Let’s talk about sports in 2020: Megan Rapinoe for VP…Bemidji Buff…Coach PoMo’s dog days…Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB situation is a zoo…curling and diaper duty…and other things in the crystal ball…

No looking back. Only looking ahead.

And who better to do that than Madame Redneck, my bony recluse friend who lives above the timber line with 12 cats on Vancouver Island and grants me an audience once a year, as long as I supply the Kokanee?

She’s a crazy, old girl—I suppose in polite company we’d call her eccentric—but she possesses the best psychic powers this side of Nostradamus. She’s my personal Nostra Damn-Miss.

I spent an afternoon with her on the weekend, and here’s what she saw in her crystal ball for 2020…

  • The Yankee Doodle Damsels win soccer gold at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and, once again, loud mouth lesbian Megan Rapinoe is the star of the show and the most popular athlete in the U.S. Seeing this as an opportunity to boost his sagging approval rating, Donald Trump ditches VP Mike Pence and asks Rapinoe to join him as his running mate on the GOP ticket in the presidential campaign.

Megan Rapinoe

“It’s only right that I have a gay running mate, because nobody’s been a better friend to the gay community than me…nobody,” Trump says. “Megan knows it. All the gays know it. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve done for the gays. Even the gays don’t believe it. Just ask them. They’ll tell you I’ve done things like they’ve never seen. I’ve done so many things for the gays that I actually wish I was gay, just so I could take advantage of all the things I’ve done for the gays. I’ve told Melania that. She thinks I’d make a great gay. I’d be a gay like you’ve never seen. I was at the Stonewall Riots, by the way. I threw the first brick. I freed the gays the same way Lincoln freed the slaves. There wouldn’t have been a gay pride movement if I hadn’t tossed that first brick at the cops. Me and Harvey Milk, we’re the most influential people in gay history. The gays know that.”

Asked if she would accept Trump’s overture, Rapinoe says: “Sure, as soon as he paints the White House pink.”

  • Dustin Byfuglien continues his rehab in an ice fishing hut at Lockport, but the Winnipeg Jets reluctant blueliner decides to retire from the National Hockey League and buys a fishing lodge near Bemidji, Minn.

Dustin Byfuglien

“There’s been a lot of talk about ruffled feathers,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells news snoops, “but, again, I can assure you that Buff’s feathers were never ruffled. Frankly, my feathers are a bit ruffled because you people keep asking me about ruffled feathers. Again, we would have preferred that Buff rejoin us for our drive to the playoffs. Again, we like Buff. Unfortunately, he likes fishing and hunting more than he likes us. But, again, that doesn’t mean his feathers are ruffled. We wish Buff all the best and, again, this had nothing to do with ruffled feathers.”

When contacted by reporters at his Lockport Buff Hut, Byfuglien says he has nothing to say.

  • Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman re-sign Paul Maurice, thus snuffing out speculation that Coach Potty Mouth plans to join the expansion Seattle To Be Named Laters.

Coach Potty Mo

“Again, Paul was never going anywhere,” Chevy says. “It’s my understanding that he’s building a big-ass house somewhere in the city. That would be a crazy commute to Seattle. Again, I don’t know how these rumors start. Again, just because Paul is friends with Ron Francis doesn’t mean he was leaving. Again, Paul has many friends in hockey. I like to think I’m one of them. Again, if we all worked for our friends, there would only be one team in the NHL. Again, you guys slay me with your rumors.”

Asked about re-upping with the Jets, Maurice says: “I look forward to making as many people as possible cry in that effing dressing room.”

  • Three days after the announcement of Maurice’s new contract, the Jets are forced to fire him.

Chevy

“We thought we had done our due diligence during the vetting process,” Chevy explains, “but we later discovered that Paul kicked a teammate’s dog when he was playing PeeWee hockey as a 10-year-old. Again, with the league’s new policy on squeaky-clean conduct by coaches, we had no choice but to let him go. I realize it happened 42 years ago, but, again, kicking a dog is kicking a dog is kicking a dog, and it doesn’t matter that poor Spot has been dead for a quarter century. Again, we endorse the league’s witch hunt of coaches guilty of wrong-doing, no matter how far back we have to look.”

Asked where he would find a replacement for Maurice, Chevy mutters: “Maybe it will have to be an altar boy to be named later, because, again, all the known saints are dead.”

  • Ron MacLean is removed as host of Hockey Night in Canada and replaced by David Amber.

Ron MacLean

“First they got Don Cherry, now they got me,” says MacLean. “Grapes lost his job because of poppies, and I lose my job because I’m a white guy. Go figure. I mean, what’s the NHL about if it isn’t about old white guys running everything? I might be the first white guy in hockey to lose his job because of his skin color. Don’t get me wrong, David is a talented young guy, but let’s face it, he’s got my job because I’m white and he isn’t. I just recently noticed that he wasn’t an old white guy. Oh, well, at least I’ve still got Hometown Hockey with Tara Slone. Funny thing is, I didn’t even notice she was a woman until last year. I guess there’s been a lot of stuff I didn’t notice.”

  • QB Zach Collaros takes his Grey Cup ring and runs to the Republic of Tranna, where he becomes the starter with the Boatmen.

Zach Collaros

“I loved playing for coach O’Shea and coach LaPolice, and I loved playing with all the guys, and I loved being a Blue Bomber and winning the Grey Cup,” he says. “But it’s Winnipeg. Not a lot going on there. I mean, how many times can you go to the zoo?”

  • QB Matt Nichols decides to forego free agency and signs a fresh three-year deal with the Bombers.

