About the rise and fall of Ponytail Puck…mainstream media no friend of CWHL…Puck Finn’s shot-blocking style…Ice’s man playing Peggers for rubes…spit happens in golf…tennis teens…banjo pickin’…and other things on my mind

April Fool’s Day coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I guess the joke’s on me because I’m still writing this crap when I could be doing diddly in my dotage…come to think of it, that would be a good title for a book: Doing Diddly In My Dotage…

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

I mean, who can forget all those jaws dropping as Kendall Coyne Schofield raced the dudes around the freeze during the National Hockey League all-star hijinks, followed by her landing a gig on NBC as rinkside chin-wagger with Pierre McGuire? (Let’s forgive Pierre for talking to Kendall as if she’d just stepped off the boat from Bimbo Island and accept that her presence/voice was high exposure for the women’s game.)

Then there was this:

  • The three-game exhibition Rivalry Series between the national sides of Canada and the United States was contested in front of an SRO audience in London and crowds numbering approximately 9,000 in the Republic of Tranna and Detroit.

  • Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League sold out each of their home assignments at TRIA Rink in St. Paul, and turned a profit.

  • The Canadian Women’s Hockey League championship skirmish between the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal attracted a record 175,000 sets of eyeballs to flatscreens across the land.

Yup, those were the days.

And now, just eight sleeps after the Inferno had collected the Clarkson Cup at Coca Cola Coliseum in The ROT? Nothing but long faces. The CWHL has disappeared from Planet Puckhead.

But wait. Let’s not be so hasty in passing out the black arm bands scant hours after the CWHL’s deep thinkers announced they won’t be dropping the puck next autumn, after 12 years of trying to convince the rabble that their product is worth a looksee.

I simply don’t believe the collapse of the CWHL is the death knell for Ponytail Puck in this country.

Will it look the same when the leaves are on the ground again in October? Of course not. There won’t be six teams stretching from Boston to Montreal to The ROT to Calgary to China, but I struggle to accept that Montreal and the Republic of Tranna are about to fall off the women’s shinny map. Not going to happen. Perhaps Calgary still fits into the puzzle, as well, although geographic isolation makes that a challenge. Mind you, being in the middle of nowhere didn’t hurt the Whitecaps in Minny. Ten games, 10 sellouts.

So, ya, they’ll re-calibrate and we’ll have women’s pro hockey on Planet Puckhead again. That might mean NWHL expansion north, or it might mean a Women’s National Hockey League built from ground zero by Gary Bettman and the NHL. And it will definitely mean a league that’s two-thirds U.S.-based. But, hey, that’s always worked for the NHL, so why not the WNHL?

Sami Jo Small

Here’s the question I asked myself when word of the CWHL collapse began to spread on Sunday morning: How much blame do we assign to mainstream media?

Basically, MSM treated the CWHL like a leper league. Same can be said for women’s hockey in general. Unless it’s played under the Olympics banner or, to a lesser degree, at the world championship, Ponytail Puck gets less ink/air time than darts, poker and the Mitch Marner-Auston Matthews performance in The Nutcracker.

TSN broadcast all three of the Rivalry Series skirmishes, but it stuck them on the boondocks channels and not all of us subscribe to the complete TSN package. How many CWHL matches did Sportsnet televise? Two? Four? Our  national celebration of shinny—the marathon Hockey Day In Canada—shockingly did not include a women’s game, even though a Tranna Furies-Montreal joust was available.

It’s no different on the print side. Actually, it might be worse. If any of our flowers of jock journalism scribbles as many as two essays on women’s hockey in Olympic off-years, it’s considered an avalanche of copy. Indeed, Furies general manager Sami Jo Small lamented the lack of exposure in conversation with Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star not so long ago.

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” she said. “They love to watch it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

Let’s be clear, MSM indifference wasn’t the official cause of death, but it helped nudge the CWHL toward the graveyard.

Here’s rich irony: Sports scribes and talking heads spend the time between Winter Olympics pretending women’s hockey doesn’t exist, but when the CWHL caved on Sunday they rapidly rallied to the cause. Pierre LeBrun, Elliotte Friedman, Jeff Marek, John Shannon, Gord Miller, Bob McKenzie and James Mirtle, among others, were found on Twitter, bemoaning the development. Guilty conscience, boys?

