Let’s talk about the bearded ladies of Winnipeg…cheering in the press box and on the anchor desk…Box Car Willie on Sportsnet…trading Auston Matthews…Tiger’s still a saint on CBS/ESPN…garbage in the outfield…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a heaping, helping of media stuff right off the hop, because someone should keep their tootsies to the toaster oven…

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab has done the math, and he tells us that the Winnipeg Jets have more wins and points than all Western Conference outfits since the puck was dropped to start the 2017-18 National Hockey League season.

“Remind me why we seemingly can’t go a week or two around here without hearing calls from some quarters to fire the coach, axe the general manager, bench this lousy player and trade that bum,” he writes.

Geez, I don’t know Mad Mike, ya think it might have something to do with the Jets’ first-round ouster in 2019 and their failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament last summer? I mean, you can lead the first 199 laps at the Indy 500, but the driver leading lap 200 gets the checkered flag, the bottle of milk and a kiss from a pretty girl.

Truly bizarre headline on that Mad Mike column: “Ladies and gentlemen…Start your playoff beards.” Seriously? Bearded ladies? Little wonder Good Ol’ Hometown is at the top of most no-trade lists for young NHL players.

Ken Reid

Did anchor Ken Reid actually say he and his fellow talking heads at Sportsnet don’t cheer for any specific team? Yup, sure did. That is to laugh. The company that signs his paycheque, Rogers Communications, owns the Toronto Blue Jays and, in partnership with Bell Canada, holds a 75 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC and Argos. So, make no mistake, the squawk boxes on both Sportsnet Central and TSN ‘s signature SportsCentre are full of sis-boom-bah and rah, rah, rah for Team(s) Tranna. I mean, they couldn’t contain their glee during the Tranna Jurassics run to the NBA title a couple of years back, and they positively choked on their pom-poms when their hoops heroes were ushered from the playoffs last year. A funereal, long-faced Lindsay Hamilton began SportsCentre by saying, “This one stings,” and, over at Sports Central, reporter Michael Grange blew his cover when he said, “As Raptors fans, we…” That’s right, he confessed to being one of the fawning flock. That’s never a good look.

Box Car Elliotte

Can someone, anyone, at Sportsnet explain why they continue to permit Elliotte Friedman to appear on camera looking like the back end of a nasty all-nighter? His Box Car Willie shtick is disgraceful and, again, it’s a blatant double standard because none of the female talking heads would be allowed on air looking like a bridge troll.

Damien Cox continues to astound and amaze on Twitter. Last Thursday, the Toronto Star columnist took a moment to give himself an enthusiastic on the back by tweeting, “From the beginning said Matthews would be the best player the Leafs ever drafted.” That doesn’t exactly make him Nostradamus, and it’s positively belly-laughingly hilarious when you consider this tweet he sent out in November 2018: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and (William) Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore.” There are no words.

Cox didn’t stop there. In his latest alphabet phart in the Star, he wrote this: “More than 95 per cent of senior positions in the NHL remain reserved for white men. In sports, only golf is more dominated by white culture than hockey.” Apparently he’s never seen a NASCAR race.

So tell us, Phil Mushnick, what say you about the talking heads on CBS/ESPN for their continued hero worship of Tiger Woods, absent from The Masters golf tournament after driving into a ditch and almost killing himself in February? “Even those who wouldn’t recognize a con if it were sold with multiple, fill-in-the-blanks certificates of authenticity, now know that this 25-year anointment of Tiger Woods as a saint on earth was a media con,” the New York Post columnist writes. “Again, it wasn’t enough that he was the world’s best golfer, he additionally had to be the best son, best husband, best father and finest human being. But if that had been you instead of Woods, the one who, unimpeded at almost double the speed limit, rolled his SUV off the road, you’d have been charged with a pile of negligent driving charges—even while hospitalized and before your blood results returned. For him to still be sainted on the national telecast of a major as a gift from above was designed to be swallowed by the tiny fraction of fools still available to be fooled. That’s supposed to be all of us. Again. And it’s nauseating. Again.” Harsh. But I don’t disagree.

Bryson DeChambeau

I kept waiting for one of the CBS gab guys, or Dottie Pepper, to call out Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday, not for his wonky game but for his arrogance. You might recall that golf’s incredible bulk basically pooh-poohed Augusta National as nothing more than a pitch-and-putt course prior to the 2020 Masters last November, boasting, “I’m looking at it as par-67 for me.” So, here’s his scorecard at the par-72 course since then: 70, 74, 69, 73, 76, 67, 75. He goes into today’s final round sitting 38th among the 54 guys who teed it up on the weekend. Yet there wasn’t so much as a peep about DeChambeau’s disrespect for one of the most challenging and treasured golf courses on the planet, because that’s not how it’s done during coverage of The Masters. You don’t dare ruffle the azaleas or disturb the piped-in bird chirping and the soothing piano music. So they gave him a pass. Sigh. If only Johnny Miller was still sitting behind a mic.

Best line I read or heard about The Masters was delivered by longtime, now-retired sports scribe Cam Cole. After noted cheater Patrick Reed had swatted a ball into the azaleas, Cam tweeted: “Breaking: Patrick Reed has hit into the flowers behind 13 green. Rules officials are racing to the spot.” That’s funny.

Todd Kabel

Talk about a day late and a dollar short. It took the Drab Slab two weeks to acknowledge the death of Todd Kabel, a kid from McCreary who got his break riding the ponies at Assiniboia Downs for five seasons then made it big at Woodbine in the Republic of Tranna. Todd’s death on March 27 had been reported hither and yon, but somehow escaped the notice of the Winnipeg Free Press sports desk. Not good. That’s a major whiff. George Williams has a real nice piece on the seven-time Sovereign Award-winning jockey that you might want to check out in the Saturday’s edition, not that it excuses the negligence.

I’d say the Winnipeg Sun missed the boat on Kabel, too, except the suits at Postmedia in The ROT don’t allow Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck to fill their two or three pages with anything other than the Jets, Blue Bombers and curling.

One more note on the Drab Slab: They often run a full-page, poster pic on the Sunday sports front, and that seems like a colossal waste of space to me. Why not a quality feature or something light and bright? Plopping a large pic in that premium space shows zero initiative or imagination. It’s just lazy.

The Beatles and Yoko

Three months in, I still really don’t know what to make of this NHL season, except to submit that it’s kind of like the breakup of the Beatles. Instead of one genius rock band, we were left with three solid solo artists and Ringo Starr. That’s what the NHL is today, a quartet of separate house leagues, although I haven’t decided which of the four is Ringo. I am, mind you, leaning toward the Central Division because, once you get past Tampa, Carolina and Florida, you’re left with nothing but a band of bland clubs and a guy named Torts who, come to think of it, is a lot like Yoko Ono. You know, a dark, foreboding presence determined to ruin a good thing (for evidence see: Laine, Patrik).

Torts

If nothing else, this NHL crusade is a study in the distortion of facts. Media pundits insist on taking numbers and pro-rating them over an 82-game crusade, as if delivering a weighty message, but in truth it’s delusional, like imagining Patrik Laine and John Tortorella sitting by the campfire and singing Kumbaya. Consider the Jets. They’d be on pace for a 106-point season, which would be their second best since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, but it’s false currency. We wouldn’t be looking at similar numbers if they were required to play the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche 9/10 times each instead of the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks. But, hey, I’m not here to piddle on your Corn Flakes. Enjoy it, Jets fans. Much like the Edsel, this kind of season won’t happen again.

All power to the Edmonton Oilers for getting the brooms out and sweeping the Senators, 9-nada, on the season, but, I’m sorry, that should never happen in any big-league sport.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl ate the Senators’ lunch to the tune of 21 points each in those nine games, so if they got to play Ottawa 82 times they’d finish with 191 points. That would still leave them 24 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s best year.

Hey, check out the Los Angeles Dodgers 2020 World Series championship rings. They’re as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. I swear, they won’t be able to take those things to a jeweler for cleaning. They’ll need a car wash. But they’re 11-karat, 232-diamond, 53-sapphire beauties. Much nicer than the Houston Astros 2017 WS rings, which featured diamonds set into a replica trash can lid.

Speaking of garbage, Anaheim fans tossed trash cans onto the field when the Astros were in town last week. We haven’t seen that much garbage in the outfield since the 1962 Mets.

By the way, if you’re looking for something special for that special Dodgers fan in your life, limited-edition replica World Series rings are available to the faithful. Cost: $35,000US. Let me just say this about that, though: If you have a spare $35K kicking around to spend on finger decoration, I have the number of a food bank that would love to hear from you.

