levi Mitchel. They reckon he’s too cocky and/or arrogant. Well, I like him. So much that I hope the Stampeders QB lands work in the National Football League.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Scott Moir—beauty, eh?
Who knew a fancy skater (and an ice dancer at that) could be such a party animal? Who knew there was a third McKenzie Brother?
Moir’s beer-fuelled antics during the women’s hockey gold-medal match between Canada and the United States at the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports were straight out of the SCTV playbook. It was Bob and Doug McKenzie do PyeongChang. It couldn’t have been more Canadian if it was a Mountie eating back bacon while reading a Pierre Berton book and listening to a Gordon Lightfoot album.
Shootouts suck! Sound like a batch of sour grapes? Probably. But it isn’t. The Americans were worthy winners of the women’s gold hockey trinket in South Korea. They were the superior side through 80 minutes of actual hockey and, had the championship match continued to a second period of sudden-victory overtime rather than the shootout, surely Uncle Sam’s girls would have prevailed. It seemed to me that the Canadians had begun to run on fumes. Thus, the 3-2 U.S. victory was a just result. The Games methodology, however, is greatly flawed. The shootout never was, never will be a good idea. Next time, what do you say we ask the Canadian and U.S. women if they’d rather continue playing hockey until someone scores a goal? Let’s leave the shootouts to soccer.
If I’m Jocelyne Larocque, I’m not apologizing for a damn thing. I mean, it’s not like she did something stupid. You know, like get drunk, steal a Hummer, race around PyeongChang like Danica Patrick on uppers, then spend some quality time at a cop shop. Do something stupid like that (hello Willie Raine, Dave and Maja Duncan), you apologize and hope you get a judge who goes easy on drunk drivers. But do what Larocque did and…meh. So she removed a silver trinket that had been wrapped around her neck by some Olympic Games mucky-muck at a most awkward moment—during the lengthy parting-gifts ceremony post-match. Big flipping deal. Larocque was PO’d. The loss to the Americans was a fresh, open wound, and silver wasn’t a suitable salve. So she held it in her left hand. And for that the Canadian rearguard receives an online scolding from Miss Manners wannabes on both sides of the great divide? That’s why she offered a mea culpa? As if. Raw emotion is the very reason I buy into the Olympic Games. Sometimes that means tears of joy. Sometimes it’s tears of sorrow. In Larocque’s case, it meant an angst-of-the-moment act of defiance. I don’t see the problem. Stop piling on.
Should we book a session with Dr. Phil? Or maybe Charlie Brown’s shrink, Lucy Van Pelt. Either way, I’m thinking some of us might need to vent.I mean, our hockey women had to settle for silver. Our hockey men had the gall to lose to Germany at a most inopportune time. Our women’s and men’s curling teams? Bupkus.
I swear, this is the biggest downer since Nickelback landed the halftime gig at the 99th Grey Cup game.
But let’s save the shrink fees and accept that hockey and curling haven’t been Canada’s personal play things for much of the 21st century? Consider what has transpired since 2000:
World championship titles—Canada 10, Rest of World 21
Olympic titles—Canada 7, Rest of World 3
Total—Canada 17, Rest of World 24.
Curling World championship titles—Canada 17, Rest of World 19
Olympic titles—Canada 5, Rest of World 6
Total—Canada 22, Rest of World 25.
Ya, sure, this is still Planet Puckhead. We’re very good at hockey. The best. Our women and men aren’t supposed to lose. When they do, we lower our psyche to half staff and share a group hug that stretches from Tofino to St. John’s. We don’t commit to as much navel gazing when our curlers slip on a banana peel, yet we do give some pause whenever our Pebble People don’t occupy the top step of the podium.
But let’s spare ourselves a National Day of Teeth Gnashing.
I’m singing the backup vocals for Glenn Howard when he suggests we all just chill after what transpired in South Korea.
“Settle down folks,” said Howard, a Canadian and world champion curler who coached Eve Muirhead’s Great Britain team that ushered our Rachel Homan outfit out of playoff contention. “Canadians have to understand that these teams outside of Canada are really good.”
Most stinging (and over the top) criticism of our women curlers came from Paul Wiecek. The Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist aimed his poison arrows not only at Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa, but also at “that most worthless species in all of sports, the curling coach.” He explained: “As far as I’m concerned, the Homan team’s problems here begin with their coach, Adam Kingsbury, an academic with zero curling background who the Homan team has nonetheless ascribed a Koreshian-like influence in recent years. Homan has been putting the ‘less’ in ‘joyless’ since she was curling juniors and Kingsbury has just made that worse from my vantage point, turning these women into walking robots. If they were having any fun competing at an event they had devoted their lives towards, I saw no evidence of it. And if you’re not having fun playing a sport for which the monetary reward is somewhere between nothing and next to nothing, then what’s the point?” That’s cruel and mean in spirit.
Nothing says Monday night beer league curling like the four men who struck gold for Uncle Sam in South Korea.
Seriously. How much did they spend on their outfits? A buck fifty at a thrift shop? Third Tyler George wears eight-year-old sneakers. They’re full of holes. And U.S. second Matt Hamilton doesn’t use a belt to hold up his trousers. That’s Secretariat’s old girth strap. But, hey, if a guy of Hamilton’s dimensions can win an Olympic Games gold medal I wouldn’t rule out an Ed Werenich comeback.
All of which made them easy to like.
These Yankee doodle dandies are a throwback to the 1970s. I kept waiting for one of ’em to break out a pack of smokes and light up. On the ice.
