Let’s talk about the yin and yang of Ponytail Puck…English soccer women hit the mother lode…local treasure Jennifer Botterill…Mike Tyson’s meal ticket…the CFL arms race…Chevy and the Arctic ice melt…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and the days are getting longer and so is this blog…

A “shambles.”

That’s the word Kendall Coyne Schofield used to describe the state of women’s hockey in 2019, and it was a harsh truth.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

The mostly ignored Canadian Women’s Hockey League had shuttered its doors permanently, giving rise to a group of malcontents demanding, among other things, a living wage, preferably from billionaire owners in the National Hockey League. Rather than sign on with National Women’s Hockey League outfits and form one super league, 150-200 orphaned players chose to participate in mostly ignored pickup games hither and yon, pose for photos with Billie Jean King, and trash talk the NWHL, which was wrestling with its own credibility demons in its fifth season.

“The women’s professional game is in shambles,” Coyne Schofield, the brightest star in the female shinny galaxy, told the San Francisco Chronicle in December 2019. “I dream of the day a young girl can dream of one day being a professional hockey player, and we’re nowhere near that.”

So, fast forward 15 months, and it’s fair to wonder if that dream is any nearer. Is Ponytail Puck any less in shambles?

Well, let’s take inventory:

The Isobell Cup champion Boston Pride.

The NWHL emerged from its COVID cocoon in January and assembled in Lake Placid for a two-week frolic meant to determine an Isobel Cup winner. Alas, the pandemic put the kibosh on that. The semifinals and final were aborted, but the NWHL returned to the freeze to complete its unfinished business on Friday and Saturday in Boston, declaring the Boston Pride as champions, and all three skirmishes were broadcast live on NBCSN.

Coyne Schofield and friends in the PWHPA, meanwhile, cranked up their second Dream Gap Tour last month, first strutting their stuff in a true sporting cathedral, Madison Square Garden in Gotham, then shifting their barnstorming showcase to the United Center in Chicago. Both friendlies were broadcast live on NBCSN, a first in the United States.

Finally, there’s loud chatter about the NWHL adding a seventh franchise, in Montreal, for its seventh season, and the planet’s elite are scheduled to gather in Nova Scotia for the 20th Women’s World Championship, May 6-16, and TSN will be all-in for the global showcase.

Thus, it sounds like the women are gaining traction. Or not.

As much as the national TV exposure is boffo, certain among the Dream Gappers can’t resist the urge to slag the NWHL, indicating that Ponytail Puck is as much a house divided as in late December 2019, when Coyne Schofield talked about an enterprise “in shambles.”

Cassie Campbell-Pascall

“I don’t think you’ll get the PWHPA and the NWHL together,” Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed Tim Micallef early this month on Sportsnet’s Tim & Friends.

The former Canadian Olympian and current Sportsnet squawk box suggested it would be “awesome” if the NWHL survives, and that it might one day be “a great league,” or grow up and become “a feeder system” to a Women’s NHL featuring Dream Gappers. But it’s “not the future of women’s hockey,” she harrumphed. So there.

“I think the PWHPA is gonna go down as that moment in women’s hockey, that group in women’s hockey, that really, truly made a difference in providing a professional women’s hockey league,” Campbell-Pascall tooted. So there again.

Dani Rylan Kearney

It should be pointed out that Campbell-Pascall is not a member of the PWHPA board. Nor is she an official adviser. But she’s thrown in fully with the Dream Gappers, and Sportsnet continues to provide a pulpit for her unchallenged propaganda. She uses her position for divisive dialogue, sometimes spewing inaccuracies about the NWHL, other times accusing former NWHL commissioner and founder Dani Rylan Kearney of “ulterior motives” without naming her and without introducing evidence.

Others among the Dream Gappers have shown an inclination toward schoolyard banter. Hilary Knight branded the NWHL a “glorified beer league” and former board member Liz Knox tsk-tsked the NWHL for having the (apparent) bad manners to add an expansion team during a sports-wide pandemic shutdown, even as every other jock operation was plotting strategy for a return to the playing fields.

“There is a lot of history there that is uncomfortable,” Tyler Tumminia acknowledged in a natter with Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman on their 31 Thoughts podcast three weeks ago.

Tyler Tumminia

Tumminia became a fresh voice in the discussion after stepping forward as interim NWHL commissioner last October. She earned her executive chops in the boardrooms of baseball (she’s named after Ty Cobb), and she’s attempting to apply lessons learned to Ponytail Puck. Not just the NWHL, understand. The big picture. Which explains her sweet tweet saluting the PWHPA for its landmark appearance at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28.