Bo (Oops) Bichette

The Chicago Cubs plan to erect a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Ferguson Jenkins outside Wrigley Field, and the New York Mets will unveil a pigeon perch of pitching legend Tom Seaver outside Citi Field in July. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to wonder if they’d be better off with a statue at shortstop rather than Bo (Oops) Bichette.

Brendan Bottcher and his group from Wild Rose Country came up empty at the men’s world curling championship in Calgary. Someone please alert the six people outside the Prairie provinces who actually give a damn.

And, finally, I have never engaged in a chin-wag about “TV’s most-talked-about show,” mainly because I’ve never watched “TV’s most-talked-about show.” I have never overheard a conversation about “TV’s most-talked-about show.” What show am I not talking about? Well, if you don’t know, then perhaps it isn’t “TV’s most-talked-about show” after all.

Let’s talk about all-hoser hockey…the Puck Pontiff speaks…Torts does Finland…old-school rubbish…Iron Mike back in the ring…what really happened to Dani Rylan Kearney?…Wally’s AOK with XFL and CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…

I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.

There, I said it. A bore.

Charlie Chamberlain, Marg Osburne and Don Messer.

Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.

The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.

This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.

Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.

An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.

So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.

The Puck Pontiff

Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.

“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.

“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.

“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”

My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.

Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.

Twig Ehlers on his knees.

I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.

Torts

Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomat ran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.

Ben Chiarot, breaking his right hand.

Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.

On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-down with Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.

Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.

Dani Rylan, former commissioner and founder of the National Women’s Hockey League.

It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.

When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.

Melissa Martin

Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.

For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.

Wally Buono

Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.

As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.

Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.

Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.

And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.

Let’s talk about Bobby Orr’s boot-licking…a rout for the Drab Slab…ignoring female sports…and other things on my mind…

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and welcome to the 71st November of my lifetime…

So, I’m doing some research the other day and I stumble upon this May 9 headline from the Boston Globe:

“50 years later, Bobby Orr remains gracious, humble, and incomparable.”

Oops.

Robert Gordon Orr

Few have been describing Robert Gordon Orr as gracious, humble and incomparable in the past few days. More like dumb, ignorant and fallen idol.

All that because the great No. 4 has outed himself as a hard-core Trumpite who plans to scratch an X next to the name Donald Trump on his ballot for tomorrow’s U.S. presidential election.

Lest there be any doubt about his political posturing, Orr took out a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader last week to confirm his unwavering devotion to the current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., trumpeting Trump as “the kind of teammate I want.”

I’m not sure what Derek Sanderson or Eddie Westfall or Wayne Cashman or Pie McKenzie have to say about that, but I suspect one or two of Bobby’s former big, bad Bruins teammates might be cringing.

Many among the rabble and numerous pundits certainly are.

I mean, this is Bobby Orr. Canadian icon. Squeaky-clean boy next door. The greatest player in National Hockey League history on many scorecards, including mine. And he’s marching in lockstep with a man known to put children in cages, who believes groping women is harmless horseplay, who wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him on his orange face? That’s who Bobby Orr has cozied up to?

What, he couldn’t find a better pair of boots to lick?

Donald Trump

The same could be said, of course, for golf great Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, one-time flinger of footballs and renowned flip-flopper. They, too, are confirmed Trumpites. But we don’t care about them so much on this side of the great U.S.-Canada divide.

It’s Orr who has taken a paddywhacking in print and on social media, as if he’s the product of Satan’s loins.

Some examples:

Stu Cowan, Montreal Gazette: “It’s always a sad day when your childhood sports heroes let you down. I’ll never again look at Orr with the same boyhood wonder. (The endorsement of Trump) hit me like an open-ice bodycheck. It shouldn’t have because I’ve been around pro sports as a journalist long enough to know that sometimes the less fans know about their heroes away from the field or arena, the better off they are. But this one did hurt. I’ll sadly scratch him off my hero list. The stain of Trump just won’t wash away.”

Damien Cox, Toronto Star: “Sadly, Orr’s comments reek of appalling ignorance, of a man who has watched too much Fox News. He says he just wants ‘my grandchildren to know the America that I know’ and then chooses to cast Trump as some sort of victim.”

Jack Nicklaus and Donald Trump

Ted Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “It’s not easy for many sports fans to hear that men they have held as idols for the last half century would endorse a political candidate known for his racism, his sowing of divisiveness in his country and his thorough disregard of the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most golf fans, I’ve always revered Nicklaus. Like most Canadians, I’ve always idolized Orr. Like many, I’m bitterly disappointed in them.”

Bruce Arthur, the Toronto Star/TSN: “These guys are wealthy. They’re really rich and Donald Trump wants to airlift money from the poor to the rich, and that helps them. This tells you a lot about Bobby Orr and Jack Nicklaus, what they value in life and what they don’t have to worry about.”

Cathal Kelly, Globe and Mail: “On one level, Orr’s and Nicklaus’s statements took some stones. Neither of them needs the hassle. This opens them up to all sorts of nastiness from the other faction. On the other level, it is dumb beyond measure. Not because of their choice (though that is also dumb), but because two giants of their respective games felt the need to announce it. The United States is tilting sideways for a bunch of reasons. This is one of them.”

Well, let me say this about that: Must be nice to be so filthy rich that you can afford to take out a full-page ad in a newspaper. But I’ll robustly defend Bobby Orr’s right to be as horribly wrong about Donald Trump as any of the other lemmings wearing a MAGA cap. His choice. And if you don’t like it, don’t put halos on athletes.

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe

Last week in America: The sports power couple of hoops great Sue Bird and soccer star Megan Rapinoe announced their wedding engagement and, one day later, U.S. senator and Trumpite bootlicker Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told “every young woman” that “there’s a place for you in America if you are pro-life, if you embrace your religion, and you follow traditional family structure.” Which means there’s no “place” in Graham’s America for a woman who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in basketball and another women who’s won Olympic gold for Uncle Sam in soccer, because they’re lesbians. Lindsey Graham is a special kind of messed up.

Why is it that whenever I watch men’s tennis highlights, there’s a trainer rubbing down one of Milos Raonic’s broken-down body parts, or either Denis Shapovalov or Felix Auger-Alliassime are tossing racquets?

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: The Drab Slab is kicking butt when it comes to coverage of lower-tiered sports in Good Ol’ Hometown. I know this because I monitored both the Freep and Winnipeg Sun sections during the past three months, and both rags do boffo work on the big-ticket beats—Blue Bombers, Jets, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC. But it’s a rout otherwise. Here’s the tally on coverage of local/amateur sports (excluding pro teams):

Free Press
August ……..32 articles, 6 briefs
September….39 articles, 6 briefs
October……..49 articles, 3 briefs
Totals……..122 articles, 15 briefs

Sun
August ……..1 article
September….7 articles, 3 briefs
October…….10 articles
Totals………18 articles, 3 briefs

Seriously, 122-18. That reads like a Harlem Globetrotters scoreline.

Do readers want more local coverage? My experience tells me they do, but the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna won’t let them have it in the Sun. And that’s wrong. So don’t point accusing fingers at the Sun’s Scribblers Three—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck. It isn’t their fault. It’s a corporate call.

Steve Lyons

Here’s something I found interesting: In a recent edition of his morning Playbook feature on the Drab Slab website, sports editor Steve Lyons took issue with commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the aborted Canadian Football League crusade. “It’s been a little over two months since the CFL cancelled its 2020 season,” he wrote. “Since then, a Stanley Cup has been awarded; Game 1 of the World Series was last night; the NFL is into Week 7; LeBron James won another NBA title; heck, even the upstart CPL had a championship. The CFL? Silence.” Notice something missing there? That’s right, no mention of the Women’s National Basketball Association starting and completing a season, nor the National Women’s Soccer League commencing its Fall Series. Unfortunately, that’s the default position for too many upper-management people in sports media—female sports is an after-thought. Or no thought at all.

I’m still reading and hearing that the signing of Dylan DeMelo improves the Winnipeg Jets defence. That simply is not true. Repeat after me: DeMelo was with the Jets last season. That’s not an improvement. It’s status quo. So the glass-is-half-full pundits can cease with their false narrative any time now.

There’s talk of the Ontario Hockey League going to pure pond hockey this winter, which is to say no bodychecking. Hmmm. If they had that rule when I was a kid, I might still be playing.

And, finally, Agent 007, Sean Connery, is dead and I still don’t know what I’m missing, because I’ve never watched a James Bond movie. Loved Sir Sean in Finding Forrester and The Untouchables, though.