“Like, as if I really had a choice,” he says. “Take a look around the league. There aren’t any openings for a starter. Except maybe Ottawa. If it’s between Ottawa and Winnipeg, I’ll take Winnipeg every time. I mean, I just can’t get enough of that zoo, man.”

  • QB Chris Streveler sobers up in time to strut his stuff for a handful of National Football League outfits, but he returns to Canada and signs with the Ottawa RedBlacks, now coached by Paul LaPolice.

Chris Streveler

“I enjoyed working out for those NFL teams,” he says, “but it’s too much of a zoo down there.”

  • Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie amps up his CFL 2.0 initiative by announcing working agreements with organizations in Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Falkland Islands.

“One day you’ll be seeing Fijians, New Guineans and Falklanders on CFL rosters,” he boasts.

Asked how that will increase interest and attendance in the league’s weakest markets, Toronto and Vancouver, Commish Randy replies: “We have teams in those cities? Who knew?”

  • CFL on TSN talking head Glen Suitor turns in his microphone and becomes tour bus driver and resident groupie for singer and heatthrob Keith Urban.

Chris Cuthbert, Keith Urban and groupie Glen Suitor.

“After meeting Keith at the Grey Cup and sucking up to him the way I did on national TV, I couldn’t turn down this opportunity,” Suitor says. “How many guys can say they get to drive Keith Urban’s bus and lick his boots every day? Just me. He might even give me a bit part in his next music video. Eat your heart out, Nicole Kidman.”

  • Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman expands his True North Sports & Entertainment empire when granted a National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise, called the Jettes.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

“This is something I should have done a long time ago,” Chipman says. “I like women. I married one. And I have three daughters. All of them play or played hockey. I’d love it if one day one of them, or one of my granddaughters, could play for the Jettes. Based on the NWHL pay scale, it’d be cheaper than giving them an allowance.”

  • New moms Rachel Homan and Joanne Courtney win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and, along with Lisa Weagle and Emma Miskew, become the first women to earn a purse equal to the Brier champions.

Rachel Homan

“It’s the 20th century,” says Homan. “About time. But we’ve already won this thing three times. You don’t suppose they could make the pay retroactive, do you? Diapers cost more than I thought.”

  • The boys on the hockey beat at the Drab Slab overhear a neighbor talking to a butcher who talked to a school teacher who talked to a cab driver who talked to a bartender who talked to a nurse who overheard Rink Rat Scheifele’s hair stylist mention a travel agent, so they scribble an article saying the Jets centre has demanded a trade.

“Now we know for certain whose feathers are ruffled,” they write. “If you can’t believe a hair stylist, who can you believe?”

  • I retire from scribbling the River City Renegade blog, but I return for more.

“What can I say?” I say. “As long as those mooks at the Drab Slab keep writing their fiction, I’m going to keep cranking out my BS.”

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.

LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?

GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.

LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.

GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.

LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.

GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.

LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.

GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.

LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?

GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.

LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.

LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.

GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.

GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.

GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?

GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.

LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.

LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.

GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.

GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.

LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.

GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.

About Commish Randy’s flag football and NFL Lite…an “effing crazy” tennis champion for Canada…equal coin for female curlers…it’s criminal what the Bruins did…the CWHL final on Sportsnet…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, no, I don’t have a St. Patty’s Day hangover because I was in bed before they started pouring the pints…

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was already up my nose, but he’s digging in deeper and deeper.

Randy Ambrosie is playing a different kind of flag football.

I mean, the guy’s globetrotting and making nice with people who’ve never seen the pointy end of a three-down football was an annoying bit of business, but Commish Randy is playing a dangerous game of flag football when there’s talk of reducing the number of Canadian starters—seven down to five—for each game-day lineup and adding two “global” spots to each overall roster. That’s just wrong.

I’d like to think that Justin Dunk of 3DownNation received bad intel when sources advised him that our homebrews are under attack. But I fear he’s spot on about the Canadian-import roster ratio.

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy

Homeys are at the very core of our game and ought not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations for a fresh Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the CFL Players Association. If Commish Randy and U.S. players want fewer Canadian starters, let’s get rid of the rouge, too. And while we’re at it, let’s shrink the field, adopt the fair catch and four downs, eliminate that pesky 12th man on defence so American QBs like Johnny Manziel aren’t confused, and replace the CFL on TSN panel with Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy. We can call it NFL Lite.

That might sell tickets in the Republic of Tranna, but I doubt it will wash on the Prairies, which is the heartland of the CFL.

Bianca Andreescu

So, how do we like our “effing crazy” tennis champion so far? I like her a lot.

It’s one thing to wow ’em with an assortment of shots and gritty stick-to-itness on court, but Bianca Andreescu also wowed ’em in the press chat room scant moments after she had toppled Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in the championship match of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, Calif., on Sunday.

“A year ago I’d been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, so it’s crazy what a year can do,” the 18-year-old from Mississauga told news snoops. “I was playing $25Ks (tournaments) in Japan and now I’m the…can I say the F-word? No I can’t…I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells. Crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”

For those of you who give tennis no more than a passing glance, this was no rinky-dinky tournament. Indian Wells is huge, one of the premier events on the calendar with most of the elite women and men on site. It’s a notch below the four Grand Slams. So where does Bianca’s achievement rank in Canadian tennis history? Numero uno in singles play. Milos Raonic has won eight titles on the men’s tour, Darling Carling Bassett and Hurricane Helen Kelesi had two each on the distaff side, and Genie Bouchard once racked up a W (that seems like a very long time ago). But what Bianca accomplished on Sunday—unparalleled.