“To me, (the tweet) was saying, ‘I value and I see you and I applaud what you guys are doing for the women’s game, for women’s hockey in particular.’” she said. “I shouldn’t be commissioner of a women’s hockey league if I didn’t applaud that. I’m not dismissing the fact that there’s some raw emotions around it. What I’m saying, is that, you know, some of that narrative is actually outdated now, so let’s sit at the table and have a true sense of what is actually going on here and how we can get to where everybody wants to get to. We all want to get to the same spot. So how can we get together. But, ya, I think that there needs to be some therapeutic conversation, and I’m open to that of course. Now, I don’t have much history there, but I’m open to having those conversations of what had happened but, mostly, what can we do going forward.”

The difference in tone between Tumminia and Campbell-Pascall is startling. One is reaching out with an olive branch, the other is swinging a wrecking ball.

Their views on the direction of Ponytail Puck are just as conflicting.

Here’s Campbell-Pascall: “I think the next step is an announcement, the NHL to step up and make an announcement. ‘This is what we’re gonna do, here’s how we’re gonna do it, and this is when we’re gonna do it.’ That’s the only logical step and the only thing in my opinion that makes sense. Ya, I’m putting pressure on the NHL, because I’ve sat in meetings and worked with them for a long time and talked and discussed this for a long time, and it is time. They know it’s time. They have the infrastructure. Obviously COVID has hit the league hard and they’re losing money as well. Obviously timing is not ideal, but the time is now. The time is now for them to step up and make an announcement about how they want to support women’s hockey.”

And now Tumminia: “I think it’s kinda unfair on the NHL’s part for me to say, ‘Hey, they should take it on themselves and, you know, help this all out.’ Meaning, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, everybody’s hurting financially. For them to take on the entire business model, I don’t know. I think that would be a little unfair at this time to ask them to do that. That’s a little bit tough to ask at this point. Now, in a couple years that might be a little bit different. Right now what I think it should look like, is you get a business model that’s strong in a league that goes past a couple of years, in combination with other parties involved and kinda go in the direction where it’s sustainable on its own. And at the time there’s market share, there’s viewership and there’s tribal fandom in these markets, and the markets are actually showing there’s growth and it’s sustainable and it’s fueling and funding revenue streams that are consistent. Then I think at that time, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something they take on.”

We can only speculate what’s ahead for Ponytail Puck, but I submit the cause can use a lot less of Campbell-Pascall’s militant mutterings and a lot more of Tumminia’s reasoned rhetoric.

Let’s put it another way: I know which of the two women I’d choose to represent me in a boardroom. (Hint: It isn’t the one making demands of NHL owners who aren’t fishing for fresh ways to squander money.)

Here’s a reason the NWHL and PWHPA need to get their crap together: The English Women’s Super League just hit the mother lode, signing a three-year TV deal with BBC and Sky Sports. Total value: 24 million English pounds, which translates into $33M in U.S. greenbacks. The BBC will show 22 matches and there’ll be as many as 44 more on Sky. Our practitioners of Ponytail Puck will drool at those numbers. That’s where they want to be, visible and with substantial TV revenue. And if it’s doable in English soccer it ought to be doable for shinny in North America, especially in Canada. How do they arrive at that point? Simple: Follow Tumminia’s lead. Sit down and talk. Hash out differences. Clear up misconceptions. Grab an oar and row in the same direction. Campbell-Pascall has said more than once that “this isn’t about one league versus the other league,” but that’s exactly what the Dream Gappers have done to Ponytail Puck. They’ve turned it into a family feud. Now they have a chance to grab an olive branch. We’ll see.

Every time I see and hear Jennifer Botterill talk hockey on Sportsnet, I’m reminded what a local treasure she is and how the decision-makers got it right in making her the first female player inducted to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. One of the all-timers in local shinny lore, Jennifer is an Olympic champion, world champion, two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey, team captain at Harvard, CWHL scoring champion, CWHL all-star, and now a respected voice on hockey TV. It’s just too bad Jennifer had to leave home to do all that heavy lifting. Wouldn’t it have been nice if the final notation on her career read: Played professional hockey in Winnipeg?

Having said that, I wonder if the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, harbors an appetite for bringing a women’s team under the True North umbrella. Has anyone asked the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll about it? If not, why not?