Lordy, lordy, the Winnipeg Sun is turning 40

The ultimate underdog.

That’s what the Winnipeg Sun was, is and likely always shall be.

The tabloid—pooh-poohed and tsk-tsked by many as a tacky, tawdry, kissing cousin of the National Enquirer—wasn’t supposed to be around much longer than a pork chop on a pit bull’s dinner dish, but here we are, four decades after rising from the ashes of the Winnipeg Tribune, and the Sun presses continue to roll.

Go figure.

***

I wasn’t a day-oner at the Sun, although I must confess there have been many moments of quiet reflection when I wish I had been there on the morning of Nov. 5, 1980, the day the tabloid hit the streets of Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time.

The Sun’s first front page.

By the time I arrived, which is to say the mid-1980s, the Sun had bulked up from a three-days-a-week sheet trying to find its groove to a six-day publication about to truly hit its full stride, which it did later in the decade and through the entirety of the 1990s and onward.

The Winnipeg Free Press was, of course, the neighborhood bully. Still is.

But, although recognizing that we were the underdogs against a daily that had pushed the Tribune to extinction, damned if any of us in the toy department at the Sun would allow it to define us.

From the get-go, whether it be Big Jim Bender on curling, or young Eddie Tait on the Bombers, or Judy Owen having a natter with Manon Rheaume, or Tom Brennan sharing bon mots from the camp of world light heavyweight boxing champion Donny Lalonde, or Ed Willes on the Jets, we refused to let the Drab Slab push us around.

Oh, they got their licks in, to be sure. But so did we, most notably when the Blue Bombers went on the prowl for a head coach in the wake of a 1996 Canadian Football League crusade that found Winnipeg FC sadly lacking.

The Bombers didn’t just lose their West Division semifinal skirmish v. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton that year, they were Hindenburged. That’s right, scorched. Beyond recognition. Final score: Edmonton 68, Winnipeg 7.

Cal Murphy

It didn’t take long for the Bombers board of directors to sift through the wreckage, and the main casualty was Cal Murphy, a legendary coach whose guiding hand as sideline steward and/or general manager had directed the Bombers to three Grey Cup titles. He was swept away pronto, and the hunt for his successor would become the biggest sports story of the year.

We had young Eddie Tait and Judy Owen on the scent, and a managing editor who was, frankly, a gnat-like irritant.

“You gonna get that story first?” Glenn Cheater, the ME, asked me one day.

“Yes,” I told him. “We’ve got the right people on the job. They’ll get it.”

“You better. I don’t want to read it in the Free Press or hear it on the radio.”

Cheater, a man with a reluctance to smile, was a bothersome buttinski during the process. He expected everything to unfold to his urgent cadence, as if his nagging would magically put the Bombers board into a hurry-up offence simply because he was impatient. He would ask the same thing, and I would tell him the same thing. Every day.

All the while, young Eddie and Judy soldiered on, leaning hard on their contacts, instincts and reporting skills until the day/night of Jan. 6, 1997, when they became 99.9 per cent convinced that off-the-wall, surfer dude Jeff Reinebold would land the head coaching gig.

Judy Owen

OWEN: “(Team president) Lynn Bishop seemed to want someone opposite from Cal Murphy and we considered Reinebold the dark horse in the race. The night of our big scoop, I was working the phones, including talking to Bishop. I got the gut feeling that it was going to be Reinebold by the way he was answering questions, plus I was having trouble reaching Reinebold, who usually returned my calls. There were rumors, though, that he might be skiing. When we were digging into the rumor about Reinebold skiing, Cheater suggested we send a pizza to Reinebold’s house and if it was successfully delivered, we’d know he was still in B.C. And he said to put anchovies on it. Never understood where that came from.”

TAIT: “At one point (Cheater) came down to our little corner with a brilliant idea. We thought we knew what hotel (Reinebold) was staying at for some reason—maybe this was before we had confirmed he had left for Winnipeg. Cheater said, ‘Reinebold is a vegetarian, right? Why don’t you order a vegetarian pizza and have it delivered to his hotel room with a note to call us?’ I mean, I’m open for any and all ideas to get a story, but…”

There was no pizza order. There was not pizza delivery. Not even in 30 minutes or less.

Young Eddie began cranking out his copy, with contributions from Judy, and we were prepared to go to press declaring Reinebold the new man. But his unknown whereabouts provided a sliver of doubt.

Granny Granger

Granny Granger was working the copy desk that night. He was from the West Coast and harbored a healthy familiarity with flight schedules out of Vancouver, and he informed us that there’d be a few more planes touching down later.

“You guys keep doing what you’re doing,” I told them, “and I’ll go to the airport. I’ll stake it out until the last flight from Vancouver is in.”

I don’t recall precisely how long I loitered at the airport, but I do recall repeatedly moving from one baggage carousel to another. Then I spotted Jeff Reinebold. In the flesh, earrings and all, fresh off Air Canada flight 268. It was just past 11 p.m. He had a phone clamped to his left ear, his eyes darting east, west, north and south. At one point, he attempted to hide behind a pay phone. I immediately called Granny in the newsroom and advised him that I could see the whites of Reinebold’s eyes. Shortly thereafter, club president Bishop and his bride, Lesley, joined Reinebold and made their way toward an exit. I intercepted them, asking the new coach if he had anything to say to the championship-starved Bombers faithful. He flashed a crooked smile, mumbled a few words about looking forward to “the great skiing” in Manitoba, then disappeared into the night.

GRANGER: “That was such a rush, even if I was getting it vicariously through your reporting.”

OWEN: “We all cheered in the newsroom. We knew for sure we had the scoop. I then called Lynn Bishop and when he answered, I screeched something like, ‘We gotcha.’ I think he laughed and remember hearing his wife, Lesley, yell in the background, ‘Way to go Judy,’ or something similar.”

Still, we didn’t know for certain if we’d scooped the Freep on the biggest story of the year. It was quite possible that their man on the beat, the very capable Dave Supleve, also had the goods. Nope.

Jeff Reinebold

OWEN: “Supleve had a story on the front of the sports section that Reinebold was skiing. We celebrated pretty hard.”

GRANGER: “We went to Picasso’s afterward to celebrate and we were all pretty happy. But we really got giddy after Mr. Golf (Darron Hargreaves) went by the Freep building and picked up a copy of their early edition and Supleve basically dismissed Reinebold as a candidate and put forth one or two others likely to get the job. That’s when the gathering turned from being a self-congratulatory pat on the back into a hubristic celebration. Not only did we have a scoop, but the other guy was waaaaaaay off base! We had killed the big bad bunch on Mountain on the biggest sports story of the year! And even CJOB didn’t have the scoop! Although I played a minor role, that night is a big highlight for me.”

The Bombers introduced a Harley-riding Reinebold as the head coach the following day, and a glum Supleve was standing at the doorway when I entered the room.

“How long did you wait at the airport?” he asked.

I felt bad for him. I truly did. We all know what it feels like to get beat on a big story, and Supes is a good guy. There would be no gloating from me. Just deep, delicious satisfaction that the little, underdog paper had whupped the neighborhood bully.

***

Later that day, I retreated to the newsroom and found Glenn Cheater.

“I told you we’d get the story,” I said, full of impish cheek. “Maybe next time you’ll let our people do their job without getting in their face every five minutes.”

He smiled.

I went home to write my column on Reinebold. Once finished, I ordered a pizza and told them to hold the anchovies.

***

I spent 13 of my 30 years in the rag trade at the Winnipeg Sun, and that was my most memorable day/night. I was happiest for Judy, who latched onto the task and refused to let go. But she was just one of the truly wonderful people and terrific journalists with whom I worked at the tabloid. Topping my list of faves would be Dave Komosky, one of the funniest men I know and a friend for close to 50 years, dating back to our formative days at the Tribune. Like myself, Davey Boy did two tours of duty as sports editor and was a boffo layout person. He could make the pages sing. So, too, could Homer Connors, a lovely lad. There were so many others that I admired, respected and genuinely liked: Tom Brennan, young Eddie, Judy Owen, Abby St. Rose, Pat Watts Stevens, Rhonda Brown, Jim Ketcheson, John Kendle, Bob Holliday, Paul Friesen, Granny Granger, John Danakas, Brian Smiley, Jon Thordarson, Denise Duguay, Shaun Best, Mark Stevens, Big Jim Bender, Mr. Golf, Marten Falcon, Barry Horeczy, Bill Davidson, and the lovely songstress Rhonda Hart. It’s a lengthy roll call, too many to mention.

