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 holding Coach LaPo hostage…letting the Saskatchewan Roughriders clean up their own mess…Buck up, man…Scrooge McFootball’s nifty handiwork…Tony Nostraromos sees all…and hell breaking loose in Edmonton

A Tuesday smorgas-bored…and I don’t want to go to Regina either…

Does anyone else see and appreciate the irony in the Paul LaPolice situation?

I mean, back in 2012, Coach LaPo was sideline steward with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the general manager of the day, Sleepy Joe Mack, told him to get lost. Hoofed his heinie out of Dodge eight games into the season. Yet here we are today and GM Kyle Walters is holding the guy hostage.

Paul LaPolice

Talk about not knowing if you’re coming or going.

We aren’t privy to the why and wherefore behind Winnipeg FC’s refusal to grant LaPolice permission to chin wag with the Saskatchewan Roughriders about their head coaching vacancy, because Walters has been mum on the matter to this point. But a couple of theories have been advanced. To wit:

1) LaPolice, the Bombers offensive coordinator, knows too much. (More irony there; Sleepy Joe didn’t think he knew enough.)

2) It’s too late in the Canadian Football League off-season for Walters to go scrambling for a suitable replacement.

Well, okay, let’s unwrap.

Kyle Walters

In regards to Point 1, yes, Coach LaPo has insider intel that the Canadian Mafia—Walters, head coach Mike O’Shea, chief cook and biscuit-maker Wade Miller—would prefer to keep to themselves. Allowing the arch-rival on the Flatlands to recruit and hire LaPolice would put that classified information at risk.

In regards to Point 2, cow patties! Great big fresh steamy cow patties!

Allow me to direct your attention to the Toronto Argonauts, bless their ignored souls.

The Boatmen punted general manager Jim Barker on Jan. 24, 2017, and head coach/quarterback whisperer Scott Milanovich pulled the pin three days later.

Thus, the Rowers found themselves up Schitt’s Creek without a paddle. No GM. No head knock. No hope. Right?

Jim Popp and Marc Trestman

Well, it would be a full month before the Argos filled those two voids, with the Jim Popp-Marc Trestman tag team coming on board on the last day of February, yet history reminds us that the Argos were holding the Grey Cup aloft in Nathan Phillips Square in the Republic of Tranna just nine months later.

So if it’s timing that the Canadian Mafia is selling, I’m not buying.

C’mon, man, we’re talking about an offensive coordinator here, not finding a GM and a head coach at the 11th hour. Hard to believe LaPolice is the only guy capable of getting the job done, which, of course, he didn’t get done in the West Division final last November.

Basically, Coach LaPo’s gotten a raw deal from the Bombers for a second time and no one can blame this one on Sleepy Joe Mack’s itchy trigger finger.

Buck Pierce

Too late to find an O-coordinator? If so, what’s Buck Pierce’s excuse? He was the Winnipeg FC running backs coach for two seasons and he’s been the QB guru for the past three. Has Buck had his eyes closed and his ears plugged the whole time? If he isn’t ready now, when?

Having said all that, Winnipeg FC is under no obligation to mop up the mess that Chris Jones created on the Flatlands. The Roughriders gave their GM, head coach and D-coordinator an escape clause, which he used to flee to the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, and the Bombers aren’t in the business of doing Gang Green any favors. Still, to hold LaPolice back is bad form and a dreadful optic.

Both LaPolice and Bytown RedBlacks OC Jaime Elizondo want the Riders’ job. They do realize that there’s no quarterback, no receivers and it would mean living most of the year in Regina, right?

Aside from being Scrooge McFootball in matters of coaches climbing ladders, who’s prepared to quibble about the work Walters has done this off-season? Not me. He’s already sweet-talked Justin Medlock, Beastmo Bighill, Stanley Bryant and Jackson Jeffcoat into returning. And, for all we know, he’s the reason QB Matt Nichols has sworn off cheeseburgers and fries. That’s fine work.

Tony Romo

I really don’t believe CBS football gab guy Tony Romo can see the future, but if he tells me it isn’t safe to get on an airplane I’m taking a bus. If he tells me an earthquake will strike the West Coast tomorrow, I’m buying a survival kit today. Romo’s work in the American Football Conference final between the K.C. Chiefs and New England Brady/Belichicks was Rod Serling kind of spooky. He knew what Tom Brady would do before Tom Brady knew what he would do. Just call him Tony Nostraromos.

And, finally, does anybody have a clue what’s going on with the Oilers in Edmonton? If so, you can reach GM Peter Chiarelli at allhell’sbrokenloose.com.