Genie Bouchard

I know what some of you might be thinking, or at least hoping—that Bianca doesn’t go all-Genie on us. Bouchard, of course, was the flavor of the month on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in 2015, rising as high as world No. 5, but then she started taking her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and putting on the ritz. As a consequence, her game has gone kaflooey. I don’t see Andreescu falling down that same rabbit hole. No “effing” way.

For those of you keeping score at home, Bianca has now beaten four Grand Slam champions this year—Kerber, Garbine Muguruza, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki. Heady stuff for a kid.

I realize most of our vast land still remains covered in white stuff, so is it too early to anoint Bianca Andreescu our top athlete for 2019? Seriously, who’s going to trump the tennis neophyte’s astonishing run at Indian Wells? I suppose golfer Brooke Henderson might have something to say about it, but it will take some doing.

Chelsea Carey, third Sarah Wilkes, second Dana Ferguson, lead Rachel Brown with $32,000 worth of trophy.

Chelsea Carey has it all wrong and she’s selling herself and all elite female curlers in this country short.

Our Chelsea and her gal pals from the Glencoe Club in Calgary are over in Denmark right now, having swapped their Wild Rose of Alberta for the Maple Leaf to defend Canada’s rank as the global pebble power, but she left some interesting sound bites behind before crossing the big pond. Like her take on payouts at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

“I think,” she said, “from a financial standpoint, from a business standpoint, it’s hard to demand exactly equal money. That would be great, but it does need to get closer.”

No, Chelsea. It has to be equal, not just closer.

Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Jumpin’ Jack Flasch, Ben Hebert with $70,000 worth of trophy.

I mean, same number of teams. Same number of games. Same hard work to get there and stay there. Same TV appeal (the Brier in Brandon had more viewers than the Scotties in Sydney during round-robin play, but the women had better numbers for the playoffs and blitzed the Brier in final vs. final audience—762,000-659,000).

True, the boys at the Brier did better business at the box office, but Kevin Koe and his Glencoe team earned $70,000, so that’s what Carey and her Scotties champions should have collected, not $32,000.

If Curling Canada has to rob Peter to pay Paula, so be it.

Interesting comment from Reid Carruthers after he and his fellow Buffalo Boys—Mike McEwen, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson—had crashed and burned at the Brier. “It’s hard to put a team together and all of a sudden win in its first year,” the Manitoba third said. I’d buy that except for one thing—Koe won the Brier with a first-year team, and Carey won the Scotties in her first year with new teammates.

Conor McGregor

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Conor McGregor, the most vulgar and vile man in sports, was arrested in Miami Beach and charged with strong-arm robbery and criminal mischief after he stole and smashed a tourist’s cellphone. That was scant days after the former UFC champion and lousy boxer had completed community service obligations as punishment for hurling a dolly through a bus window in Brooklyn last year. (His lawyers arranged a plea deal on charges of assault, attempted assault and criminal mischief.) And that’s the guy the Boston Bruins trotted out—to considerable pomp and fanfare—for a ceremonial faceoff last week? They celebrated a criminal? What, O.J. Simpson and Mike Tyson weren’t available?

If you have a hockey-playing daughter who’s inclined to hang ’em up in her mid-teens because she doesn’t think there’s anywhere for her to go, you’ll want to give young Jeff Hamilton’s excellent piece on girls’ shinny a read in the Drab Slab. There’s such a thing as the Manitoba Women’s Junior Hockey League, and the championship was decided on Saturday night when Prairie Blaze beat the Silvertips in a shootout.

And, finally, on the matter of distaff shinny, it’s terrific that Sportsnet will air the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title skirmish featuring the Calgary Inferno and Les Canadiennes de Montreal on March 24, but what’s with the noon ET faceoff time? Does someone have a plane to catch? Like, they couldn’t drop the puck in mid-afternoon to give the Clarkson Cup reasonable air time across the country? That’s no way to sell the women’s game.

About taking ownership of Chelsea Carey…jock journos Cherry picking…a waste of space in the Drab Slab…and I’ll take Sara’s reports on TSN over Steve’s dangles on Sportsnet

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’m hoping I’ve got my draw weight…

There are some things I’d be inclined to bet the farm on.

Like Simon Cowell insulting someone.

Chelsea Carey, Sarah Wilkes, Dan Carey, Dana Ferguson, Rachel Brown.

Like Donald Trump waking up Monday morning and tweeting about Crooked Hillary, fake news, witch hunts, or his round pal in North Korea, Rocket Man.

Like late-night TV jokester Stephen Colbert cracking wise about Trump and his tweets.

Like Rachel Homan drawing the four-foot. Especially when given two shots at the blue paint.

So, yes, it’s a good thing I don’t have a farm, because I would have lost it—lock, stock and swine—on Sunday when Chelsea Carey tugged on Supergirl’s cape in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts final and lived to talk about it.

Make no mistake, Carey and her gal pals from Wild Rose Country—Rachel Brown, Dana Ferguson, Sarah Wilkes—are deserving champions today because of their stick-to-it-ness (they trailed 5-1 after four ends) and their knack for making the right shot at the right time, thus forcing a foe’s hand. They were the best outfit throughout the nine days at Centre 200 in Sydney, finishing 11-2.

Rachel Homan

But, let’s face it, we haven’t seen Homan misfire like this since…well, since South Korea and the Olympic Games a year ago.

Tenth end, final stone: Homan hunkered in the hack with a red rock and the Canadian women’s curling championship in her right hand. Her path was unobstructed. Get slightly more than a nibble of the four-foot and the title was hers for a fourth time. Her rock, running on fumes by the time it arrived at the rings, curled and slid wide right. Tie game: Ontario 6, Alberta 6.