***

It wasn’t all fun and games at the Sun, but sometimes it was exactly that—fun and games. A couple of the boys—I believe it was Davey and young Eddie—screwed a mini basketball hoop to a wall in our corner of the newsroom and they’d shoot hoops during downtime, while waiting for phone calls to come in. My gig was tossing coins (quarters) against a wall. I took on all comers, but mostly young Eddie. I believe he still owes me $37.25. Same with John Danakas. He’d try his luck every now and then, but it was a fool’s bet. I’m not sure how much he owes me, but I know I’ll never see it. No problem. John is one of the really good guys.

***

One of my favorite Sun stories goes back to the first of my two runs as sports editor. It’s a yarn I’ve told a few times, but it’s worth repeating.

Young Eddie Tait

Young Eddie Tait was an aw-shucks, freshly scrubbed greenhorn when I dispatched him to North Dakota for a weekend gig, covering either high school or college hockey. It was his first road trip. Ever. He was geeked up and I don’t recall giving him specific directives, other than to get the story, enjoy himself and return to us safely.

“And keep your receipts,” I emphasized. “You’ll need them for your expense report.”

So I’m sitting at the desk in the closet-sized cubbyhole that passed for my office on the second floor of the Sun building when young Eddie returned from the fray.

“How did it go?” I asked.

“Great,” he answered, still geeked up from his maiden journey.

“Nice. Very nice. You did a great job. We’ll have to get you on the road again. When you’ve got time, fill out your expense form and make sure you include your receipts.”

He left and, scant seconds later, young Eddie was back in my bunker.

“Here,” he said, handing me the lid from a pizza box.

“What’s this?” I asked, staring at a rumpled piece of cardboard coated with tomato sauce stains.

“That’s what I ate.”

“That’s it? That’s all you ate for the entire weekend? One pizza?”

“No, but…”

“How much did it cost?”

“Ten bucks.”

“You spent $10 for the entire weekend? Just $10?”

“No, but…”

I have no idea what else young Eddie shoved down his pie hole that weekend, but I suspect a few bags of chips and Big Gulps were on the menu. He likely splurged on two or three packs of bubblegum, too.

***

Although I served in management on three occasions, I was never big on management. They always seemed to be getting in our way, or at least trying to.

I liked Paul Robson as a publisher, because ol’ Mad Dog was a jock who understood jocks. But John Cochrane, a nice fellow and veteran newsman who moved from CJOB to the big office in the Sun building, baffled me.

Serge Savard

For example, when Montreal Canadiens president Ronald Corey got the axe out and whacked both general manager Serge Savard and head coach Jacques Demers, that bloodletting was our sports front story. Homer Connors and I put our grey matter together, him designing the page with a large picture of Savard and me providing the all-caps headline: SAVARDIAN SACK-O-RAMA. It was boffo stuff.

The next day Cochrane wandered down to the toy department for a fireside chat.

“Tell me something,” he began, speaking in a non-confrontational tone. “Why did you run a photo of Savard on the front page instead of Ronald Corey?”

“Because Savard and Demers were the story. Savard is a multi-Stanley Cup winner with the Canadiens, both as a player and a GM,” I replied calmly. “Savard is a Habs legend. Nobody cares about Ronald Corey.”

Ronald Corey

“But the Globe and Mail ran a photo of Corey, not Savard. Don’t you think that was the right thing to do?”

He handed me a copy of the Globe, which featured a pic of Corey sitting in front of a bank of microphones and looking very much like a hangman.

“No, I don’t think they made the right call,” I said, still quite calm. “We were right, they were wrong, and I’d do the same thing again. We don’t really concern ourselves with the pictures the Globe runs.”

He arched his eyebrows, turned and walked away. That was our first and final fireside chat.

***

I’m saddened by what’s become of the Sun sports section.

I know the boys on the beat—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck—fight the good fight, but Postmedia has handcuffed them with a distant, centralized sports desk that force feeds them copy from hither and yon, too much of it focusing on athletes/teams based in the Republic of Tranna.

Local amateur sports coverage has become next to non-existent, and it’s never a good thing when a newspaper turns its back on its constituents.

I don’t think it’s as cheeky, sassy, brassy and irreverent as it once was, but the Sun’s existence makes Winnipeg the only true two-paper town west of the ROT, and that is a good thing.

So happy 40th to my old battalion on Thursday.

Let’s talk about L’Affaire Laine…Winnipeg the armpit…a Jumbo fossil in the ROT…Chelsea’s the best free agent available…Jennifer Jones and the ‘Notables’ of Manitoba’s Pebble People…’ear ye, ‘ear ye, Mike Tyson is trying to speak…the Dodgers’ two K men…a Bird named Sue…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…

So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:

1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.

2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.

Chevy and Puck Finn in happier times.

Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.

As for point No. 2, good luck with that.

It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.

Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:

“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.

Pierre LeBrun

“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.

“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.

“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”

Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.

I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.

I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”

So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.

Evander Kane

Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.

We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.

Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”

But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.” That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.

When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.

Jumbo Joe

And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.

Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”

I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.

Mike Tyson

Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.

So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.

Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.

When the National Women’s Hockey League restructured its business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.

Sue Bird

Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.

And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?

Let’s talk about the Puck Pontiff and Chevy needing to cowboy up…the Lightning boat parade, watered-down beer and kicking asterisk…robot curling…Shapo serves up Canadian whine…foul-mouthed parrots and a parroting columnist…a good read on Smitty…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and it’s foggy where I live and you might find some fog here too…

It’s beef-on-the-hoof time in the National Hockey League, albeit three months and change later than originally planned, and I find myself wondering where the Winnipeg Jets are in their “process.”

From the get-go, of course, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have preached draft-and-develop, a tried-and-true template for so many successful outfits, the most recent example being the Tampa Bay Lightning, newly minted Stanley Cup champions with a roster featuring 11 players plucked from the entry draft.

The thing is, the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers is usually a crap shoot once past the first half dozen names called out, and there are a lot more misses than hits.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

That said, there’s ample evidence to support the notion that Chevy and his bird dogs have profited by the draft since setting up shop in Good Ol’ Hometown—Connor Hellebuyck, Rink Rat Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Twig Ehlers, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor, Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp. And that’s not to forget Jacob Trouba, the dearly departed defender whose yearnings unfortunately did not include a lifetime in Jets linen.

Those are quality core players who ought to have kept Winnipeg HC in the playoff mix for many years to come.

Except that’s not how Planet Puck Pontiff/Chevy is spinning.

The Jets failed to qualify for the playoffs in the just-concluded crusade, that after an optimism-inducing surge to the 2018 Western Conference final and a hasty retreat from the Stanley Cup tournament last year.

Which is why I wonder where the Jets are in their “process.”

Draft-and-develop will never end. It’s every team’s oxygen. There’s no quarrel with that approach. But, after the ransacking of the roster due to the miscalculations of bean counters and the discontent of Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien, it seems to me that Winnipeg HC has retreated to the wait-and-hope part of the “process.”

Sami Niku

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy are waiting and hoping on Sami Niku. They’re waiting and hoping on Dylan Samberg. They’re waiting and hoping on Ville Heinola. They’re waiting and hoping on David Gustafsson. Hell, they’re still waiting and hoping on Jack Roslovic, and they drafted him in 2015. And, apparently, they’ll wait and hope on Logan Stanley forever.

Trouble is, they’ve been at it since 2011 and this should be a time for filling in the blanks on a contending roster, not still relying on a crap shoot.

Yet here we are.

Chevy has the 10th shoutout overall at the auction on Tuesday. Hands up anyone who believes he’ll land an immediate difference-maker. I agree, good luck with that. His newest chattel will be of limited or no use in the short-term.

It’s also unlikely that Chevy will attract any high-profile free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown on Friday, even though his jeans will be full of jingle and he can afford to shop for upscale goods. Most likely, he’ll reel in a Grade C player, or two, then follow that up with some dumpster diving on the waiver wire, which has never been a solution.

So how do the Jets return to the post-season frolic and make noise next year?

Well, short of their Central Division foes going for a group pratfall, there’s just one avenue—trade. And that means bold strokes. Something brassy.

Jacob Trouba

That’s not Chevy’s style, though. He only lets go when he’s backed himself into a corner (see Trouba, Jacob; Ladd, Andrew) or someone’s clothing has been soaked in an ice tub (see Kane, Evander), but quality centre-ice men and stud blueliners (his most pressing needs) don’t fall off the turnip truck. There’s a price to pay.