About Beastmo Bighill and the Blue Bombers…Kyle Walters’ sales pitch…that Jones boy in Saskatchewan…coloring Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly green…the CFL head count…and what about Coach LaPo?

A midweek smorgas-bored…because stuff happens…

Adam Bighill. Three years. That’s big. It’s big like Chris Walby’s appetite. Big like Duron Carter’s ego.

Why, this is the biggest football news in River City since the last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers signed Beastmo Bighill as a free agent. That was less than a year ago, when the great middle linebacker parachuted in on the cusp of training camp.

It’s different this time around, though.

Adam Bighill

This time, Winnipeg FC has the Canadian Football League’s most outstanding defensive player locked up for three years. Yup. A small amount of arm-twisting convinced Beastmo’s bride, Kristina, that Good Ol’ Hometown is the place to be for them and their two little ones, frigid winters and all.

But, hey, $250,000 will buy a lot of firewood to keep three-year-old A.J. and his little sister, 20-month-old Leah, warm and cozy.

This, understand, isn’t just a field-good story for the Bombers, whose quest to end a 28-year championship drought is enhanced considerably by Bighill’s presence as the centrepiece of the defensive dozen. It’s also glad tidings for the CFL.

At a time when there’s been a jail break of quality players fleeing south to the National Football League—and when CFL strategists kowtow to commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s rose-colored world vision and dutifully sift through the riff-raff of a semi-pro league in Mexico—it’s encouraging to know that we’re keeping one of our best at home.

Mind you, it’s not like Bighill had an urge to scoot south, because he’s scratched that itch. The NFL became a been-there, done-that, got-the-t-shirt thing in 2017 when, after six seasons with the B.C. Lions, Beastmo gave it a go in New Orleans and appeared in three skirmishes with the Saints. Didn’t work out. Thus he returned to our side of the great U.S.-Canada divide and found his way to Winnipeg. To stay, as it turns out.

Kyle Walters

No doubt his signing Tuesday turned heads across the CFL landscape, because Bighill could have shopped himself on the open market come Feb. 12. He would have fielded more come-ons than Brad Pitt in a singles bar.

I mean, to say this guy is a difference-maker is to say Donald Trump is fond of fast food.

So the fact that Bighill chose to forego possibly greater riches and at least one much warmer locale (Vancouver) speaks volumes for Winnipeg FC general manager Kyle Walters. And it isn’t just Bighill that he’s lured back. Last week he sweet-talked punter/placekicker Justin Medlock into another two-year gig.

Apparently some people really can sell ice cream at the North Pole. Well done, Kyle Walters.

Biggest smile in town after the re-signing of Bighill? Defensive coordinator Richie Hall, who went from tar and feathers to flavor of the month as the 2018 progressed, thanks largely to Beastmo’s play.

It ain’t Mexico, amigos.

Walters claimed an Ortiz, a Reyes and a Pérez in the CFL’s auction of Mexican talent on Monday, and I can only imagine how his sales pitch will go with the fresh recruits from Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua: “Listen, guys, I don’t want to scare you off, but I ain’t gonna lie to you. We never win and Winnipeg ain’t Shangi-La. This Blue-and-Gold outfit has done nothing but lose, like, forever. Last time we won the Grey Cup, your ancestors were taking care of business at the Alamo. That’s right, amigos, it’s been that long. Then there’s our weather. It gets so cold during the winter that it’ll freeze the brass monkeys off a brass monkey. You don’t know shrinkage until you’ve stood at Portage and Main in January. But you can always go underground. That’s how we get from Point A to Point B here in the Peg. We become moles. But, hey, here’s the most important thing to remember about Winnipeg, amigos—it ain’t Regina.”

Apparently Commish Randy’s Mexican adventure that has included a combine and a draft does not include the CFL Players Association. “We’re not in a position to be able to explain what the league is doing, because we don’t know,” is what CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay told Scott Stinson of Postmedia. If you find it odd that the league has left the players on the outside looking in, so do I.

Marc Trestman

That’s a fine mess Chris Jones has left the Saskatchewan Roughriders to mop up. No general manager. No head coach. No defensive coordinator. No quarterback. So is he a scoundrel for defecting to the Cleveland Browns as a defensive specialist a week after signing an extension with Gang Green? Some see it that way. But it’s nothing that signing Marc Trestman and Mike Reilly wouldn’t cure. Do that and folks on the Flatlands will be asking, “Chris who?”

Chris Jones

Let’s be clear: Jones’ move is bad for the CFL because you never like to see talent get away, inside or outside the sidelines. But the 2018 coach-of-the-year has done nothing wrong. Jones had an escape clause in his contract. The NFL and the Browns provided the escape route. He took it. At worst it’s a bad optic. Moralists in the media inclined to tsk-tsk Jones and label him a Benedict Arnold first must look in the mirror, because I know very few veteran sports scribes who have worked for only one newspaper.

