Let’s talk about If Season in the NHL…PoMo’s seat hot or cold…the great cod kissoff for the Leafs…one final kick for Bob Cameron…oh woe are the Leos…burgers and Greens…Bianca’s pinch-me world…Justify the galloping junkie…Jen Jones still winning after all these years…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no ifs, and or buts about it, this is an iffy post…

It’s an untruth that there are four seasons. There are five, the fifth being the If Season.

It’s a time of unharnessed blah, blah, blah, of great optimism and of exaggerated worth, when pundits hither and yon and fore and aft squint into the autumn-colored tea leaves and see Neal Pionk not only leaping over tall buildings, but also winning the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s finest defender.

Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck, they’ll inform us, isn’t really as iffy a goalkeeper as last winter, and Eric Comrie has a shot at the backup job if either Hellebuyck or Laurent Brossoit fall down an elevator shaft. Bryan Little will fill that No. 2 centre slot for the Winnipeg Jets just fine, thank you, if he becomes his former 28-year-old self instead of his soon-to-be 32-year-old self. And, hey, what about that large broth of a lad Logan Stanley? He’d be a prize catch, if only he didn’t have two left feet.

If Season has already begun, in case you hadn’t noticed, with Murat Ates of The Athletic delivering a snippet that has more ifs than the Kardashians have K girls.

“If Laine and Connor sign in time for the start of the season and if a young defenceman like Pionk or (Sami) Niku has a breakout season and if Bryan Little or Adam Lowry can provide a second line centre solution and if Hellebuyck returns to the top tier of NHL goaltending, Winnipeg is a formidable team,” he writes.

Yes, and if Jacob Trouba wasn’t sweet on Kelly Tyson he’d be skating beside Josh Morrissey today.

Kyle Connor

The thing you have to remember, kids, is that these people are not experts. They’re paid to fill space and air (much of it hot) during the Jets’ month-long training exercises, but they really don’t know much more than a lot of the lumps sitting on bar stools. Or me, for that matter. I’m just not as loud, drunk and obnoxious as the lumps on bar stools. Well, okay, maybe I’m every ounce as obnoxious. Point being, the basic difference between news snoops and the rabble is this: They get to ask players, coaches, etc. dumb questions and we don’t.

Other than that, your (bad) guess is as good as theirs.

For evidence, consider their exhaustive natterings and jottings on Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who remain in shinny limbo. It’s mostly been pure conjecture and iffy speculation, because GMs and player agents don’t make a habit of inviting news snoops into their private tete-a-tetes, and they also clear the room of any flies they find on the wall.

So my advice is to take what the scribes scribble and talking heads say during training camp with a grain of salt.

Murat Ates

Just to be clear, I think Murat Ates does a terrific job covering Winnipeg HC (see his excellent piece on the Andrew Copp arbitration as an e.g.), even if he has an annoying habit of letting pie charts, numbers and graphs clutter up his fine way with words. And, to be fair and for the record, he views les Jets as a “wild-card team capable of swinging wildly in either direction instead of a legitimate contender…the Jets are on the playoff bubble.” No ifs there, and I’m inclined to agree with him. A lot of the lumps likely do, too.

Murat’s revealing yarn on Copp’s experience with the NHL arbitration process is an example of what The Athletic brings to the table. It’s something you won’t see in either of the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown, because they’re stuck in the 20th century. And, yes, that probably reads like a sales pitch for The Athletic. So sue me.

I empathize with the boys and girls on the hockey beat. I truly do. Training camp can be a total drag. It’s long days of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, because there are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his “sparrows.” Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about? Line combinations, blueline pairings and depth forwards don’t do it for me, nor does head coach Paul Maurice trying to convince us that Logan Stanley doesn’t really have two left feet. That’s not what I’d call must-read material.

Coach Potty Mouth

There’s been some talk about the temperature of the seat Maurice is sitting on, but, again, it’s nothing but iffy yadda, yadda, yadda. As in, if les Jets soil the sheets in the early skirmishing, is Coach Potty Mouth’s job in jeopardy? Don’t even go there, because Maurice ain’t going anywhere. I don’t care if Pauly has one, five or 10 years remaining on his contract, you don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster. And we can’t forget that Coach PottyMo has 34 goals sitting in Michigan (Kyle Connor) and another 30 in Switzerland (Patrik Laine). He can’t take the rap for that, either.

Auston Mathews puckering up.

The Tranna Maple Leafs are in St. John’s for their training exercises, and a few of the boys were Screeched In on the weekend, a ritual on the Rock that includes puckering up and planting a kiss on a cod. This is noteworthy because it usually isn’t until the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Leafs get the ol’ kiss off.

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers salute Bob Cameron by adding his name to their Ring of Honour on Sept. 27, it will be only right if Ma Nature is in full bluster. I mean, outside of those weather whackadoos who run around chasing tornadoes, I can’t think of anyone who’s spent more time and did better work in the wind than the Acadia Rifle, so I think a robust breeze is the ticket. I don’t know how many J5Vs and Wilsons he launched into a stiff Winnipeg breeze during his 23 years with the home side, but I do know Bob kept doing it until age 48 and he only quit because numerous renovation projects needed his attention a lot more than the Bombers needed his right leg. And, from a media perspective, he was one of the great go-to guys for a usable sound bite.