I’m on record as saying there should be no untouchables on this Jets roster, and there’s certainly a number of shiny trinkets to entice dance partners, not the least of which is Chevy’s first shoutout on Tuesday. At No. 10, he’s already in crap shoot territory.

And, really, the time for dithering is past. The Puck Pontiff and Chevy need to cowboy up and move one of their top-six forwards. Or some of the blue-chip prospects. It’s the right thing to do.

Unless, of course, they truly have retreated to wait-and-hope mode and are content with icing a bubble team. In that case, I am once again reminded of something old friend Joe Pascucci tweeted in April 2019: “Another concern, of many, I have about the Jets and the changes sure to come this off-season is that they’ll become a team that is 2 years away from being 2 years away.”

Astute guy, old friend Joe.

Puck Finn and Blake Wheeler.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet continues to lean hard into the disgruntled Patrik Laine narrative, again suggesting that Puck Finn insists on first-line minutes alongside Scheifele, whereas Chevy and bench puppeteer Paul Maurice refuse to budge on Blake Wheeler. They won’t surgically remove the captain from the Rink Rat’s hip and, if true, it’s a stupid impasse and an easy fix: Inform Wheeler that he’s now a second-line forward. If they aren’t willing to tell a declining 34-year-old he must make room for a 22-year-old sniper, it’s time for new management/coaching.

Look, I think Wheeler is still a useful player, but a year from now he’ll be slower than a sports writer reaching for the bar tab.

When a woman learned that her flight would be landing in Winnipeg last week, she became unruly and belligerent and had to be forced off the airplane kicking and screaming. You know, just like any player traded to the Jets.

The Lightning gave Stanley Cup championship hijinks a fresh twist with a boat parade on the Hillsborough River, rather than a motorcade in sporty, top-down automobiles on the streets of Tampa. In keeping with the water theme, coaches and players drank American beer.

On the subject of suds, apparently Canadians are drinking less beer. Hey, don’t look at me. I’m still doing my part every Saturday.

Yes, I agree, it’s impressive that the NHL pulled off its made-for-TV, bubble Stanley Cup tournament without a hitch. No positive COVID-19 results in more than 60 days. No scandal, other than Mike Milbury’s ouster from the NBC Sports blurt box for telling us that women are a distraction. No asterisk. Most surprising, none of the young studs bugged out of the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna man caves for a little nookie on the side. Mark me down as gobsmacked.

It’s about slapping an asterisk on the Lightning tour de force: Don’t go there. Sure it was different, with the lads zip-locked in their man caves for two months, but only someone who’s been there, done that and wears the T-shirt can compare this Stanley Cup runoff to tournaments of the past. If the players and coaches say it was equally burdensome and challenging, I’m good with that.

It’s often been suggested that the NHL is a copy-cat operation, and teams now will attempt to mimic the champion Lightning. Well, good luck with that. I mean, Chevy will turn water into Molson Canadian before he’ll ever turn Neal Pionk into Victor Hedman.

Apparently Manny Pacquiao and Conor McGregor will go dukes up next year, but no one is saying where or when the fist fight will be held. I think we should keep it that way.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McLain has been selling his collection of sports memorabilia that dates back to the 1930s, and the thousands of items available are said to include license plates. Nice to know Denny put his time in prison to good use.

Clever people in South Korea and Germany have created a curling robot named Curly, capable of beating human beings on the pebble. So what’s the big deal? Canada developed a curling robot last century. His name is Kevin Martin.

I’d really be impressed if the geniuses in South Korea and Germany could invent a robot capable of beating Rafa Nadal at clay courts tennis, specifically the French Open.

Shapo

Yes, now that you mention it, our guy Denis Shapovalov held quite the pity party following his ouster from Roland Garros. “These conditions were as tough as possible for me to play against here, with the balls being so heavy and it being really cold,” he whinged after twice gagging while serving for the match v. Roberto Carballes Baena, the world No. 101. “These conditions were completely stacked against me. It’s impossible to hit a winner with these balls.” He also muttered something about Paris clay being different than Rome clay. Oh, boo flipping hoo. The balls were just as heavy for Baena, a 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 winner, and I’m guessing the Paris chill was the same on both sides of the court. As for it being “impossible to hit a winner with these balls,” Shapo hit 65 of them, more than double Baena’s 31. He also had 106 unforced errors compared to just 42 by Baena, and you don’t chalk that up to heavy balls and unfavorable weather.

Shapo had a legit beef about line calls, one of which might have cost him the match, and his plea for the use of HawkEye at Roland Garros has merit. The rest of it was nothing but a petulant, stomp-my-feet temper tantrum, and I’m hoping it was a one-off. Tennis doesn’t really need another spoiled brat, and certainly not one from Canada.

I sometimes wonder if anyone at the Drab Slab knows the Winnipeg Sun exists. I say that because of recent essays by Scott Billeck of the tabloid and Drab Slab columnist Mad Mike McIntyre.

Here’s Billeck on Sept. 5, under the headline A Bolt of bravado—Jets Cheveldayoff could benefit from a little ruthlessness this off-season by offer-sheeting young Lightning centre Anthony Cerelli: “(Kevin) Cheveldayoff taking a tyrannical approach to this coming off-season might serve him rather well. How does one become ruthless, you ask? In hockey terms, and during the free-agency window of a particular off-season: Offer sheet. But who do you offer one to? Anthony Cirelli, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, what the addition of Cirelli would mean to GM Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets.

Anthony Cirelli

Now here’s Mad Mike on Sept. 29, under the headline Jets need to chase after Cirelli—Lightning forward would solve Winnipeg’s second-line conundrum: “It may not be the equivalent of Christopher Columbus discovering America or Thomas Edison’s bright idea about the light bulb, but while covering bubble hockey in Edmonton I do believe I’ve come across the solution to some of what plagues the Winnipeg Jets. Eureka! I found it—the second-line centre they’ve long been searching for. Meet Anthony Cirelli, who is currently filling that role for Tampa Bay Lightning.”

He then outlines, in detail, the benefits of inserting Cirelli to the Jets roster, even though Billeck had told Sun readers that very thing 24 days earlier.

I don’t know if that’s arrogance or ignorance, but “Eureka!” my ass. Parroting the other guy’s column and making it out to be a fresh thought is totally bad form. Mad Mike’s essay should have been spiked.

Speaking of parrots, a quintet of the birds in a British wildlife park had to be separated because their language was more colorful than their plumage. Seems the five foul-beaked feathered friends took to dropping F-bombs and spewing other very salty language, none of which was suitable for young, tender ears. Hmmm. Reminds me of some press boxes I’ve been in.

And, finally, fantastic piece by Murat Ates of The Athletic on former vagabond goaltender Gary Smith, who backstopped the Jets to their third and final World Hockey Association title. It’s full of fun stuff from Smitty and totally worth the read.

Let’s talk about Buck-a-Year Sammy and One Buck Ballpark…Up Schitt’s Creek without a Bucky…0-for-life Lefty…Bones and grass…the well-rounded Blue Jays…hockey scribes have spoken…Canada on the world stage…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored..and I love autumn, especially when there are no leaves for me to rake…

Sam Katz is no longer in politics, but he’s still playing politics.

Oh, yes, the former mayor of Good Ol’ Hometown has grown weary of waiting for city council to give the okie-dokie on a new lease for his Winnipeg Goldeyes’ downtown digs so, while the civil servants at 510 Main St. dither, Sammy thought it would be a swell idea to cast his gaze upon the landscape and find someone willing to play ball with him. By his rules, of course.

Ottawa Baseball Stadium

Lo and behold, he found an empty ballyard in Ottawa, also politicos anxious to take down the for-rent sign. What a happy coincidence.

Thus, Sammy signed a 10-year lease at Ottawa Baseball Stadium, where he’ll field a starting nine in the Frontier League, and he’ll happily pay $473,000 in arrears plus $125,000 in annual rent, which is exactly $124,999 more than he shells out each year to have his Goldeyes frolic in Winnipeg’s lovely One Buck Ballpark near The Forks.

And that’s the rub.

Buck-a-Year Sammy’s sweetheart deal expires on July 27, 2023, and the Scrooges on Main Street have had the bad manners to request more than $15 from the Goldeyes owner on a new 15-year lease. They expect him to pony up $75,000 in each of the first five years, then $85,000 per in the middle five, and $95,000 per on the back end.

The nerve. Have they forgotten all that Buck-a-Year Sammy has done for Good Ol’ Hometown?

If so, he isn’t shy about reminding them of his magnificence.

“It’s not the fact that what they’re looking for is outrageous,” he told Global News in July. “It’s just hard to swallow the fact that you spend $13 million to build this (ballpark) for the city and they give you absolutely zero credit or acknowledgement for it.”