If I told you that the Republic of Tranna and Vancouver were the only CFL markets to show a hike in attendance last season would you believe me? Of course not. But it’s true. Trouble is, the situation is so bad in The ROT and Lotus Land that the minimal gains are meaningless. According to the number crunchers at CFLdb, the league lost 63,864 customers in 2018, and almost one-third of the defectors (19,708) were folks in Montreal who abandoned the Alouettes. Attendance continues to be boffo on the Prairies and in Ottawa and Hamilton. Here are the details:

And, finally, I find myself wondering if the Roughriders will look at Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to fill the head coaching vacancy on the Flatlands. It would be a tough sell to the melon-headed faithful, given that Coach LaPo’s offence failed to score a touchdown in the West Division final last November.

About the great escape of CFL stars to the NFL…Mexico, Commish Randy and Martha Stewart…chasing Mr. Reilly…lady power in the NFL playoffs…backup goalies and backup QBs…and so long to Jim Taylor

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I wonder how many Corona CFL execs sucked back during their dog-and-pony show in Mexico…

Will the last all-star to leave the Canadian Football League please turn out the lights.

Already among the dearly departed are Alex Singleton, Bryant Mitchell, Duke Williams, Marken Michel, Diontae Spencer, Jameer Thurman, James Vaughters and Samuel Eguavoen. Most oustanding player Bo Levi Mitchell soon may follow.

I swear, we haven’t seen this many good men flee since the disciples abandoned Christ.

At least those guys had a legit excuse. It was either leave Christ to fend for himself or become a starving lion’s lunch. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

This southbound exodus of quality CFL talent is another matter. The large lads are skipping town because they want to compete with the best of the best, plus they’re tired of bashing their brains for chump change. And collecting it in Canadian coin. Up here, signing bonuses are paid in Canuck Tire money and wages in Monopoly money. At least that’s how the American import might see it.

Randy Ambrosie

But, hey, make a National Football League roster and he collects Dead Presidents and Founding Fathers. Scads of them.

A practice squad shlep, for example, earns $7,600 per week in four-down football. That’s $129,200 per season. For doing squat. Minimum wage for an NFL freshman in 2019 will be $495,000. A two-year guy can’t earn less than $645,000, even if he does nothing more than spend an entire Sunday afternoon standing on the sideline staring at a Microsoft tablet.

In comparison, the CFL minimum last season was $54,000. That isn’t a typo. Do not add a zero. And it’s only $40,559.40 on the U.S. exchange. That makes staying home in Alabama to offer Big Macs and large fries to drive-thru customers a viable option. Especially if it means you don’t have to leave a bride and kids behind.

Bo Levi Mitchell, MOP.

We won’t know the 2019 CFL salary structure until the league and the Players Association agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we do know the bottom feeders won’t see more than five figures on their pay stubs.

So, ya, head south young man.

What puzzles me is that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is cool with the high volume of defectors.

“The NFL thing is just evidence of how fundamentally close the talent level in our league is to the talent level in the NFL,” he told news snoops last week at the winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “That’s been a long and important story as it relates to our football. Our guys are world-class athletes and I’m always happy for them when they get a chance to take a shot at the NFL.”

Dave Dickenson

Oh, sure, let’s all paste on our happy faces like Commish Randy. Losing quality people to the NFL is a meh issue. Why, we can replace all those lost all-stars with any scrawny Mexican who can crawl under, climb over, or run around Donald Trump’s wall and make his way to Canada. So not to worry.

“Wonderful, young players,” Commish Randy said of Mexican talent while laying out his global scheme during a fireside chat with Dave Naylor of TSN. “It’s a brand new world, a brave new world out there.”

Sure is. But if Bo Levi Mitchell bolts to the NFL, I doubt John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders will be “brave” enough to replace their starting quarterback with Juan Valdez.

Sorry, but the CFL climbing into bed with Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua isn’t the feel-good story Commish Randy makes it out to be. Not when we’re witnessing the football equivalent of a jail break by our premier performers.

Seems to me his time would be better spent working on a CBA that doesn’t pay in Canuck Tire money.

Martha Stewart

In another fireside chat at the CFL winter meetings, Commish Randy channeled his inner Betty Crocker and advised Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that he wants to “build the mother of all pies. We want to build a big pie.” Terrific. Martha Stewart can succeed him as commissioner when his world vision falls flatter than a sad soufflé.