This is an example of what Ponytail Puck is up against in terms of coverage in mainstream media: The Toronto Six met the Boston Pride in an Isobel Cup semifinal skirmish on Friday. Number of column inches devoted to the match in the Toronto Sun pre- and post-game, zero. But, hey, they managed to squeeze in a full-page Sunshine Girl. Meanwhile, both TSN and Sportsnet used the Boston-Minnesota Whitecaps championship joust as bottom-feeder filler on their highlight shows Saturday night/Sunday morning. The Isobel Cup final was a 52nd-minute afterthought on SportsCentre and a 47th-minute snippet on Sports Central, scant seconds in front of two NASCAR mud-racing pickup trucks.

Mike Tyson takes a chomp out of the champ’s right ear.

I note that cannibal boxer Mike Tyson, who once ate Evander Holyfield’s right ear for a late-night snack, won’t be fighting his former foe for a third time, thus losing out on a multi-million-dollar payday. Guess that means Iron Mike will have to find himself a new meal ticket.

Apparently negotiations between the greybeard boxers broke down when Tyson scared off Holyfield by arriving at one bargaining session with a knife and fork.

Here’s a transcript from the final Tyson-Holyfield verbal to-and-fro:
Tyson: “We have an offer you can’t refuse, Evander.”
Holyfield: “Talk to me, Mike…I’m all ears.”
Tyson: “No you’re not.”

There was also a hangup over the marketing slogan for the proposed Tyson-Holyfield III at Hard Rock Stadium. The two sides agreed it should be something catchy like Rumble in the Jungle or Thrilla in Manila, but Holyfield balked when the Tyson camp insisted on Finger Lickin’ Fightin’ ‘n’ Late Night Munchies In Miami.

Chevy

The Winnipeg Jets lost Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot from their blueline in June/July 2019. Dustin Byfuglien disappeared in September that year. So we started discussing the pressing need for a top-four defenceman 18½ months ago. Question is, why are we still talking about it a year and a half after Big Buff and the boys bailed? What, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff hasn’t noticed those four guys are missing? Of course he has. Yet we still await his next move. It’s official then: Chevy actually moves slower than the Arctic ice melt.

According to the 2021 World Happiness report, Finnish people are the happiest on the planet for the fourth straight year. Hmmm. Did anyone think to ask Patrik Laine about that?

There’s a large cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal and, after a week of failed attempts to free the vessel, the captain and crew are desperate to get out. You know, just like anyone who plays for the Buffalo Sabres.

Seems to me that the Ottawa Senators might become an NHL force once all their players are old enough to shave. Then, of course, Eugene Melnyk will sell them off like used tupperware containers at a yard sale.

Commish Randy

Go figure the Canadian Football League. One week commissioner Randy Ambrosie is talking tall about a budding bromance with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson and his XFL, and the next week he’s pleading poverty (yes, again) and asking players to take an across-the-board hit at the pay window (yes, again). So let’s no longer wonder why Commish Randy and the lords of Rouge Football would consider an iffy alliance with a fly-by operation south of the 49th, let’s instead wonder why The Rock would consider a partnership with a bunch of guys whose sole game plan appears to be begging. I don’t know if Commish Randy and his bosses are embarrassed, but they should be.

The CFL has become an arms race, and it has nothing to do with quarterbacks. It’s all about how many needles medics can poke into fans’ arms. Rouge Football isn’t doable without patrons in the pews, so what’s the over/under on the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots required before the faithful can flock into ball yards hither and yon? Is it 20 million? Twenty-five mill? Is Vegas offering odds?

And, finally, the other day I watched a replay of Secretariat’s gallop in the 1973 Belmont Stakes, and I must report that it remains the most gob-smacking, astonishing individual athletic performance I’ve ever witnessed. And that’s taking in a lot of turf, because I started watching sports in the mid-1950s. I suppose some folks might get emotional gazing upon the Mona Lisa or the Shroud of Turin, but I get teary-eyed watching Big Red romp to the wire in the Belmont. It’s very spiritual.

Blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda and the flapping of gums in 2020

Aren’t we all happy that 2020 is coming to a close? You bet your sweet bippy, we are.

I mean, to say the year has been over, under, sideways, down and inside-out would be the biggest understatement since Rip Van Winkle said, “I think I’ll take a wee nap.” All sports fell off the grid due to COVID-19, and those that returned certainly didn’t look the same.

In this strangest of years, the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby, became the second leg, and the second leg, the Preakness Stakes, became the third leg, and the third leg, the Belmont Stakes, became the first leg. The Masters golf tournament was played in November instead of April, and the Open Championship and Wimbledon weren’t played at all.