If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing in the background.

But, hey, if it’s only a pat on the back that Sammy’s looking for to get a deal done and soothe his bruised ego, that should be an easy fix. How about an annual Saint Sammy Day parade and picnic at Assiniboine Park? Maybe replace the Golden Boy atop the Legislative building with a statue of Sammy (clothing not optional). Name a street after him, or at the very least a cul-de-sac.

Don’t be fooled, though. Sammy isn’t looking for a pat on the back any more than Donald Trump is looking for another scandal.

He’s a businessman angling for the best possible deal to improve his bottom line, and no one can blame him for that, but his method is as greasy as a pan fry. Sammy’s believable like the back of a garbage truck is an all-you-can-eat buffet. He swears on a stack of Street & Smith’s Baseball Yearbooks that his intention was/is to keep the Goldeyes in Good Ol’ Hometown “forever and ever,” yet earlier this year he made it very clear that he might be inclined to haul ass out of town. He cautions that without a ballpark lease there can be no renewed tie-in with the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

“If we don’t have an affiliation agreement, we don’t play—there’s no Goldeyes, there’s no baseball in Winnipeg,” he said.

And he must have that agreement pronto. Like next month. Talk about a squeeze play.

Sammy insists that he doesn’t “threaten, never threaten” people, but that sure sounds like a threat to me and, not surprisingly, he’s already set up the gang on Main Street as the bad guys if he feels obliged to bug out.

“Ultimately, that will be in the hands of Winnipeg city council,” he told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

Lovely One Buck Ballpark

He repeated that mantra two more times in the natter with Wyman and once to Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab, adding this: “In Winnipeg, we pay property taxes and business taxes. In Ottawa, there’s no property taxes, no business taxes. In Winnipeg, we pay all the utilities. In Ottawa, they pay all the utilities. In Winnipeg, we take care of the field maintenance. In Ottawa, they take care of the field maintenance. And we don’t have to put up $13 million to build a park like we did here in Winnipeg. So, you can compare apples with apples.”

Yup, sure can, and some apples are just plain rotten.

Look, Sammy hasn’t come up with a unique strategy here. Sports entrepreneurs have been putting the squeeze on government since mortar was lathered onto stone to build the Coliseum in Rome.

It just sounds greasier when Sammy says it.

Hart Trophy

Connor Hellebuyck has been anointed top goaltender in the National Hockey League, but two boys on the beat believe he was stiffed. Murat Ates of The Athletic and Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun are convinced Bucky was worthy of a second laurel—the Hart Memorial Trophy, as most valuable player. They might have a valid argument. I mean, let’s face it, where would the Winnipeg Jets have been without him? Up Schitt’s Creek. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Loved seeing the Canadian cast and creators of Schitt’s Creek win all those Emmy Awards last Sunday. Seven in total. Now if we could only crack that Stanley Cup code.

Fake Stanley and Jimmy

Enjoyed Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel’s jab at us and our Stanley Cup drought that dates back to 1993. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of this Canadian stuff,” the honorary mayor of Dildo, NL, said. “Canadians have won all the Emmys tonight. Canada has, like, 200 people in it. As of tonight, one out of every four living Canadians has an Emmy Award. Schitt’s Creek won seven of them…oh, they fell just short—this is a killer—if they’d won one more Emmy, they would have been able to trade them in for this…a Stanley Cup. But they didn’t, so we’re gonna keep it here for another 27 years.” Good burn. There’s just one thing Jimmy ought to know, though. That Stanley Cup propped up beside him? It’s like a lot of female orgasms—fake.

Oh woe is Lefty.

I keep hearing hockey people say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win. They might want to ask Phil Mickelson about that. He’s 0-for-life at the U.S. Open. How long has Lefty been banging his head against the wall at the Open? Well, Tiger Woods was a scrawny high school freshman when he first teed it up. Papa George Bush was president of the U.S. Lefty has whiffed 29 times in total, and it should be obvious that it’s never going to happen. But he’s in good company. Hall of fame golfers Sam Snead, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros never hoisted the U.S. Open Trophy, either.

Hoops legend Michael Jordan, owner of the always awful Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, has gone into the fast car business as part-owner of a NASCAR team. How fitting. Now he can spin his wheels in two sports.

Speaking of NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports was fined $100,000 recently for spending too much time in a wind tunnel. Curt Menefee can relate. He has to sit beside Terry Bradshaw for five hours every weekend on Fox NFL Sunday.

Here’s yet another example of our upside-down, inside-out 2020: The Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0.

What did Chris Streveler say when he heard that Finnish squints had discovered a cure for the hangover? “I’ll drink to that!”

Good guy Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness says life inside the NHL’s Edmonton playoff bubble has been a mental challenge, mainly because players and coaches are confined to quarters. “Man, I haven’t walked on grass in over eight weeks,” he mused last week. Hmmm. Just a thought, but maybe Bones should try smoking some grass to chill out between games. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

I don’t know about you, but I find the Tranna Blue Jays a rather intriguing ball club. The Tranna Nine certainly won’t win the World Series this autumn, but I wouldn’t be anxious to bet against them two years from now.

Alejandro Kirk

It’s about Tranna Nine newbe catcher Alejandro Kirk: He’s the classic big league talent, beer league body. The guy’s listed at 265 pounds, but someone forgot to give him a pair of legs. They shortchanged him on the arms, too. An alligator has a longer reach. Two hundred and 65 pounds isn’t supposed to work on a 5-feet-8 frame. It’s like trying to stuff Dustin Byfuglien into your kid’s backpack. So what’s he doing on a Major League Baseball roster? Well, apparently he can hit. And they say he’s adequate behind the plate. But what about the body? Ya, the Blue Jays are concerned, because that’s a load of heft to be hauling around on a fire-hydrant frame, but it’s likely the reason so many are root, root, rooting for the kid. He’s one of those against-all-odds stories that gives us the warm and fuzzies.

Between Alejandro and Vlad the Gifted Guerrero, the Blue Jays certainly have given new meaning to the term “a well-rounded team.”

Blake Wheeler thinks everyone in Manitoba should be mandated to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fair opinion. But here’s another opinion that I think is fair: Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice should be mandated to drop Wheeler to the second line if the captain’s on-ice bromance with Rink Rat Scheifele means losing Patrik Laine.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

According to NHL insider Darren Dreger, putting Laine on the TSN trade bait board “isn’t just eye candy,” and he informs us that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has been fielding phone calls about the Jets right winger. Well, duh. Any hint that Puck Finn might be available in barter should activate a GM’s spidey sense. It’s all about the return, though. It’s always about the return. So let’s not get our knickers in a knot over a Laine adios until we know who and what is coming the other way to compensate for the loss of his 30-plus goals.

Strange commentary on Chevy from Ken Wiebe of Sportsnet: “During nine-plus years as the GM, Cheveldayoff hasn’t been backed into a corner by a player, even when that individual has asked for a trade—sometimes multiple times.” Say what? That’s total bunk. We know of two players who requested relocation—Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba. Chevy dithered, but eventually caved each time, first because Kane decided to act like an intolerable dink and, second, Trouba was headed for free agency and the Jets would have received squat in return. What part of those scenarios does Ken not understand?

Selected news snoops are tasked with the duty of choosing the winners of various NHL year-end trinkets—Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Calder, Selke and Masterton trophies—plus the all-star and all-rookie teams. This year, ballots were sent to 174 members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and that included four of the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Here’s how Ates, Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre (Drab Slab) and Wiebe voted:
Hart Trophy: Ates, Hellebuyck; Billeck Hellebuyck; Mad Mike, Nathan MacKinnon; Ken Wiebe, MacKinnon.
Norris Trophy: Ates, Roman Josi; Billeck, Josi; Mad Mike, John Carlson; Wiebe, Josi.
Calder Trophy: Ates, Adam Fox; Billeck, Cale Makar; Mad Mike, Cale Makar; Wiebe, Quinn Hughes.
Selke Trophy: Ates, Ryan O’Reilly; Billeck, Phillip Danault; Mad Mike, Patrice Bergeron, Wiebe, Sean Couturier.
Lady Byng Trophy: Ates, Jacob Slavin; Billeck, Nathan MacKinnon; Mad Mike, MacKinnon; Wiebe, Jacob Slavin.
Masterton Trophy: Ates, Oskar Lindblom; Billeck, Bobby Ryan; Mad Mike, Connor McDavid; Wiebe, Ryan.