Commish Randy began building his pie at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Sunday, with cooks and bottle washers from the nine CFL teams assembling for the inaugural Look Under Every Rock Talent Tour. After observing 50 aspirants run, jump, pass, catch and kick, the consensus seemed to be there were a “couple of guys” who “wouldn’t embarrass themselves” at a training camp. I say we let the Tranna Argonauts have all 50 players. If they fail to make the team, maybe they’ll stay and buy season tickets. That would double attendance at BMO Field from last season.

According to Commish Randy and others, this Mexico’s Got Talent dog-and-pony show is all about growing the game globally. How about growing the game in the Republic of Tranna, Montreal and B.C. first.

Sarah Thomas

The CFL prides itself on diversity, but the NFL one-upped our league this weekend when Sarah Thomas and Terri Valenti worked playoff matches. Thomas became the first woman to officiate a post-season game, serving as the down judge in the American Football Conference division skirmish between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Brady-Belichicks, while Valenti was the replay official for the Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts joust. Awesome.

Moving to a more seasonal topic, I don’t understand why so many people are saying and writing that Rink Rat Scheifele is the engine that drives the Winnipeg Jets. Seems to me that it’s captain Blake Wheeler. Still.

In my next life I want to be a backup goalie or a backup quarterback. They’re always the most popular player with the rabble. A case in point would be Laurent Brossoit, currently Connor Hellebuyck’s caddie with les Jets. Listening to the faithful, Brossoit is boffo and Hellebuyck sucks. And the numbers suggest that. But, no, you don’t want to turn the blue paint over to Brossoit. It’s that old nugget about not fixing what ain’t broke. The Jets sit atop the National Hockey League Central Division leaderboard. They ain’t broke.

Jim Taylor

The West Coast said goodbye to one of Canada’s jock journo legends when Jim Taylor cashed out at age 82 last week on Vancouver Island. There was much to admire about Skull’s scribblings, but what I liked most was his approach to writing sports: Taylor recognized that the games people play aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things—hence the term ‘toy department’—so he went about it with a wink and a nod. Taylor used wit and sarcasm, irreverence and cheek to deliver his message of the day to Vancouver Sun and Province readers for 30 years. Sometimes he did it with the bite of a bulldog, other times the purr of a kitten. The main ingredient, however, was humor. He was a funny guy who poked fun and had fun. If there were any sacred cows in his world, no one noticed it in his writing. That’s why he was among my favorites.

Taylor had a quirk: He would run his one-liners by you before he’d ship his copy off to his editors. It was his idea of a test drive. He didn’t have to do that, though. They were all funny and made you laugh. Out loud. And you’d laugh again the next morning when you saw the same line in print.

Taylor’s passing provided pause for ponder on the state of sports writing in our vast nation. There are some fine wordsmiths, people who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase, but I don’t find much cheekiness and humor in most scribblings. The scribes all seem to take themselves so bloody seriously, and I often wonder what some of them are so angry about. It’s probably why I rag on guys like Steve Simmons and Damien Cox so much. They just don’t appear to be having any fun with the gig.

And, finally, is the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press ever going to hire a sports columnist? It’s been more than three months since the last guy left the building. Get on with it already.

About Planet Puckhead and social media…another WTF Tranna scribe is up my nose…have a thought for Pick…Burkie at his best…Grapes and karma…Ovie’s hangover…more dumb stuff from the East…and CFL free agents

The first Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and so far 2019 doesn’t feel any different from 2018…

Back in the day, when people actually paid me to write this crap, I scribbled something about the intense pressure placed upon pimple-face teenagers wearing our Maple Leaf on their chests and hearts on their sleeves.

I didn’t think the expectation and suffocating scrutiny was fair in 1999. Still don’t today.

I mean, okay, I get it. This is Planet Puckhead. We do hockey like Criss Angel does magic. We expect to win. All…the…time. At…every…level.

But, hey, sometimes a Criss Angel illusion or magic trick goes kaflooey. Sinatra didn’t always sing on key. Not every Beatles or Rolling Stones tune is a classic. Not every episode of Seinfeld was belly-laughing, knee-slapping funny. And sometimes we lose at shinny.

Like in the just-concluded World Junior Hockey Championship.

Our teenagers were found wanting in the 10-nations tournament. They didn’t earn a gold, silver or bronze trinket. Nada. They finished sixth. In our own bailiwick. That’s like the Pope skipping Sunday mass at the Vatican. So there’s hand-wringing, navel gazing, considerable gnashing of the teeth, autopsies performed in print and on airwaves, with perhaps a royal commission into the state of Canadian shinny affairs to follow.