Extra end, final stone: Same deal, except this time Homan’s rock expired short of the blue, four-foot ring. Final score: Alberta 8, Ontario 6.

A few thousand jaws dropped. Rachel Brown shrieked. Carey, the winning skip, flashed one of those “Did I really see what I think I saw?” looks.

It was a shocking, unexpected moment, the kind that make sports so compelling.

And if you’re from Manitoba, you loved it because, as I like to remind people, Chelsea Carey is one of us. Born to the curling Carey clan that includes her dad Dan and Uncle Bill, both former Canadian champions, Chelsea was weaned on the pebble in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, officially, Alberta gets the W, but we know better, don’t we?

Actually, let’s not be greedy. Let’s share. The Chelsea team curls out of the Glencoe Club in Calgary, so the folks in Cowtown can thump their chests. Ditto Edmonton, because Wilkes, Ferguson and Brown call E-Town home. Then there’s the coach, Dan Carey, who hangs his hat in Winnipeg. So let’s just say it was Prairie power.

Have you ever seen pure, unbridled joy? I have. I saw it in Rachel Brown the moment Homan’s rock died in the 11th end on Sunday. The broom toss, the shrieking, the jumping, the smile as big, bright and as wide as the Prairie sky…beautiful. Rachel, by the way, is a new mom, bringing Finn into the world four months ago.

Don Cherry

Donald S. Cherry’s recent rambling rant about the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-match tomfoolery inspired columns from two of the heavyweights in Canadian jock journalism, Bruce Arthur and Cathal Kelly, and I found their conflicting takes on the Lord of Loud most interesting.

Here’s Arthur in the Toronto Star: “Now 85, he makes less sense that he ever has, and is less vital to the hockey conversation than he has ever been. Fair enough. He’s been on since 1981.

“Saturday night was a typical Coach’s Corner: suit talk, goals by grinders, some non-sequiturs, some military content, very little in the way of analysis, and Ron (MacLean) handling Don like he was helping him cross a street and then letting him run.

“It’s the same old act every Saturday except he seems older than ever, and nobody knows when or how it might end. He is an old man, shouting at the camera the way he always has, playing his greatest hits, growing older as everyone watches, or stops watching.”

Here’s Kelly in the Globe and Mail: “I don’t find myself agreeing with him, but I still find Cherry delightful. His clearly genuine fury at the stupidest little thing and complete lack of filter is a lovely contrast from the way some other pundits treat hockey—like a cult they’re constantly worried they’ll be kicked out of. Don Cherry’s opinion is, for me, even more valid now because he has seen the tide shift and remains unchanged. Though his standing in the court of popular opinion has diminished, he’s still a king as far as I’m concerned.”

I don’t know about you, but I see the same Lord of Loud that Arthur does.

Kelly’s spin isn’t credible, given what he wrote while with the Star in March of 2012: “Cherry has famously been sliding into irrelevance for a while. His entire appeal is populist, and he’s started losing the people. Banging on about head shots and wimps isn’t getting Cherry anywhere.” So what is he? The king or irrelevant? I guess Grapes is the King of Irrelevance.

Speaking of irrelevance and things that need to disappear, I’d say the email blah, blah, blah between Drab Slab sports editor Steve Lyons and retired columnist Paul Wiecek has run its course. At one time I enjoyed their print banter, but the latest to-and-fro was an exercise in nothingness. Complete drivel. Seriously, forests were chopped down to provide the newsprint for that?

And, finally, I tuned in to Sportsnet’s Hockey Central trade deadline coverage right at the get-go (5 o’clock) of the gab-a-thon this morning, because I figured Brian Burke would have something interesting to say. But I bailed the moment Steve Dangle surfaced to read tweets. I mean, really? It’s 5 in the ayem and I’m listening to Steve Dangle read tweets? Does the term “get a life” mean anything? I switched to TSN Trade Centre, assuming James Duthie and his gang a-plenty would stick to the script. And, frankly, I’d rather listen to Sara Orlesky talk about the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Hayes than Steve Dangle do anything.

About the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL trade deadline…Dustin Byfuglien’s ice tub…the bullying and harassment of Puck Finn…Sportsnet’s meathead gets his wish…news snoops in E-Town have a pity party…the Buffalo Girls stink it up in Sydney…Jennifer Jones at the top of the heap…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I have a no-trade, no-movement clause, so don’t even think about telling me to get lost…

Who wrote the script for the Winnipeg Jets last week? Charles Dickens?

I mean, the past few days definitely were the worst of times and the best of times for the local hockey heroes.

Then, again, perhaps it was Robert Louis Stevenson with pen in hand, because this was strictly Jekyll-and-Hyde stuff—The Strange Case of the Mile-High Keystone Kops in Denver and the Rat Pack in Glitter Gulch.

Twig Ehlers

Whatever the case, we are left to ponder a Jets outfit that didn’t merely lay an egg vs. the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday, it served up a 12-egg omelette in the form of a 7-1 paddywhacking. To confound matters, Winnipeg HC followed by delivering an emphatic 6-3 wedgie to the Golden Knights 48 hours later in Las Vegas, a success that included significant contributions from glam-and-glitz guys Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine, the prodigal goal-scorer who’d been wandering the wasteland for the better part of three months.

So what do we say about Team Topsy-Turvy with the National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline upon us? The same as some of us said back in October: Help!

Les Jets were found wanting in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, falling seven bricks short of a full load, and that was with Paul Stastny on board. I’m uncertain what part of replacing Stastny that Kevin Cheveldayoff doesn’t understand, but it ought to be Priority One when the Jets general manager and his accomplices assemble in the Winnipeg HC trade war room on the morrow.