Lou Marsh Trophy

Had to laugh (rudely) at a Damien Cox tweet after the PHWA had exposed its final ballots for scrutiny last week. “Any possible reason why the HHOF can’t be this transparent?” he asked in an unveiled cheap shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee. Hypocrisy, thy name is Damien Cox. It just so happens that the Toronto Star columnist is executive director of the mystery group that chooses the Lou Marsh Trophy winner as our country’s top jock each year. He does not reveal the names of the voters, he does not reveal the names of all the nominees, he does not reveal the voting totals. That’s as transparent as a jar of peanut butter. Area 51 is less secretive. But, sure, go ahead and call out the HHOF. Talk about pots and kettles.

Fergie Jenkins

While lauding our current crop of athletes on the world stage, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna made this statement: “Once upon a time in Canadian sport, there was Ferguson Jenkins and just about no one else on the highest pedestal of sport that wasn’t hockey.” That’s both wrong and ignorant. Fergie pitched from 1965-83. His peak years were 1967-74, when he had seven 20-win seasons, and he was still winning a lot of ball games at the back end of the 1970s (18 in ’78). Meanwhile, there was a steady stream of our “no one else” athletes reaching the “highest pedestal” in their sports at the same time:

  • Canada won five world curling championships, including two by our guys from the Granite—Dugie, Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—and one by the Big O, Orest Meleschuk.

  • Sandra Post won the LPGA championship.

  • George Knudson

    George Knudson won five PGA Tour events and a World Cup title with Al Balding.

  • Karen Magnussen won a world figure skating championship and a silver medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.

  • Nancy Greene was the 1968 Olympic champion in giant slalom and world champion in 1967. She won seven of 16 World Cup races in ’67 and became the first non-European to win the WC. She had 16 WC victories total.

  • Kathy Kreiner won ski gold at the 1976 Olympics.

  • George Chuvalo was ranked No. 4 among the world’s heavyweight fist fighters in 1968, No. 7 in 1970.

  • Elaine Tanner won three swimming medals at the 1968 Olympics.

  • Roy Gerela

    Roy Gerela was a Pro Bowl kicker in the NFL and a three-time Super Bowl champion.

  • Bruce Robertson was the world 100-metre butterfly champion and a two-time medalist at 1972 Olympics.

  • Jim Elder, Jim Day and Tom Gayford won 1968 gold medal in equestrian team jumping.

  • Gilles Villeneuve claimed his first F1 victory in 1978.

  • Susan Nattrass won five world trap shooting championships during the 1970s.

Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

Like I said, to suggest it was Fergie Jenkins and “just about no one else” is wrong and ignorant.

And, finally, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun reports that Winnipeg Blue Bombers bird dogs are wandering hither and yon to unearth talent on their own dime. That’s just wrong, but it speaks to how bleak the times have become in the Canadian Football League.

Let’s talk about sexism and homophobia in the blurt box…taps on the CFL season…some good reads on Ducky…Coach Potty Mouth believes he’s still the man…a participation badge for the Winnipeg Jets?…the hair on Friedman’s chinny, chin-chin…greybeard boxing…and other things on my mind

A return of the Sunday morning smorgas-bored after a pause that was supposed to last a month…and you’ll have to forgive me if I play a bit of catch-up…

Whenever I see the name Mike Milbury trending on Twitter, it tells me that he’s said something stupid and has undergone an emergency footectomy, whereby one of his large feet has been surgically removed from his even larger yap. Yet again.

It also prompts me to check my calendar to confirm that this is 2020, not 1960.

Mike Milbury

Whenever I hear someone like Thom Brennaman spew an anti-gay slur on-air and then, in delivering a mea culpa, he assures us that “this is not who I am, it never has been,” I sigh, then wait for my eyeballs to roll back into their sockets.

And, again, I glance at the calendar to confirm that we are post-Stonewall, not stuck in the ’60s.

Sadly, it was a messy week in the sports blurt box, and it’s frustrating and wearisome in the extreme that we’re still listening to the “did he really say that?” natterings of dinosaurish men unable to drag their hairy knuckles into the 21st century.

One of them, Milbury, is a product of the 1950s. The other, Brennaman, is circa ’60s.

Milbury is a former National Hockey League player of plodding mediocrity, his career noteworthy only because he one night clambered into the seating area of Madison Square Garden and whacked a paying patron on the head with a shoe. In terms of shinny theory, he’s a direct descendant of rock ’em, sock ’em Don Cherry, a lineage that failed him miserably as an NHL general manager and has racked up similarly unfavorable results in the NBC Sports broadcast booth.

Milbury, is a serial sexist, with strong leanings toward homophobia.

Mike Milbury would have us believe women’s college hockey is played in empty rinks, like this one in Minnesota.

He laments the “pansification” of hockey. He once observed the play of NHL scoring champions Henrik and Daniel Sedin and called the supremely talented twins “Thelma and Louise.” Years after Slava Voynov was sent to jail and deported to Russia for thumping the crap out of his bride, Milbury described the wife-

And another empty rink for women’s college hockey in Wisconsin.

beating as an “unfortunate incident.” He called fellow talking head Pierre McGuire a “soccer mom.” More recently, he drew a parallel between empty NHL rinks and women’s college hockey, even though numerous American female college teams attract robust audiences. And, of course, there’s his latest bit of sexist misspeak during a New York Islanders-Washington Capitals skirmish the other night. Discussing the impenetrable playoff bubble the NHL has established in the Republic of Tranna, he noted, “Not even any women here to disrupt your concentration.”

Apparently, it has escaped Milbury’s notice that each year, scant seconds after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, the smiling, giddy victors are joined on the freeze and at rinkside by smiling, giddy wives and girlfriends.

Imagine that. Winning a championship with all those pesky women on site to “disrupt” their concentration. How is that even possible?

Zdeno Chara

But, hey, maybe this explains why Milbury was such a colossal flop as GM of the Islanders: The poor sap went home to a woman every night. She was such a disruption to his concentration that he traded away Zdeno Chara and Roberto Luongo.

Brennaman, meanwhile, was raised by baseball broadcasting royalty, his dad Marty the voice of the Cincinnati Reds for nearly half a century. He insists he isn’t homophobic (he’s a “man of faith,” don’t you know), except the evidence supports the notion that he’s very much anti-gay. He was heard, on-air, calling an unidentified locale “one of the fag capitals of the world” during a bit of banter with co-workers, and his emphasis on the word “fag” carried an unmistakable tone of contempt.

“That is not who I am. It never has been,” Brennaman said while apologizing “for the people who sign my paycheque, for the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with.”

Notably, he did not apologize to the very people he thinks he might have offended—the LGBT(etc.) collective.

It was an “I’ve gotta save my ass,” clichéd mea culpa. At no point did he mention the word gay. Or homosexual. Or the LGBT(etc.) community. Worse, he followed the next day with Part 2 of his exercise in ass-saving: “I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence,” he said of his slur.

Oh, shut the hell up, man. Nobody’s that thick.

Thom Brennaman

Brennaman believed his mic was dead when he uttered the offensive word, which suggests he’s quite comfortable using anti-gay language in his work space, and only the most naive among us would conclude that this was a one-off.

Look, there’s no crime in growing old. It happens to most of us. But there is something terribly wrong with networks hiring wrinkled men who can’t adjust to the motion of life. Some of what was acceptable in the 20th century doesn’t cut it anymore. That’s not hard to figure out.

Those who can’t—or refuse—are the true disruption. And a great many of us are tired of it.

Turns out the boys in the NBC Sports blurt box will have to get along without Milbury’s mangled mutterings for the remainder of the Stanley Cup runoff, because he’s retreated from the Republic of Tranna bubble. No word on how he plans to spend his downtime, but perhaps he’ll go on a search for the real Seattle Space Needle.

Honest, I hadn’t planned on returning to the keyboard until the Labor Day weekend. You know, the same time the Canadian Football League was supposed to kick off its Coles Notes version of a 2020 crusade. But here I am. Back early, even if Rouge Football isn’t and won’t be.

The cancellation of the CFL season brought to mind an incident a few years ago while I was walking to my home on the hem of downtown Victoria.

I passed a pair of panhandlers and tossed two toonies into their begging cap.

One of the men politely thanked me. The other made a crude comment about my skirt. I reached down, withdrew both toonies from the cap and handed one to the fellow who had expressed his gratitude for the offered alms. The guy with the potty mouth squawked mightily, but there would be no toonie for him.

Moral of the story: Panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.