It’s shameful that Sportsnet basically ignored the demise of the CWHL on its Hometown Hockey broadcast Sunday night. They didn’t even attempt to pretend to be a news outlet. It was more important to air fluff— like a sappy interview with an actor I hadn’t heard of before the pre-game show—than dig into the top shinny news story of the day. A terrible blunder.

Puck Finn

I don’t know about the rest of the rabble, but I’m not prepared to rule out the possibility of another long spring run by the Winnipeg Jets. True, they’ve looked a lot like a fire drill gone bad lately and the advantage of home ice is in jeopardy, but I’m keeping the faith. As long as they don’t depend on Patrik Laine to block shots, there’s hope. I mean, what can I say about Puck Finn’s shot-blocking effort on Jeff Petry’s goal Saturday vs. Montreal Canadiens? He looked like some poor shmuck on a street corner, trying to dodge the spray from a huge puddle of water as a car speeds by. Easily the most comical shot-block attempt since Guy Lafleur did the flamingo vs. the Russians.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the Q&A thing with Matt Cockell and, among other things, the Winnipeg Ice (will never like that name) general manager had this to say: “At the end of the day, the passion for hockey is really what’s exciting about Winnipeg. When you look across Canada, there really isn’t another city that embraces hockey the way Winnipeg does. We really believe it’s the hockey capital of Canada.” Whoa boy. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Good Ol’ Hometown has already let one NHL franchise get away (no, it wasn’t Gary Bettman’s fault) and two Western Hockey League outfits. Pegtown is the “hockey capital of Canada” like Pierre’s boy Justin is a man of all the people. And that’s coming from someone born and raised in River City, someone who recalls seeing a lot of empty seats in the old barn on Maroons Road. Yes, I realize that Cockell is going to say all the right things in order to sell his freshly minted WHL franchise to the rabble, but I’m not sure that faux flattery is the way to go about it. Peggers are hockey wise, they aren’t rubes.

Paul Azinger

Turned on the PGA Tour match play final on Sunday, just in time to hear NBC lead analyst Paul Azinger say this about eventual champion Kevin Kisner: “He spits like a baseball player. Impressive.” And to think, a lot of folks figured Zinger wouldn’t be worth spit as a replacement for Johnny Miller.

If you’re looking for an excellent read, check out Stephen Brunt’s ode to Charlie Montoyo on the Sportsnet website. Like most everything Stephen scribbles, his yarn on the Tranna Blue Jays first-year skipper is boffo.

A tip of the bonnet to our own Leah Hextall, who became the first woman to call play-by-play for a men’s NCAA playoff hockey game on ESPN. Leah worked the East Regional semifinals and final on the weekend in Providence, R.I.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Some classic stuff from Steve Simmons, the Postmedia Tranna columnist who offered this on Twitter after our teen sensation, Felix Auger-Aliassime, spoon fed the boring John Isner a victory with a series of ill-timed double faults in their semifinal match at the Miami Open tennis tournament: “Felix served for both the first and second sets in Miami and couldn’t pull it off in either set against John Isner. That’s what happens when you’re 18.”

Really? It didn’t happen to 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu in the semifinal or final at Indian Wells two weeks ago. It didn’t happen to Denis Shapovalov a couple of years ago when he beat Rafa Nadal. It didn’t happen to Bjorn Borg, who won 10 ATP events, including the French Open, at age 18. Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Michael Chang, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Maria Sharapova, Tracy Austin, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams all won Grand Slams before turning 19.

So, no, our Felix didn’t lose because he’s 18. He lost because of a seriously flawed service game.

Kenta Nilsson

Sigh. The young talking heads on TV continue to refer to a sleight-of-hand goal as “the Forsberg,” as if Peter Forsberg created the move. As I have written, old friend Kent Nilsson is the first person I ever saw perform that particular bit of hockey hocus-pocus, and there’s video evidence to prove he did it before Forsberg arrived in the NHL. Ditto another old friend, Alexei Zhamnov, who showed us his wizardry more than once while in Winnipeg Jets linen. So knock it off, girls and boys. It’s the Nilsson, not the Forsberg.