Chevy

Those same deep-thinkers might also be inclined to do something about their team’s Keystone Kopish defensive play. But, again, we said these things in October, so I’m at a loss to explain why we’ve arrived at the 11th hour and we’re still waiting for Chevy to take out his tinkering tools.

As assembled, I believe les Jets can get out of the Central Division if they secure home-ice advantage, but I don’t see them getting the best of the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks. My guess is that Chevy stands pat tomorrow. If so and les Jets fall short in their Stanley Cup quest, the lost opportunity is on him.

How do les Jets notify a player that he’s been traded? Dustin Byfuglien tells him he can find his track suit in the ice tub.

Best line about the NHL trade deadline was delivered by Brian Burke on Hockey Night in Canada: “It’s a four-aspirin headache for the general manager.”

Puck Finn

Now that Laine has freed himself from an epic goal-scoring funk, perhaps the leather-lungs in Jets Nation can turn down the volume on the trade-him, ship-him-to-the-farm, give-him-a-box-of-pressbox-popcorn blah, blah, blah. The noise in the past 2½ months has been as loud as it’s been irrational, confirming that Puck Finn is the victim of his own success. He lit more lamps than a Kentucky coal miner as an NHL freshman and sophomore, and nothing shy of 44 snipes is going to sate the rabble. At the least, his two goals in Glitter Gulch should shush the crowd. Until the next time, of course.

What’s this? Some among the rabble believe Puck Finn has been the target of bullying and harassment from news snoops and fans? Oh please. It’s professional sports. Criticism comes with the gig. Besides, it’s only bullying or harassment if you hear it, and I doubt Laine leaves his PlayStation gadgets long enough to stick his nose in a newspaper or lend an ear to yadda, yadda, yadda sports radio.

Nick Kypreos

Well, Nick Kypreos got his wish and I can only assume he’s pleased that Connor McDavid has been told to go away for a couple of games.

It wasn’t so long ago, you might recall, when the resident meathead on Sportsnet/Hockey Night in Canada suggested that McDavid forget about scoring highlight-reel goals and, instead, morph into a fellow meathead.

“I would have loved Connor McDavid to turn around and two-hand Lindholm,” Meathead growled on Hockey Central at Noon after the Edmonton Oilers captain had been sent careening into the boards by Hampus Lindholm in an early-January game vs. the Disney Ducks. “I don’t care. If Connor gets suspended a couple of games, so be it. Send a message. Send a message that I’m not taking this, okay? And Connor doesn’t have to fight, but pull the Mark Messier, pull a couple of old-time guys and say, ‘Listen, you wanna shove me into the boards? I’m gonna take my stick and I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I don’t care if I get two games, 10 games, I’ll make a hundred and 50, two hundred million dollars by the end of my career, I’ll spend 50 grand, I’ll spend a hundred grand just to send a message to you and everybody else. I ain’t taking this.’”

So McDavid lays Nick Leddy low with a shoulder to the head, and Sheriff George of the player safety department sends the Oilers captain to his room for two games. Plus, the kid is out $134,408.60 in pay. Just as Kypreos wanted.

Well, I’m sorry, but I fail to see the benefit of having the game’s most dynamic offensive performer sitting in stir. Just as I fail to see the benefit of having Kypreos spew rubbish on Sportsnet.

Free Connor McDavid! Pull the plug on Meathead!

Connor McDavid

You’ve got the Edmonton Oilers and you’ve got the Edmonton Wailers, otherwise known as the biased news snoops in E-Town. Many of them are crying foul on the NHL and Sheriff George for grounding their hockey hero. Some samples (reader advisory: Kleenex optional)…

Terry Jones, Postmedia: “The National Hockey League, repeatedly and consistently, punishes Connor McDavid for being Connor McDavid. Players are allowed to treat arguably the world’s greatest hockey player with all manner of spit and abuse with a minimal number of trips to the penalty box. But have McDavid, a first-time offender, create an unintentional hit to the head of New York Islanders’ Nick Leddy and he’s suspended for two games? This looks and smells like the NHL announcing to one and all that it treats its superstar player with the same rules of justice as all others. And that would be fine, if it were true and it worked both ways, but it doesn’t.”

Rob Tychkowski, Postmedia: “I never had much faith in George Parros. He has a tendency to overcompensate in these situations, ask Andrew Cogliano. But a multiple repeat offender who whacks someone on the head with a stick, that’s the guy who gets the break…if the NHL wants to treat him equally when it comes to infractions he commits, which it should, then maybe the NHL should treat him equally when it comes to the infractions he receives. That would be fair.”

Bob Stauffer, Oilers broadcaster: “Pretty ironic that a superstar player who doesn’t get protected by the officials gets no benefit of the doubt on a first-time infraction. There is a reason why the NBA kicks the NHL’s ass in the U.S. The NBA respects their stars, the NHL doesn’t!”

Wah, wah, wah.

Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard, Val Sweeting, Kerri Einarson.

If I had told you that Kerri Einarson and her all-skip outfit would fail to qualify for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and that the Tracy Fleury foursome would fail to make the championship round, and that Jennifer Jones would fail to execute a simple draw to the rings and her world championship crew would fail to make the playoffs—horror of horrors!—you would have called for the men in the white coats, right? I mean, no one of sound mind would have forecast such calamity for the Buffalo Girls at the Canadian women’s curling shindig in Sydney. So how do we explain what went down at Centre 200? Manitoba is supposed to be a powerhouse. No province does curling better. And we went 0-fer. Go figure. But, hey, we still lay claim to Chelsea Carey, don’t we? Damn straight, we do. Doesn’t matter that she curls out of Saudi Alberta. She’s one of us. So a win in today’s Canadian women’s curling final vs. Rachel Homan and her gal pals from Ottawa is a win for good, ol’ Toba.