Commish Randy

And so it was with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and his three-downs overlords, who thought it would be a swell idea to put the squeeze on Trudeau the Younger for a COVID-19 handout. We’re told the ask was $150 million in early May. Then $30 million. Then $42.5 million. Then $30 million again, interest free.

Considering Trudeau the Younger and his pals on Parliament Hill have earmarked many billions of dollars for at-risk businesses and salary-strapped working stiffs since spring, the CFL beg was chump change.

Alas, the buck stopped with Rouge Football. No funds for you!

Trudeau the Younger

Thus the three-downs overlords—some of them (hello, Wade Miller) absolutely aghast that the feds had no appetite for propping up an enterprise that took a $20 million bath in red ink a year ago—put the kibosh on the 2020 crusade. No hub in Good Ol’ Hometown, no six-game season, and no swilling of bubbly from the Grey Cup for the first time since Prohibition. (The very thought must send shivers up and down Chris Streveler’s spine.)

Many accusing fingers, not surprisingly, have been pointed in the direction of Commish Randy, for proper reason.

Aside from apparently finding his business plan at the bottom of a box of Flutie Flakes, he had the bad manners to do his Parliamentary panhandling sans the input and allyship of the very people who, in non-COVID times, attract customers to all those fancy-shmancy, government-subsidized facilities that dot the landscape—the players.

That was dumb, and we’ve already established that panhandlers cannot afford to be dumb.

Worth noting: Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez just forked out $40 million for new digs. Maybe Commish Randy should have hit up JLo and ARod instead of Trudeau the Younger for the $30 million.

Hey, we aren’t here to flog Commish Randy this morning. We’ll leave it to the three-downs overlords to determine if his work warrants a few whacks of the lash, or if they’d be wise to look for someone else to do their bidding as they proceed toward a 2021 season that surely must include patrons in the pews. Whichever route they take, the best starting point in the reworking of the CFL would be for the overlords to cozy up to the players association.

As much as I miss our quirky three-downs game, I remind you of an Angus Reid poll conducted in May, whereby the citizenry was asked if they would be “disappointed” should the CFL season be scuttled. Only in Manitoba (63 per cent) and Saskatchewan (61 per cent) did the majority respond with a “hell ya!” The rest of the land? Just a shrug of the shoulders. Here are the numbers: Alberta 45 per cent, B.C. 34 per cent, Quebec 31 per cent, Ontario 28 per cent, Atlantic Canada 17 per cent.

Interesting how sports sheets across the land played the big CFL story. It was front page news in every rag on the Prairies. It was inside filler in the Toronto Sun (pages 8-9), the Montreal Gazette (page 2) and the Vancouver Sun (pages 6-7). The National Post, meanwhile, ran Scott Stinson’s column on a news page, beside a piece on Peter Nygard and rape. Little wonder that those are Rouge Football’s three worst markets.

Ducky

Let’s see, what else went down during my time away from the keyboard? Well, Dale Hawerchuk left us, so we lost one of the good guys. I never got to know Ducky well. Unlike other news snoops, I kept my relationships with jocks strictly professional, and I always found Ducky to be obliging and authentic. He was seldom shy about sharing his feelings re my scribblings (he thought them to be complete “crap”), but that didn’t prevent me from defending him in print when the Drab Slab stirred the pot with a story on a deep rift between Ducky and Dan Maloney, then head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. It was pure fiction, and both Friar Nicolson and I reported it that way.

Ducky was sports royalty in Good Ol’ Hometown, and I can’t imagine many, if any, among the rabble objecting to Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s plan to plop a statue of No. 10 outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

I still say there should be a likeness of Ben Hatskin somewhere in the vicinity of the Little Hockey House, because there’d be no Jets today if not for the original bankroll. But I doubt I’ll ever see that happen.

Read a couple of truly wonderful essays on Ducky after his death, one by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and the other by the Drab Slab’s Mad Mike McIntyre. Both are worth the read if you missed them.

Coach Potty Mouth

The Winnipeg Jets’ frolic at the Jason Kenney Mountain Resort in downtown Edmonton came to a rather inglorious conclusion earlier this month, and the farewell natter between news snoops and head coach Paul Maurice delivered one terrific sound bite.

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab: “Why are you still the right man for the job in this organization?”

Maurice: “We would say off the start that the first playoff round that we won two years ago was the first playoff round this franchise won, so it’s the right guy then. You know, I’ve been to the conference final three times, Stanley Cup final. This year I’m gonna rate as top three years that I’ve had in this league, and I’ll include my staff on that. We did a fantastic job surviving what we went through.”

Coach Potty Mouth added some other mindless blah, blah, blah about going forward, but he chose to ignore the facts. The Jets were not in a playoff position when the NHL shut down in March. They failed to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in four years, ousted by the Calgary Flames in four games. Maurice has missed the playoffs four times in his seven seasons as the Jets bench jockey. He has won the grand sum of two playoff series and is 12-19 post-season, including this month’s failed qualifier. They have regressed. But, sure, he’s the right man for the job.

Some interesting, also poor, analysis on the Jets season from news snoops. Mad Mike McIntyre glorified the local lads because they tried really, really hard, don’t you know. We should think of them with “pride” he tells us, because “they busted their tails right to the bitter end.” Oh joy. Let’s give them a participation badge. Over at the tabloid, Scott Billeck mentioned something about “what the Jets did achieve.” Good grief. They achieved squat. Bupkis.

The only honest breakdown on the Jets was provided by Ted Wyman who, following their ouster from the Stanley Cup qualifying tournament, wrote this in the Sun: “The Flames had better scoring, better defence, better goaltending, better special teams, better physicality and better production from their very best players. If you were picking the five best performers in the series, they’d all be Calgary players—including goaltender Cam Talbot, who outplayed Jets Vezina Trophy favourite Connor Hellebuyck by a wide margin.” That’s telling it like it is, Teddy boy.

Bench boss Bones

Nice to see Rick Bowness has his Dallas Stars running hot in the Stanley Cup tournament. Bench boss Bones is a former Jets player/coach and one of the truly good guys in the game.

I must confess that I had my doubts about the NHL successfully pulling off their playoffs in the two bubbles, one in E-Town and the other in the Republic of Tranna, but it’s working. And what is it proving? Just this: The NHL doesn’t need in-rink fans and it doesn’t need independent media to send out the message. Makes you wonder what it’s all going to look like on the other side of COVID-19, doesn’t it? Daily newspapers should fear the worst.

Elliotte Friedman

So, Elliotte Friedman has hacked off his mangled chin whiskers. That’s a good thing. The Hockey Night in Canada gabber looked like a guy who’d spent too much time stranded on an island, talking to a volleyball with Tom Hanks. And there’s not a chance that a female broadcaster would be allowed to appear on camera looking that unkempt, which is what we call a double standard.

Steve Simmons is in a stew because the Vancouver Canucks are the last hoser team standing in the Stanley Cup tournament, and the NHL/Sportsnet are disturbing his bedtime sked. “One team left in Canada and the NHL can’t figure out how to schedule them at a time when the country can be awake to watch? Dumb of Sportsnet, dumb of the NHL. That’s an 11:30 pm start in Nova Scotia, midnight in NFLD,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe whinges. Yes, by all means, let’s televise the Canucks games when all their faithful followers on the West Coast are still at work, just so easterners who don’t give a damn can ignore them in prime time. Just put on your jammies, Steve, and watch the game.

And, finally, the greybeard boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. has been pushed back from mid-September to the end of November. Apparently scientists require the extra time to complete carbon testing on the ancient pugs.

Let’s talk about little green men in River City…greybeard boxing…baseball orphans shuffle off to Buffalo…Jeremy Roenick’s ungay legal gambit…a 1964 prophecy…jock journos whinge and whinge…the Big M was “unfit to practice”…and many other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…

According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.

Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.

Greybeard Mike Tyson

Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.

So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.

Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.

Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

Nice ceremonial first pitch by America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.

Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.

Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.

Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.

Gary Bettman

Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.

Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?

The Big M

I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.

If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.

But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.

Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.

Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.

The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.

The Big M

The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”

“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.

So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.

“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.

The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.

Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.

“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.

Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.

Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”

Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?

Commish Randy

Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.

Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.

To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.

Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.

On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.

Doc Holliday

A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.

Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.

I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.

Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.

Alyssa Nakken

Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.

Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.

And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?

Let’s talk about the Legend of Big Buff and a few other things on my mind

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien was a trip.

Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.

Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.

They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.

“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”

“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”

The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.

And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.

Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.

I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.

Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.

More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.

Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.

If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.

Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.

I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.

And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.

He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.

I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.

Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.

Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.

Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:

Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”

April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”

So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.

Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.

Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.

This week in jock journalism…

I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.

And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.