Their back story is brilliant. A few years ago, USA Curling wanted them in their program like Donald Trump wants to tick off the NRA. But now John Shuster, George, Hamilton and lead John Landsteiner are Olympic champions. We’re apt to see them chatting with one of the gab guys on late-night TV, and there’s probably marketing possibilities. Who knows, they might make enough cash on the side to get rid of their slo-pitch uniforms and purchase actual curling duds.
Headline writers south of the 49th parallel are having great sport at our expense. A New York Times headline reads:“Canada’s Curling Is Crumbling! Or Something Like That.” The accompanying article suggests our double donut on PyeongChang pebble “would be comparable to the United States men’s and women’s basketball teams failing to win a medal at the Summer Olympics.”
Other samples of American cheek:
Washington Post (after the U.S. beat us in both men’s curling and women’s hockey on the same day): “For six glorious hours, the United States owned Canada like a Tim Hortons franchisee.”
Wall Street Journal: “Canadian Grief: Curling and Hockey Losses are ‘Terrible, Terrible, Terrible’.”
MarketWatch: “Hug a Canadian, urges German Foreign Office after dramatic ice-hockey upset.”
Quick! Someone get a match! Let’s burn down the White House again!
As predicted, jock journalists were quick to apply a coat of tar and feathers to head coach Whiteboard Willie Desjardins in the wake of Canada’s mournful, 4-3 semifinal shinny loss to Germany.
Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star opined the “coaching was a mess.”
Dave Feschuk, also a Star scribe, wrote: “What went wrong? Maybe it was Desjardins’ infectious nervousness, or his odd overreliance on his bottom-six grinders, playing the old-time Saskatchewan stereotype to a tee. Even in a 4-on-4 situation needing desperately to score, Desjardins tossed out (Eric) O’Dell and Maxim Lapierre, his skill-challenged energy guys.”
Not to be out-nastied, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna added: “Desjardins had much to answer for. He didn’t change lines. He didn’t change styles. He didn’t adjust to the Germans’ trapping ways. He didn’t shorten his bench when he needed to. He continued to use ineffective players. The coach, Willie Desjardins, froze.”
And what did the natterbugs of negativity have to say about Desjardins after Canada’s bounce-back, 6-4 win over the Czech Republic in the bronze-medal match? Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets. Mooks.
(That unfortunate loss to the Germans doesn’t seem like such a stunner today does it? Not after they took Russia to OT in the title match.)
I’m not sure what it is about Tessa Virtue, but I cannot turn my eyes away from her when she’s on TV. It doesn’t matter if she’s skating, marching into the stadium or standing on the podium, holding a stuffed toy in one of her dainty hands. I am hypnotized. And it’s been that way for years.
She is a spellbinding temptress, sexy, sensual and seductive. As playful as a kitten and as smoky as a femme fatale, she is Snow White with come-hither tease and erotic athleticism. As she floats about the ice, her lissome body bending, twisting and twirling to the whims of her dance partner, Scott Moir, I wonder what world she has disappeared into. Her smile tells us it must be a pleasing place, full of passion and Zen-like serenity.
Others skate as well as Virtue. Perhaps better. But no one else has her ‘it’ factor.
She and Moir will leave South Korea with two gold medals, adding to a collection of Winter Games trinkets that now numbers five, more than any other fancy skaters in history. Alas, we might never see the Canadian couple skate together again, after 20 years. But what a beautiful trip they took us on.
Matthew Scianitti of TSN shares a lovely to-and-fro he enjoyed with Virtue, scant seconds after she had arrived in the mixed area following her gold-medal skate with Scott Moir in the ice dance last Wednesday.
Virtue (to assembled news scavengers): “How are you guys?”
Scianitti: “You mean us?”
Scianitti: “Dude, you just skated in front of the world and won a gold medal. Doesn’t matter how we are.”
Virtue: “Yes it does. The Olympics are tough on everyone.”
Can you say classy, kids? Totally.
Going from a beauty to a beast, it’s about Mike Milbury. The NBC gab guy’s filter between his grey matter and tongue was on the fritz during a Russia-U.S. men’s hockey game. Discussing Russkie rearguard Slava Voynov, he said: “This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenceman.” So, that’s what we’re calling wife-beating these days? An “unfortunate incident.” Voynov was sentenced to nine months in the brig for beating the hell out of his wife, and he served two months before slithering back to his hole in Russia. He shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in South Korea any more than Milbury should be allowed near a microphone.
Actor Kirstie Alley took a bit of a pummelling on social media after she tweeted that curling is “boring.” I don’t understand the great hue and cry. Fact is, she’s right. I love curling, but I acknowledge that it sometimes can push the needle high on the bore-o-metre. Then, again, so can baseball, football, hockey and hoops. Oh, and most any movie/TV show that Kirstie Alley has ever appeared in.
I never covered an Olympics. Had no desire to. So I have to wonder: When did news scavengers in South Korea find time to sleep? Did they sleep? I mean, new stuff seemed to pop up on the Internet every half hour. It was non-stop scribbling. Thus, I harbor considerable admiration for everyone who went through that grind. Tough gig. And they’re still cranking out the good stuff. Best of last week was delivered by…
Gold medal: Bruce Arthur for the truly Canadian story that is Brigette Lacquette, the first Indigenous player on the Canadian women’s hockey team.
Silver medal: Arthur again, for his piece defending Jocelyne Larocque’s behaviour during the women’s hockey medal ceremony.
Bronze medal: Arthur one more time, for his piece on Canada’s Pride House and the LGBT scene at the Winter Games.
Had there been any doubt, Arthur’s work in South Korea confirms his position as this country’s top sports columnist. Nobody’s close to him.