And, finally, numbers cruncher Derek Taylor is leaving TSN to become the play-by-play voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders on CKRM in Regina. Who knew Taylor played the banjo?

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About Terrible Ted taking a stand…Tessa is a living (Barbie) doll…Genie going Hollywood…puppies and spin-the-bottle in Carolina…puck luck, Puck Finn and lost in a snow maze…broken silence in Lotus Land…tabloid T&A in The ROT…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I think we need an International Day of Old Lady Bloggers…

Much has been said and written about Ted Lindsay since his death last week, all of it justifiably praiseworthy.

Terrible Ted

Puck pundits, opinionists and news snoops allowed that Terrible Ted ranks among the National Hockey League’s all-time elite, as a player and a gentleman, and they’ve made special note of the stiff price he paid for stirring up the serfs in the 1950s and attempting to form a players association.

Stripped of his captain’s ‘C’ and cast aside like a leper by the Detroit Red Wings, Lindsay soldiered on to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career in 1965, and therein lies my favorite Terrible Ted tale, one that’s always worth retelling.

The HHOF was to fete Lindsay and eight other players at the 1966 induction soiree, but he wanted no part of it. Not unless his wife and kids could attend. Sorry, Ted, it’s strictly stag.

So he boycotted his own induction.

“(Players) are wonderful people when we’re winning, but when we go home and we’re losing, we’re miserable for our wives and our children,” was Lindsay’s explanation. “My feeling was, families put up with us when we were temperamental idiots, they should be able to enjoy the benefits of what the league is giving us. That’s a very simple decision.”

The following year, the HHOF opened the doors to its induction gala to women and family members.

And look where we are 53 years later: Six female players have rings to prove they’re card-carrying members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and another, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, has been added to the selection committee.

That’s a small part of the Ted Lindsay legacy, and it’s worth acknowledging on the heels of International Women’s Day.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

Where is female hockey today? Depends on who you ask.

During an interesting panel discussion on Hockey Night in Canada, Campbell-Pascall suggested the glass is “three-quarters full.”

“We need men to understand what some of our challenges are. What some of our needs are,” she told Ron MacLean in a chin-wag that included HHOF member Angela James, broadcaster Christine Simpson and Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity. “And also cover our sports like they would cover male sports. Just don’t use the same big stories over and over again. Get to the rink, get to the practices and cover our sports just like you would cover male sports and get those personalities out there, ’cause we have so many great ones in the female game today.”

That’s a tough sell, given that very few men in mainstream media give a damn about the distaff side of the game. Except, of course, when there’s an Olympic gold medal at stake.

Sami Jo Small

“People are supportive of women’s hockey,” says Sami Jo Small, a product of the frozen ponds of Good Ol’ Hometown and now general manager of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Toronto Furies. “They love watching it, but they don’t know how to watch it. That’s one of my biggest battles, to get people to know where to watch these games, how to watch these games, where to buy the tickets, and get them into the venue. Not just watching the Olympics.”

To their point, consider this: The CWHL Clarkson Cup playoffs are currently in progress, with one skirmish pitting the Toronto Furies vs. the Calgary Inferno in a best-of-three set that goes to a rubber match this very afternoon. What kind of coverage did Game 2 warrant? Squat in the Toronto Sun. Nada. The Calgary Sun, meanwhile, scribbled a few hundred words (no byline) about the Inferno’s 3-zip win, yet devoted two full pages to the Calgary Roughnecks, a lacrosse outfit. Like I said, it’s a tough sell when mainstream media is reluctant, or refuses, to spread the word. And that’s sad.

Judy Owen

In honor of International Women’s Day, I’d like to acknowledge the women with whom I worked during my time in mainstream media: Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib), Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun) and my fave, Judy Owen (Winnipeg Sun). That’s it. Four women in 30 years. Today, there are no women writing sports at either of the two River City rags. Melissa Martin makes cameo appearances to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for the Drab Slab, but that’s it.