Chelsea Carey

Speaking of Chelsea, if you’re looking for a good read, check out Melissa Martin’s feature on the Alberta skip and her pop, Dan Carey, in the Drab Slab. Melissa doesn’t mention that Dan is an old neighbor of mine from way back in the day (we’re talking the 1950s), but I won’t hold that against her. It’s a terrific piece.

One of the curlers detected a foul odor at Centre 200 in Sydney during Thursday’s play. She’s right. Something did stink. It was Tracy Fleury’s draw weight. Seriously. The Manitoba champ lost her touch somewhere between Gimli and the Maritimes, and it was painful to watch. I felt sorry for her.

Kaitlyn Lawes

In the department of Things That Don’t Make Sense: TSN assembled a panel of 31 “experts” to determine the greatest female curlers in history, and they voted Jan Betker the best to ever throw third stones. So far, so good. But those same 31 “experts” rated both Cathy Overton-Clapham (No. 6) and Kaitlyn Lawes (No. 7) among the top 10 players in history, regardless of position. Betker was nowhere to be found on that list. So how does it figure that two thirds, Cathy O and Lawes, are better players than Betker but not better thirds? I’d say the 31 “experts” have some explaining to do, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for their reasoning.

Jennifer Jones

Congrats to the fabulous Jennifer Jones, now the winningest skip in Scotties history, with 141 Ws. Even though she came up empty in Sydney and isn’t getting any younger, I doubt we’ve seen or heard the last of the great champion. I certainly hope not.

And, finally, Les (Ronny) Lazaruk and Joe Daley were blowing out prairie fires last week. Ronny had 60 candles on his birthday cake and the Holy Goalie had 76, so it was a three-alarm day for both. Ronny and Joe are genuinely good guys and two of my favorite people in sports. Belated happy birthday, boys.

About ponytails and pucks…the Hurricanes getting jerked around on Coachless Corner…someone is a piece of crap, and it isn’t Marcus Stroman…it all went wrong for the all-skip team…the write stuff on curling…and nobody does it better than Vic, Cheryl and Hurry Hard

A holiday Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and happy Louis Riel Day to those of you in Good Ol’ Hometown and happy Family Day to the rest of you…

Remember when Kendall Coyne Schofield raced against the boys and beat one of them during the National Hockey League all-star hijinx?

Jaws dropped. Eyebrows arched upwards. Gobs were smacked.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

“The moment three weeks ago impacted the world,” Coyne Schofield was saying Sunday afternoon in Detroit. “It changed the perception of our game.”

Well, yes, that singular dash around a San Jose freeze was supposedly a signature moment for women’s hockey. Prevailing logic (wishful thinking?) suggested the rabble—and mainstream media—would no longer have any choice but to sit up and take notice of Ponytail Puck.

Or would they?

Putting that theory to test in the past week were the top two female hockey outfits on the planet. Canada vs. U.S.A. in what was marketed as the inaugural Rivalry Series. Three games. (I’d call them “friendlies” except there’s no such animal as a “friendly” when Canadian and American women share a frozen pond.)

So how did it shake down? Depending on your individual barometer, the Rivalry Series was either enthusiastically received or largely ignored.

Let’s start with the head counts.

The women packed ’em in at Budweiser Gardens in London, with an SRO crowd of 9,036. Another 8,414 showed up for Game 2 at the home of the Maple Leafs, Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. For Sunday’s rubber match at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, 9,048 watched Canada clinch the series with a 2-0 victory. Those are significant numbers. The Florida Panthers only wish. And, remember, these were exhibition skirmishes. Bragging rights were at stake, nothing more.

Perhaps that’s why news snoops paid only token notice.

Credit TSN for broadcasting all three games, but why not on the main channel? The women were assigned to the boondocks of TSN2, TSN4 and TSN5 while TSN1 featured American college hoops, the Daytona NASCAR RV Duel, Motoring TV and something called EOAN Man v Machine.

On the print side, it was mostly “oh, by the way” coverage.

Our national rag, the Globe and Mail, dispatched Rachel Brady to London to do a feature piece, but it used mostly wire copy from The Canadian Press to track the Rivalry Series. Columnist Cathal Kelly ignored the women because there were other topics in urgent need of his attention—skier Lindsey Vonn, a lack of charisma in baseball, golfer Matt Kuchar being a chintz, and fighting in men’s hockey. Not to worry, though. I’m confident he’ll find time to notice our women in 2022, since it’s an Olympic year.

Over at what passes for our other national rag, the Post, there is neither a sports department nor a sports section, so whatever.

The Toronto Sun has both sports department and section, but apparently no space for women’s hockey. It didn’t staff Game 2 in The ROT. It didn’t even run wire copy. Nada. This is the same sheet that counts Michael Traikos among its stable of scribes. He was so wonder struck and moved by Coyne Schofield’s race around the rink in San Jose that he posits the women should be allowed to play in future NHL all-star games. Not just serve as a novelty act in the skills shenanigans, understand. Participate in the actual game.Yet when the two greatest teams on the planet showed up in his neighborhood, either he was on vacation or he took a pass. Bottom line: The Sun completely ignored the women.

At the Toronto Star, columnist Dave Feschuk acknowledged the Rivalry Series, but he was flying solo. Wire copy was used to cover the actual game in The ROT.

Stateside it was much the same. The Detroit News hired a freelancer to work the deciding game, and the Detroit Free Press couldn’t be bothered, so it ran an Associated Press piece.

So, as much as I’d like to think Coyne Schofield is correct and her lap “impacted the world” and “changed the perception” of Ponytail Puck, the early returns indicate that it did nothing to move the needle in mainstream media.