If root, root, rooting for the home side isn’t exhausting, the fallout from failure surely is.

Maxime Comtois: No goal.

Worst of all, of course, is the cauldron of rot known as social media, which exploded like Noah Dobson’s hockey stick during added time in a 2-1 quarterfinal misstep vs. the plucky and, yes, fortuitous Finnish teens. (Seriously, they tied the game when the puck took more turns than the magic JFK bullet.) This reality that Finland was the beneficiary of more luck than a leprechaun with a fistful of four-leaf clovers was lost on the cyber bullies who assailed our reps, most notably Maxime Comtois.

Young Max, who wore the ‘C’ on his black True North jersey, had the bad manners to: a) perform a series of Neymar impersonations in the early skirmishing of the event; b) flub a penalty shot in OT vs. Finland; c) be born French-Canadian.

Add it all up and, apparently, he’s the worst captain since E.J. Smith steered the Titanic into that big ice cube near the shores of Newfoundland.

It is, of course, a load of hooey.

Neymar

Comtois’ misguided play-acting like a Brazilian soccer star aside (we’re Canadian; we don’t dive on frozen ponds), the avalanche of abuse heaped upon him was as exaggerated as it was unfair. Yes, he coughed up a hair ball on that penalty shot, but not because he calls the opening between a goaltender’s pads “le cinq trou” instead of the five hole. He missed. Stuff happens. In both official languages.

Post-ouster, we’ve learned that Comtois was playing with a separated shoulder, and I can already hear the braying of the jackals: “Did he hurt it taking one of his dives?”

I’m sorry, but I don’t hold with the crucifixion of kids playing a game. Especially when wearing the Maple Leaf.

Look, our guys tried. They came up short because, in case you hadn’t noticed, the other guys are good. It’s been that way since the Russkies paddywhacked the best of our best (sans B. Orr and B. Hull) in Game 1 of the Summit Series in 1972.

We’re no less a nation of puckheads today because of this WJHC result. We can just hope we do better next time—on the ice and, especially, on social media.

Next time one of our genius jock journos tells us that women’s hockey is a joke because of lopsided scores, remind him of these results from the world junior tournament: 14-0, 11-2, 8-2, 8-3, 7-4, 6-1, 5-0, 5-1, 5-1. Denmark played six games and scored in just one of them, a relegation skirmish vs. Kazakhstan, which was outshot 69-13 in one round-robin game and 57-10 in another. They surrendered an average of 56 shots per match in their four prelims.

Canada’s gold medal curlers at the 2018 Olympic Games.

Speaking of genius jock journos, you wonder why scribes from the Republic of Tranna get up my nose? Because they write rubbish like this item from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Canada’s never won a major international team tournament at anything that wasn’t hockey.” That’s not just incorrect, it’s ignorant. It’s a total WTF comment. I mean, last time I looked, Winter Olympic Games curling was a “major international team tournament,” and Canada has been on the top step of the podium six times! We’ve also won 18 global men’s and women’s curling championships since 2000. If you’re scoring at home, that’s 24 wins at a “major international team tournament” that “wasn’t hockey.” But, hey, Kelly is a Tranna-based writer and curling rates somewhere between tiddlywinks and rec-room ping pong on the scale of importance in The Rot. He writes about our curlers only when they gag at the Olympics or get drunk at a weekend bonspiel and, based on his scribblings from the Winter Games last year, he doesn’t know a burned rock from burnt toast.

The legend Bob Picken.

Wonderful piece from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on broadcasting legend Bob Picken, who’s bedded down in his River Heights home in a fight for his life against the dreaded cancer. I don’t know how much time Pick has left, but I do know you’ll not meet a nicer man and you’ll not hear a better set of pipes. Pick’s always been one of those glass-half-full people, forever armed with a kind word and sage counsel. He’s an absolute treasure. And when he’s gone, it will close the book on what Friesen aptly describes as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. I doubt he’s in a hurry to join Matty, Cactus Jack, Witt, Siggy and Coconut Willie on the other side, but you can be sure they’re anxious to see him.

Brian Burke

Brian Burke continues to be the best hockey voice on TV in the Great White North, if not North America. Burkie was in peak harrumphing form on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night, taking aim at bellyaching player agent Allan Walsh for his whining tweets about client Michael Frolik’s ice time allotment with the Calgary Flames. “Put a sock in it,” Burke barked before describing Walsh’s antics as “clownish behavior.” He added: “Nobody’s gonna pay the slightest bit of attention to this. This will be ignored by management. Agents don’t advise teams on how to run teams, trust me. Go have a meeting with the GM, get behind closed doors, air your differences and see if you can work something out.” Good stuff.