What’s this? Fox plans to make a movie out of tennis diva Genie Bouchard’s Twitter date with fan boy John Goehrke? Well, if the movie is anything like Genie’s one-and-done game, don’t order the large tub of buttered popcorn. You won’t have time to finish it.

Tessa and Barbie Tess

I always thought that Tessa Virtue was a living doll, so it’s no surprise that the folks at Mattel toys have included a likeness of our fave fancy skater in their Role Model series of Barbie Dolls. But here’s what I’m wondering: Whatever became of her lifelong accomplice, Scott Moir? I see our Tessa on TV regularly, peddling mattresses, skin cream and what have you. But poor Scott. We haven’t seen him since he was observed sopping up the suds at an Olympic hockey game last winter. He’s vanished, kind of like Art Garfunkel after Paul Simon went his own way. I guess that’ll teach Moir for playing with dolls all his life.

So, the Carolina Hurricanes continue to play little post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck, Goose, and along comes Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab to inform us that what is known as the Storm Surge has made the ‘Canes “somewhat relevant again.” He adds: “If you don’t like this, I’m going to assume you also dislike puppies, too.” Oh, please. I mean, exaggerate much, Mike? Look, the Hurricanes will be relevant if they make some noise in the National Hockey League’s Beard Season. As for liking puppies, I think they’re cute and cuddly, but that doesn’t mean I also have to like choreographed cornball-ism like grown men playing spin-the-bottle.

By the way, the Hurricanes have become so “relevant again” that their average head count is up a whopping 627 this season, and their average audience of 13,947 is fourth worst in the NHL. Seems as though the folks in Raleigh have better things to do.

Patrik Laine

While many of us have been curious or flat-out baffled by Patrik Laine’s herky-jerky goal-scoring pattern this season, the Drab Slab’s stats goomer, Andrew Berkshire, set about to solve the mystery of the Winnipeg Jets winger. Using a couple of charts with the required squiggly lines to get his point across, Berkshire arrived at this conclusion: “The biggest factor in his drop in goal scoring at even-strength this season is just bad luck…the puck just hasn’t bounced the right way for him.” That’s it? Puck luck? That’s what the squiggly lines tell him about Puck Finn? Well, I have a suggestion for Stats Boy: You might want to actually watch a game instead of staring at your pie charts.

I note that Angie and Clint Masse have made their way into the Guinness Book of World Records for building the planet’s largest snow maze on their farm near St. Adolphe, just south of Winnipeg. I imagine it’d be easy to get lost in there. Hmmm. Maybe that’s where Puck Finn disappeared to for three months. Whatever, it’s nice to have the kid back.

This from TSN’s Dave Poulin at the NHL trade deadline, on Feb. 25: “There’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Just 11 days later, Mark Stone signed an eight-year deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. D’oh!

What part of “moment of silence” does the rabble in Lotus Land not understand? During what was meant to be a silent salute to the late Ted Lindsay the other night at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists and some among the Canucks faithful engaged in a hissing contest. As Jed Clampett used to say whenever Jethro did something dumb, pitiful. Just pitiful. But I suppose we should be thankful that they didn’t try to burn the town down this time around.

In the department of Are You Really That Arrogant?, I present Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. In a tweet about the rag trade in the Republic of Tranna, he wrote this of his Toronto Sun: “The only paper still covering sports like it matters, with its own people.” Spare me. On that same day, there were seven bylines in the Toronto Star sports section, each one of them the Star’s “own people” covering sports “like it matters.” That coverage, by the way, included a terrific spread on women in sports on International Women’s Day. Simmons’ Sun, meanwhile, saluted International Women’s Day with a photo spread of a lass named Sydney, adorned only in her black lace bra and knickers. That’s the Sun—still covering T&A “like it matters” after all these years.

And, finally, at tip of the bonnet to the Drab Slab for its recent uptick in local amateur coverage. We read about university track and field on the sports front Friday, plus a full-page, deep dive into the Manitoba Junior Hockey League playoffs and the high school shinny championships. They followed with U hoops, high school puck, U track, and elite female athletes on Saturday. That’s what I call old-time coverage. Took me back to the hey days of Winnipeg Tribune and Free Press sports pages.