That’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Having said all that, the women don’t do themselves any favors in advancing their game. If you call up the Canadian Women’s Hockey League or National Women’s Hockey League websites, you’ll read not a word on the Rivalry Series. If it isn’t important enough for them, should mainstream media care?

Curmudgeon Alert! Don Cherry is shouting and waving his fists at clouds again. Oh, yes, the Lord of Loud used his Hockey Night in Canada pulpit Saturday to launch into a full-throated, unhinged, rambling rant about the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-match antics, which include cornball and cringeworthy gimmickry like a game of Duck, Duck, Goose.

“These guys, to me, are jerks,” Grapes huffed and puffed. “This is, to me…and I’ll tell ya one thing, they better not do this in the playoffs. What I don’t understand, (head coach Rod) Brind’Amour’s a straight shooter, he always was. This is A JOKE!”

Then, using a tone that suggested the Canes don’t measure up to real men, he mocked and pooh-poohed them as “Young men expressing themselves for joy of winning.” (One assumes he would rather they do something manly, like chomp heads off live chickens post-match.)

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Then he was back to bombast: “Ya don’t do this thing in men’s professional hockey! What are these guys, JERKS OR SOMETHINK? And I’ll tell ya one thing, they do this in the playoffs, making fun of the other team…that is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. I know the rest of the people, I know all the broadcasters and everythink are afraid to say somethink like that, they’re jerks doin’ it. I know what I’m TALKIN’ ABOUT. You never do anythink like that. They’re still not drawin’, they’re a bunch of jerks AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED! Imagine, Justin Williams doin’ stuff like that. Ridiculous.”

All that from a guy who was wearing a foofy sports jacket that made my eyes bleed.

Reason No. 8,958,001 why many athletes want nothing to do with news snoops: Steve Simmons.

The Postmedia Tranna gasbag wrote this about Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman in his weekly offering of three-dot cheap shots: “On Friday, Aaron Sanchez threw a bullpen session in Florida and came out afterwards and talked optimistically about his comeback and his blister-free fingers. On Saturday, Marcus Stroman threw a bullpen session in Florida and didn’t come out to talk. What a charmer.”

Just so we weren’t confused, Simmons doubled down on that tidbit with this: “Marcus Stroman is a piece of work or a piece of something else—you take your pick. One day, he wouldn’t show up for his scheduled Blue Jays spring training interview and the next day, Sunday, he wouldn’t shut up, tossing baseball grenades in all directions—sparing no one.”

Which compels me to suggest that, on Saturday, Steve Simmons was a “piece of something else” and, on Sunday, he was still “a piece of something else.”

Seriously, can Simmons not make his point without describing someone as a yard cigar? That isn’t a cute or clever turn of phrase. It’s the sort of stuff you expect to find on a blog. Come to think of it, I’m overdue for calling someone a yard cigar. I’ll have to work on that—not!

Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard, Val Sweeting, Kerri Einarson.

I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked that Kerri Einarson and her all-skip outfit out of Gimli failed to qualify for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney. That was the best team in Manitoba until the provincial Scotties, and now Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur are watching the Canadian championship on TV. Go figure.

I must say that I enjoy reading Melissa Martin’s musings on the Scotties in the Drab Slab, and it’s nice to see that Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun has feet on the ground in Novy. Can’t remember the last time the tabloid had someone on site at the Scotties, the Brier or a world championship.

Vic, Cheryl and Hurry Hard.

And, finally, I’ve written this before but it warrants repeating: The TSN trio of Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Hurry Hard Howard are as good as any team of talking heads that you’ll find on sports TV. Any sport. They’re informative, knowledgeable, witty and not shy about poking fun at each other. They also know enough to zip the lips when we want to hear what the curlers are saying. (Bryan Mudryk and Cathy Gauthier are boffo in the supporting role while Vic, Cheryl and Russ are sleeping in.)

About Puck Finn and the Magic man…Burkie telling it like it is again…more numbers from Pie Chart Boy in the Freep…Mike Mac gets the columnist gig…what goalie controversy?…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers meal ticket…pregnant Pebble People…and a nice tribute to Joe Daley

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, as Cactus Jack used to say, it turned out nice again…

There are two things I really like about Patrik Laine: 1) his shot; 2) his age.

I’d probably like him as a person, too, because he strikes me as a nice young man with wry humor and a blunt honesty that’s uncommon among play-for-pay jocks. He seems like a cool kid.

Puck Finn

But I’m here today more to discuss Puck Finn the hockey player, not the cool kid and his passion for PlayStation and whatever other techno gizmos and gadgets that have caught his fancy and keep the Winnipeg Jets winger occupied when he isn’t lighting lamps at one end of the freeze and handing out free pizzas at the other.

I recognize some Kent Nilsson in Laine, on and off the ice.

Kenta was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon in a one-horse town. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor. (Nilsson once sneaked up behind a scribe tapping away at his computer keyboard in the Calgary Saddledome press box and said, “How could so much shit come out of such a little machine.”)

In terms of pure skill, though, there’s no comparison between Laine and Nilsson. I maintain to this day that no one who’s worn Jets linen was, or is, more gifted than the slick Swede. Not the Golden Jet, Ulf or Anders. Not Ducky. Not the Finnish Flash. If you’d like to debate the issue, consider that Wayne Gretzky once said Nilsson “might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my career.” That’s good enough for me.

Kent Nilsson

In the mood, Magic Man Nilsson was a maestro. The game was played at his tempo. On his terms. It was best to toss a second puck onto the ice so the other 11 guys had something to play with.