Don Cherry

The Lord of Loud, Donald S. Cherry, weighed in on Canada’s demise at the world junior tourney during the Coachless Corner segment of HNIC, suggesting that our guys were beaten as payback for running up the score (14-zip) vs. Denmark. “You don’t beat them down like that or you pay the price,” he said. “I’ve said it before, the hockey gods will get you or karma will get you.” If karma has anything to say about it, Grapes will be wearing nothing but a loin cloth in his next life as punishment for those gawdawful suits he exposes us to on Saturday nights.

Mitch Marner

There are a few things in life that concern me. Whether or not Kevin Hart hosts the Oscars and whether or not Madonna has had butt implants are not among them. Nor is Mitch Marner’s exclusion from the National Hockey League all-star soiree, which Sportsnet refers to as the “great snub.” I believe Marner put it best when he said: “There’s bigger things in the world to think about than that.” Agreed. But I doubt opinionists in The ROT will let it go.

Alex Ovechkin is taking a pass on the all-star game because his chassis needs a rest. Is that the real reason, or is Ovie still hungover from his Stanley Cup celebration?

There’s stupid and then there’s Eastern Canada kind of stupid. “The Alouettes’ slogan (indeed the slogan of the entire CFL) should be “Fans?—What Fans?” writes Jack Todd of Postmedia Montreal. Excuse us? The entire Canadian Football League? Don’t think so. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Saskatchewan Roughriders and Bytown RedBlacks played to 96.8, 96.1 and 94.4 per cent capacity in 2018. Attendance for playoff games (in Hamilton, Regina, Bytown and Calgary) was 91.4 per cent of a full house. It was SRO at the Grey Cup game, with 55,819 wedged into Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. The average head count for the Eskimos was 31,107. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Calgary Stampeders were well above the league attendance average. What part of that does Todd not understand? The CFL has three trouble spots: Montreal, the Republic of Tranna, and Vancouver. The other six markets are doing just fine, thank you.

Mike Reilly

If I’m Ed Hervey, general manager of the B.C. Lions, I’m calling for an all-out blitz and going after both Mike Reilly and Adam Bighill when the CFL free-agent market opens next month. And if I’m Leos’ bankroll David Braley, I’m letting him do it. Guaranteed that would put people in the pews at B.C. Place Stadium.

Is Kyle Walters doing his job as general manager of the Bombers if he doesn’t go after Reilly, assuming the Eskimos QB doesn’t choose to stay in E-Town? Nope. I like Matt Nichols, but Reilly would be a serious upgrade behind centre and Walters must pursue him.

And, finally, this blog reached an all-time high for reads in 2018: 23,801. My thanks to all who stopped by for a visit. Let’s all meet again at my place every Sunday in the new year. Drinks are on moi. But, remember, if you’re going to drink, don’t drive.

About bah-humbugish people and things that have gotten up my nose…

A different kind of Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s only fair to warn you that I’ve got a bad case of the bah-humbugs today because the PC Police are ruining Christmas songs for me. Seriously, Baby It’s Cold Outside is a banned song? What next, they haul Rudolph and his red nose off the air because he was bullied by the other reindeer and he drinks too much? Anyway, Robert Mueller is up Donald Trump’s nose (still) and here are some people and things that have crawled up my nose:

  • Brooke Henderson

    News snoops who vote on the Lou Marsh Trophy get up my nose, because they don’t have a clue about curling and curlers. Their snub of Rachel Homan last year was ghastly, so you can be sure that our girl Jennifer Jones won’t get a whiff of consideration this week when the girls and boys on the beat(s) put their little heads together to declare Canada’s top jock for 2018. I’m not saying Jones deserves the honor. Brooke Henderson does. But it would be nice if the world champion curler is at least in the conversation. Trouble is, few jock journos in the east know a hogline from Hog Town. Some of them still consider curling a social activity rather than a sport. (True story: When I joined the Toronto Sun sports staff, I was dispatched to London, Ont., for the 1981 world curling championships because, as sports editor George Gross informed me, “You’re from Western Canada, so you must know curling. No one else on our staff knows anything about it.”)

  • The national sports media (Sportsnet, TSN, Globe and Mail, National Post) are up my nose for their groupie-like gushing over the Tranna Maple Leafs. The Auston Matthews adulation is painfully over the top, and the Willy Boy Nylander contract saga received more coverage than the JFK assassination. Daily updates on Willy Boy’s whereabouts and activity while he played hooky instead of hockey included everything from the brushing of his teeth to the clipping of his toenails. There were 15—count ’em, 15!—breathless articles/videos about him on the Sportsnet website last Monday morning. The second coming of Christ won’t get that much play. Unless, of course, Jesus signs with the Maple Leafs and plays on a line with Matthews.