Major team sports went into bubbles and performed in mostly empty buildings, with fans replaced by cardboard cutouts of actual people and the soccer side FC Seoul using sex dolls to occupy the pews. The bad news: The faux fans were hell on beer sales. The good news: No long lineups at the washrooms.

There was, mind you, one constant: Athletes, coaches, managers, owners, talking heads and sports scribes continued to flap their gums, or write, often for the better but sometimes not so much.

And with that in mind, I give you the second annual RCR Awards, presented to those who delivered interesting sound bites in 2020.

Sean Payton

The QB Conundrum Cup: To New Orleans head coach Sean Payton, whose NFL club benefited from a COVID outbreak that put all three Denver Broncos quarterbacks in sick bay and ineligible to play his Saints. The Broncos were forced to use practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton at QB and the Saints whupped ’em easily, 31-3.

“I felt bad for the cardboard fans,” Payton said.

The Sign Of The Times Shield: To comedy writer Brad Dickson, for his take on life in 2020.

“On the news tonight all they talked about were boycotts, protests, riots, violence, dissension, disease, lawsuits and court cases. And that was just the sportscast.”

The Empty Nest Nick-Nack: To longtime Canadian national team goaltender Shannon Szabados, geeked up about the National Hockey League’s return from a COVID shutdown for a summer playoff tournament in fan-free rinks in Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna.

“Happy the NHL will be back,” she tweeted, “but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?”

The Nothing Runs Like A Deere Diploma: To RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com, who’s apparently familiar with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and their green-clad faithful on the Flattest of Lands.

“The Nebraska State Fair broke a record for the longest parade of old tractors when over 1,100 showed up. In Canada, that’s just part of the last-minute Labour Day crowd at Mosaic Stadium.”

The Jailhouse Rock Trophy: To Ryan Brown of WJOX Radio in Birmingham, not impressed after watching six straight quarters of Kentucky football.

“Hoping if I’m ever convicted of a major crime this will count as time served.”

Mitch Marner

The Give Your Head A Shake Goblet: To Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner who, after observing the women’s 3-on-3 game during NHL all-star novelty events, offered this analysis of the Ponytail Pucksters: “I think a lot of these players can play in (the NHL).”

Sure, Mitch. And some of Snow White’s seven dwarfs can play O-line for the Green Bay Packers.

The Flip Him The Bird Bauble: To Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times, for his observation after Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler was scratched from a scheduled start because he tore the nail on his right middle finger while putting on his pants.

“As any good Philadelphian knows, what good is a guy if he can’t use his middle finger?”

The Scripps Spelling Bee Shield: We have co-winners in this category. First to Craig Calcaterra of NBCsports.com, after Tres Barrera of the Washington Nationals was slapped with an 80-game ban following a positive test for the drug Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone.

“If he can spell it on the first try, they should reduce his suspension to 40 games.”

And now to RJ Currie for this observation after the Toronto Blue Jays had released relief pitcher Marc Rzepczynski: “He was hampered by a high pitch count and a low vowel count.”

Steve Nash

The White Guys Can’t Coach Hoops Cup: To Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, for his incredibly tone-deaf attempt to shout down anyone with the (apparent) bad manners to suggest the appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets was a classic case of white privilege.

Simmons on Sept. 6: “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege.”

Nash on Sept. 9: “I have benefited from white privilege.”

D’oh!

The Hot Air Honorarium: To RJ Currie of sportsdeke.com, for this observation: “A Chinese man reportedly invented a car that can run on wind. A tentative name was Feng Chezi, which roughly translates to Don Cherry.”

The Where’s The Beef Bauble: To New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton, who doesn’t eat anything that had four legs, hooves and lived in a barn yard or pasture.

“Just because I’m vegan doesn’t mean I just go outside and pick up grass and, you know, put ranch on it. I still love good food.”

The Tube Steak Trinket: To Bob Molinaro of pilotonline.com, noting that Nathan’s annual pigout would go ahead as planned, even as COVID-19 raged in the U.S. “Social distancing will not interrupt the gluttony and star-spangled grossness of Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest. Contestants will be at least six foot-longs apart as they set out to determine who will be this year’s wiener.”

The Don’t Give A Rat’s Ass Award: To Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle, for her take on the NCAA kicking off its football season during the killer COVID pandemic.

“The Power 5 conferences like to use the phrase ‘student athlete’,” she wrote. “Maybe ‘lab rat’ is more appropriate.”