Trouble is, Kenta was an enigma. That is, engaged one minute, disinterested the next. And the rabble recognized both his other wordly talent and his indifference.

When Nilsson scored 131 points for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81 (fewer than only Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), expectations became heightened to the point of delusional. The faithful assumed there would be more of the same. There wasn’t. The best Nilsson could do for an encore was 104 points, ninth in National Hockey League scoring, and that just wasn’t up to snuff for the Flames faithful. Those 104 points would have/could have/should have been 134.

“If only he applied himself all the time like Gretzky,” they would moan.

In that sense, Puck Finn is a Nilsson doppelganger. He introduced himself with 36- and 44-goal seasons, so he’s boxed himself in at those numbers. Anything less and frustration and much braying ensues.

At present, Laine’s sitting on 25 snipes, best among les Jets. But you’d swear he’s stuck on 10 goals.

Trade him! Ship him to the farm! Stick him with the fourth-line sluggos! Get him a skating coach! Take his Fortnite game away! Oh, yes, the lunatic fringe is in full throat.

Let’s call a timeout on that, though.

Wayne Gretzky

I mean, it’s fair to be critical of Laine. Been there, done that. But give the kid a new postal code? Send him down the hall at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and tell him to suit up with the Manitoba Moose? Sure, and maybe we should think about bringing Pokey and the Bandit back to stand in the blue paint.

Let’s get a grip here, people.

Yes, Laine is seriously lacking in certain essentials. There’s very little lickety-split in his stride, he’s prone to boneheaded blunders, and he’s been known to zone out mentally. And, like Nilsson, he’s maddeningly frustrating because there isn’t a fire burning in his belly at all times. Those flaws are easy to overlook or forgive when he’s scoring. When not, the rabble feels cheated.

But repeat after me: Puck Finn is 20 years old. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.

Nilsson produced his benchmark season at age 24. Teemu Selanne delivered his at age 22. Mario Lemieux had his most productive year at age 23. Gretzky topped out at age 25.

I say we give Laine a chance to grow his game before heaving him onto the dung heap.

Brian Burke

I found Brian Burke’s take on Puck Finn’s game interesting. In a chin-wag about Laine’s earning potential once he becomes a restricted free agent, Burke had this to say on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon: “I’m not as big on Patrik Laine as a lot of people are. I don’t like his 5-on-5 game. Wonderful goal scorer and I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat, but there’s some holes in his game, too. Now, we know we pay goal scorers. We can find guys to offset those deficiencies. I can find a winger to play with Patrik Laine, to do the backchecking, do some of the things he’s not proficient at. But it’s gonna be north of ($9 million), it’s gonna start with a one. We have always paid snipers. We have always paid snipers. I can bitch all I want about certain deficiencies in his game…he can play on my team tomorrow. I do think he’s a good kid…I do feel when he’s not scoring he’s a liability.” I’d say that’s spot on.

Andrew Berkshire doesn’t share my thoughts on Burke’s assessment of Laine. In the Drab Slab, he writes: “Former NHL executive and current Hockey Night In Canada/Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke has said Laine gives you goals, but nothing else. Goals are pretty significant in the NHL, and I would say that statement is remarkably harsh.” Harsh? You want harsh? The headline on Berkshire’s piece labeled Laine “a D-zone disaster” and the stats geek described Puck Finn’s work in the defensive zone as “disastrous.” Now that’s “remarkably harsh.” Again, why the Winnipeg Free Press runs Pie Chart Boy’s graphics is a mystery to me. He simply uses them to confirm what a lot of us already know. Bring back Scotty Campbell.

Speaking of the Drab Slab and its stable of scribes, I guess it’s official that Mike McIntyre is the new sports columnist. I wish him well, because it’s a tough gig and the rabble is never shy about reminding you that you’re a total moron.

For those of you scoring at home, McIntyre is the fifth sports columnist at the Freep this century, the others being Scott Taylor, Randy Turner, Gary Lawless and Paul Wiecek. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, they’ve had one—Paul Friesen. You might not find the turnover rate at the Drab Slab interesting, but I do.

Connor Hellebuyck

Is there a goaltending controversy with les Jets? Well, yes, in the stands, in watering holes and among news snoops. But until I hear it from the inner sanctum (read: head coach Paul Maurice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman), it doesn’t exist. Connor Hellebuyck is their guy, and Laurent Brossoit is the other guy.

So, there won’t be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to ignoring it.

Interesting to note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has cut cheeseburgers and other greasy grub from his diet. Does that mean the Calgary Stampeders will continue to eat his lunch? Is he still the Bombers’ meal ticket? Is he going to lay another egg? Whatever the case, it’s food for thought and gives us something to chew on. OMG! I just overdosed on really bad, cornball clichés/puns. Someone slap me silly so I’ll stop.

Rachel Homan

If Rachel Homan isn’t the best female curler on the planet, she’s definitely the best pregnant curler. Rachel’s down there in Glitter Gulch today, helping the North American side attempt to subdue the World group in the Continental Cup, and she’s very preggers. Her due date is June 14 and here’s what I’m wondering: If Rachel wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the world championship while pregnant, will news snoops give her the same over-the-top, “mother of all mothers” glorification that they heaped upon tennis player Serena Williams? I very much doubt it. After all, most news snoops ignore the Pebble People until an Olympic year arrives. A real shame that.

And, finally, it’s a big day for one of the truly good guys in Good Ol’ Hometown—Joe Daley. He’ll be honored this afternoon at my old stomping grounds, Bronx Park Community Centre, when mucky-mucks unveil a mural featuring the former Jets goaltender. Such a nice tribute to a nice man. Really pleased for him.