  • Connor McDavid

    The Edmonton Oilers are up my nose because, their current run of decent play notwithstanding, they’ve been a mess of steaming, hot hooey for too long. Normally I wouldn’t care, except they have this kid named Connor McDavid who deserves so much more than a supporting cast full of invalids. McDavid was too ill to play last Monday. Little wonder. The Oilers make me sick, too.

  • The National Hockey League is up my nose because it continues to snub Québec City, my favorite burg in North America. Okay, it didn’t work first time around for Ville de Québec, but the same must also be said for Winnipeg. And just look at what’s happening in River City now.
  • A portion of the rabble in River City are up my nose for the constant whinging about a perceived anti-Jets bias among NHL referees. As conspiracy theories go, it ranks right up there with the moon landing and whatever boogymen Donald Trump is spooked by these days. Nobody wearing arm bands is out to get the locals. Missed calls happen. Bad calls happen. That’s because some NHL refs are lousy. So there’s nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is up my nose because he’s apologized to everyone for shoving and kicking a woman except the woman he shoved and kicked while she was on the ground.

  • The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press is up my nose for providing retired sports columnist Paul Wiecek with a platform to spew scandalous gossip about elite curlers being a bunch of “swingers” who spend their weekends cheating on their spouses with other curlers who are cheating on their spouses. Infidelity is newsworthy if an athlete’s name is Tiger Woods, but the everyday Janes and Joes who curl don’t deserve to be branded as adulterous sexaholics by a former jock journo with too much free time on his hands. The sexual hijinx of curlers is nobody’s business. It’s the sort of careless gossip you tell the boys at the bar, but a responsible newspaper wouldn’t print such trash. It serves no purpose other than to titillate and cast the “cheater” cloud of suspicion over everyone.

  • Postmedia is up my nose because of the way it has destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports pages. I don’t recognize it as a Winnipeg newspaper anymore.

  • Jeff Blair of Sportsnet is up my nose for writing that no general manager in the Republic of Tranna has “won anything of significance for years, going back to 1992-93.” Figures. Let’s ignore the Argonauts. Typical Tranna, where the Canadian Football League is less significant than Drake’s bowel movements. The Boatmen have brought the Grey Cup home five times since 1993. Apparently Blair considers those meh moments. So only the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors matter in The ROT. Sounds about right. And that’s a shame.

  • Mike Benevides

    The CFL is up my nose for its football operations salary cap. It’s the dumbest cap since someone put that pointy thing on the Pope’s head. Do we really care if the Saskatchewan Roughriders have 15 coaches and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers only 10? Or how much or how little they’re paid? The Montreal Alouettes just fired a mittful of coaches/scouts because of this new cap. And did Mike Benevides and the Edmonton Eskimos part ways because of the new cap? Losing quality coaches and scouts makes the on-field product better how?

  • Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna is up my nose for his sanctimonious scribblings re Baseball Hall of Fame balloting. Citing Rule 5 of qualifications for induction to Cooperstown, he focuses on “integrity, sportsmanship and character” in explaining his steadfast refusal to vote for Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez or any other ballplayer who stuck a needle in their butt. But this holier-than-thou Simmons is the same guy who glorifies woman-beater Floyd Mayweather, writing about his “dignity,” and he also expresses how much “fun” it is to have woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the CFL. Can you say fake piety, kids?

  • Tyson Fury

    Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is up my nose for his pungent description of heavyweight boxer and oinker Tyson Fury. The British pug is a “delightful and often tortured oddball,” according to Kelly. Well, yes, he’s tortured. He’s battled the bottle, drugs, depression and suicide ideation. He also spews sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and transphobic venom. A woman’s place is “in the kitchen and on her back” would be one of his tamer comments. He once said he would hang his sister were he to discover she’d been promiscuous. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia. Jews and Zionists own all the banks, newspapers and TV stations and have us all “brainwashed.” This is Kelly’s idea of a delightful human being?

  • I’ve probably gotten up some noses with this series of bah-humbugish mini-rants, but I’m sure the spirit of the season shall fa-la-la-la-la all over me once again on the morrow. Unless, of course, I find out about more Christmas carols that the PC Police won’t let me listen to.

About the ‘what ifs’ of a CFL quarterback carousel…East, West or North, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers still lose…Roberta Flack and the Bombers…and 68 candles

And now for something different, a Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…

Let’s begin with a series of what ifs. Such as…

  • Mike Reilly

    What if Bo Levi Mitchell takes his football and skedaddles south?