Billie Jean King

The Show Me The Money Medallion: To tennis legend and social activist Billie Jean King, who hopped on the Ponytail Puck bandwagon and urged the NHL to create a full-time women’s professional league, because it would be “good business.”

“They can do this. They can do this,” she said. “Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?”

What Billie Jean didn’t do was explain where the NHL—or anyone—would find 700-1,000 elite-level female hockey players.

O.J. will find the real killers first.

The Allied Van Lines Award: To former Major League Baseball pitcher C.J. Nitkowski for this tweet: “My wife had an odd way of comforting my son after a rough pitching outing yesterday. ‘Well, at least you still get to live in our house. When dad pitched bad, we usually had to move.’”

Brett Hull

The Boys Will Be Boys Peeler Pole Plaque: To former NHLer Brett Hull, for his moronic comments after Brendan Leipsic of the Washington Capitals was booted out of the NHL for disgusting, degrading, disturbing and sexist language about women.

“We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught,” said Hull, fondly recalling his playing days and confirming that he continues to live in another century. “We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.”

Sigh.

The Will They Ever Grow Up Goblet: To Melissa Martin of the Winnipeg Free Press, reacting to oinker Leipsic’s attack on women.

“To be honest,” she tweeted, “I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports.”

The DUI Diploma: To Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, noting a NASCAR race in Homestead is called the Dixie Vodka 400.

“Hmmm. Should a bunch of guys driving 180 mph in heavy traffic be sponsored by vodka?”

The Divorce Lawyer Laurel: To syndicated columnist Norman Chad, who offered a unique pre-game analysis of a Green Bay Packers-Indianapolis Colts skirmish.

“Bettors love that the Colts are well rested. I was well-rested before my second marriage, and it didn’t help.”

The Treadmill Trophy: To Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union Tribune, who, like many sports writers, apparently doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in the gym. When the 2020 American Fitness Index listed San Diego as the 11th-fittest city in the U.S., he wrote: “I’m thankful they didn’t go house-to-house.”

The Let’s Play Hooky Honorarium: To comedy writer Alex Kaseberg, noting USC football players were part of a fraud investigation.

“The penalties could be stiff. Some of the players may be forced to attend classes.”

The Centre Of The Universe Crock Pot: To Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. Musing on the challenges of a global pandemic that had shut down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, Kelly took quill in hand and scribbled a thought that could only come from a jock journo in the Republic of Tranna.

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

Right. Except for the 30 million of us Canadians who were too busy that night to care.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

The Finders Keepers Cup: To Bryson DeChambeau, the PGA Tour’s Frankengolfer who apparently doesn’t believe the rules of the game apply to him. After his tee shot on the 13th hole in the opening round of the Masters went wayward, a search party failed to find his ball in the allotted three minutes. At one point, the frustrated DeChambeau turned to a tournament rules official and asked: “So you’re saying if we can’t find it, it’s a lost ball?” Well, duh. And if you don’t shoot the lowest score, you don’t get the green jacket and visit the Butler Cabin, either.

The Bare Face Bauble: To comedy writer Brad Dickson, for his take on Nebraska Cornhusker football fans.

“There’s something seriously wrong with people who will wear a rubber corncob head on their noggin but won’t be seen in public in a COVID mask.”

The Greybeard Geezer Goblet: To rapper Snoop Dogg, who handled commentary for the fossil fist fight between fiftysomething boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.

“Like two of my uncles fighting at a barbeque.”

Muppet heads Fozzy Bear and Colby Armstrong.

And, finally, the Born With A Silver Spoon(er) In His Mouth Medallion: To Sportsnet gab guy and muppet head Colby Armstrong, who went positively ga-ga in a truly embarrassing and butt-kissing blah, blah, blah session with Canadian national women’s hockey team member Natalie Spooner.

“Thanks for joining us,” he began. “Great seeing you as always and…we see you a lot, like we really get to see you a lot, and especially through (COVID) we get to see you out there a lot advocating for women’s hockey. I have three little girls and you know they love you. They’re big fans. What’s it like being a role model? I’ve been able to watch you and see you deal with a lot of people and fans and little girls, and I think you have a great personality for it, so I think it’s worked out. You’re a very social person, like, fun to be around, high energy, probably the, you know, the person in the room or in the gym that keeps it bumping. You love singing, you love dancing…people follow Natalie Spooner on her, what do you have, Instagram? I don’t have it. I tell my wife, we watch your stuff all the time. You found a way to entertain. Ya, very entertaining.”

At last report, Armstrong remains in recovery following emergency surgery to have his lips removed from Spooner’s butt cheeks.