If that’s the case, a quarterback crisis will have officially arrived in the Canadian Football League. Maybe it already has.

At the close of business on Sunday, there were four elite QBs in the three-down game—Mitchell, Mike Reilly, Jeremiah Masoli and Trevor Harris. Matt Nichols would fit in as a Tier 2 guy who appears to be growing old in a hurry. After that, it’s a wasteland (ignore what the Cult Of Johnny at TSN would have you believe about their favorite lousy quarterback). There’s no one you would call a true No. 1 in Montreal, the Republic of Tranna, Saskatchewan and B.C. Add Calgary to the list if Bo Levi bolts.

  • Ricky Ray: Mugged again.

    What if there’s a fierce bidding war for Reilly?

If Reilly puts himself on the market, I can see the B.C. Lions making a pitch for their one-time backup. Hard to imagine Chris Jones not preferring Reilly behind centre in Saskatchewan, rather than the brittle Zach Collaros or the erratic Brandon Bridge. Assuming Ricky Ray isn’t interested in any more muggings, he’ll wave the white flag and surrender to Father Time, creating an opportunity with the Argonauts. But, really, why would Reilly want to perform in front of 9,000 people at BMO Field? (I’d suggest the arrival of Reilly would provide much-needed oomph to the box office in Tranna, but selling three-down football to folks in The ROT is like trying to sell six-inch stilettos to an elephant.)

  • Anthony Calvillo

    What if the Montreal Alouettes dump Johnny Manziel?

I believe the Alouettes are sold on Johnny Rotten, so good luck with that. An audience of 17,000 soon will be 12,000 or fewer. Call the undertaker. If they were to pursue and land Reilly, he would provide les Larks with their best quarterbacking since Anthony Calvillo and would also make them immediately competitive in a weak East Division, thus wooing customers back to Percival Molson Stadium.

  • Matt Nichols, still No. 1.

    What if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were to go after Reilly?

I think Mike O’Shea would lose his mind. He and Matt Nichols are attached at the hip. It would take the jaws of life to pry them apart. But if GM Kyle Walters has the opportunity to upgrade from a Tier 2 QB to an elite QB, he has to consider it.

  • What if Reilly found a home in Calgary?

Now there’s a radical thought. Imagine the main man from the main enemy camp joining the Stampeders. They wouldn’t miss a beat. Probably repeat as Grey Cup champions.

  • Trevor Harris

    What if Reilly stays in Edmonton with the Eskimos?

It’s my guess that’s how it’ll shake down. But if I’m John Hufnagel in Calgary and I lose Mitchell to the National Football League, I’m making a serious pitch for Reilly. I’m just spitballing here, but do you really expect Hufnagel to go into a CFL season without a QB? Next year we could have Reilly in Calgary, Harris in Bytown, Masoli in the Hammer, Nichols in River City and five QB-challenged outfits. And another Calgary-Bytown Grey Cup game. Yawn.

Okay, it’s agreed: The path to a Grey Cup championship is less of a challenge for East Division outfits, because a .500 or sub-.500 record usually earns you a home playoff date. Sometimes it gets you first place and a bye. So perhaps it’s unfair to compare the Bombers’ failures to the Bytown RedBlacks’ successes in the past five years (one Grey Cup title, three appearances).

However…let’s not lose sight of the fact Winnipeg FC spent 21 seasons in the East. The Bombers brought the Grey Cup home twice in the first four of those 21 years. After that, nada.

Now, I don’t often get into number crunching, because I find it boring and it’s too easy to pick and choose figures to create false narratives. But here are some simple numbers that support the notion that it doesn’t matter where the Bombers hang their helmets—they’ve lost West, East and North since winning the Cup in 1990.

If all those Sad Sack numbers aren’t enough to put a Big Blue loyalist off her or his breakfast, consider this: Roberta Flack had the top Billboard song of 1972 with the hauntingly beautiful The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, and that’s the last time the Bombers ever saw first place in the West Division. That’s correct. Do not adjust your computer screen. It’s been 46 years. Ouch. Don Jonas was the Winnipeg FC quarterback back then. Trigger Spavital the head coach. Steve Juba was mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown and Ed Schreyer the premier of Manitoba. It would be another eight years before the Winnipeg Tribune shut down. Paul Henderson scored a big goal in Russia less than two months earlier, and the Winnipeg Jets were just one month into their inaugural World Hockey Association crusade. So, yes, it’s been a while.

And, finally, allow me close on a personal note this morning. I begin my 69th year on the third rock from the sun today. Never thought I’d see 68 candles on my birthday cake, but here I am. Still. Please don’t send cards, flowers or money. Save them for the funeral.