If you’re interested in a retro look at punter Bob’s time kicking hither and yon in the Canadian Football League, you’ll want to check out Ed Tait’s yarn at bluebombers.com. Young Eddie’s got all the good stuff, and Cameron’s trip in the wayback machine makes for a fun read.

Terrific joust between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Larks on Saturday. It was especially thoughtful of the CFL to let them actually play all 60 minutes this time around.

The official head count for the Bytown RedBlacks-B.C. Leos skirmish on Friday night in Vancity was 15,000 and 52 stragglers who wanted to come in from the rain, prompting this tweet from former Canadian Press scribe Jim Morris: “It’s raining outside. So far the crowd inside at BC Place could fit under one umbrella.” Ouch.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancity writes this of the Leos: “Whatever else they are, the Lions have been a vital part of this city’s and this province’s sporting life for 65 years. They deserve more support.” A 2-10 record says otherwise, but I’m on the same page as Willes. I was born four years before the Leos and grew up watching Willie The Wisp, Peanut Butter Joe Kapp, By Bailey, Nub Beamer, Norm Fieldgate, Sonny Homer et al, so it pains me that they’ve become an after-thought on the Left Flank. Commish Randy Ambrosie tells news snoops that there are people willing to take the Leos off bankroll David Braley’s hands, and maybe someone, or a group of someones, can create a buzz and renewed interest in the Leos. But 2-10, 15,000 fans and a $2.9 million quarterback is like trying to sell another week of rain on the Wet Coast.

Elizabeth May

Those Harvey’s commercials during CFL broadcasts make me want to run out and buy a (real meat) cheeseburger with mustard, relish, tomato and pickle, but those ads the Conservative Party has been running don’t make me want to run out and vote for Harper Lite, otherwise known as shifty-eyed mama’s boy Andrew Scheer. Mind you, I’m not keen on Trudeau Lite, either. Could be we’ll see a breakthrough for the Green Party next month. Especially if leader Elizabeth May plops a watermelon on her head. That would guarantee her the Saskatchewan vote, no? (I’m patti dawn swansson, and I approve this message).

We now return to regularly scheduled sports natter, and I must say there are many reasons to like our tennis darling Bianca Andreescu, this being one of them: When asked a question, she doesn’t read from a script. Bianca is so wide-eyed refreshing in her new, pinch-me world that everything gushing from her is totally unrehearsed and genuine. Pity if some PR hack gets hold of her and trains her in robospeak.

Kim Clijsters and daughter Jada.

Kim Clijsters is returning to the women’s tennis tour at age 36, and I say good for her. Kim’s one of only three women to win a Grand Slam tournament as a mother, and she’s done it thrice. That includes a win over neighborhood bully Serena Williams, who had one of her epic temper tantrums and came completely undone in their 2009 U.S. Open semifinal. Kim’s also the only mom to reach world No. 1, so bet against her claiming another major title at your own risk.

The great galloping Justify failed a drug test prior to winning horse racing’s 2018 Triple Crown, which explains all those ‘wired’-to-wire wins.

This was one case where the winning jockey, Mike Smith, really did have to get down off his high horse.

Like everyone in sports caught cheating, Justify the Junkie’s trainer Bob Baffert has gone into denial mode. Swears on a stack of Daily Racing Forms that he never sprinkled performance enhancing oats into the champion thoroughbred’s feedbag. Must have been a contaminated hay bale, says he. So I guess authorities are now looking for a needle in a haystack. Literally.

Jen Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the curling season is upon us and our Jennifer Jones has yet to lose. Jen and gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen went 7-0 to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., on the weekend, and I’d say that’s serving official notice to all other female Pebble People that there’s no letup in the great skip’s game. I realize some folks are tired of seeing Jen win, but many among the rabble grew weary of Meryl Streep winning Oscars and Golden Globes every year. So deal with it.

So, unless I’m missing something, this is the blueprint for creating one viable women’s professional hockey operation: 1) The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceases operation; 2) approximately 200 of the world’s elite players boycott the National Women’s Hockey League; 3) members of the Swedish national side refuse to play; 4) the Swedish Ice Hockey Association cancels the Four Nations Cup; 5) a group of players band together and make plans for faux exhibition matches. Ya, that’ll get the rabble rushing to the box office and earn the women a living wage. Not.

This is comical in its absurdity: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Mitch Marner “the winner by knockout or unanimous decision” in his contract throwdown with Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “The deal is done and Marner will be paid $65+ million over the next six years.” Well, okay, young Mitch wins big. Agreed. But then Simmons craps all over Marner’s dad and agent. “For his next act of magic, Dubas will make Paul Marner disappear,” he writes. Then this: “How did a star like Marner end up with a less-than-star player agent like Darren Ferris? Cut rates, I’m told.” So, Marner wins by “knockout or decision” and becomes the NHL’s highest-salary player because he listened to his dad and/or agent, but one needs to be punted and the other isn’t worthy of quality clients. Does that make sense to anyone other than Simmons?

While we’re on the subject of my favorite “D’oh!” boys in the media, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab wrote this about the NHL’s changing contract landscape on Sept. 11: “Good luck signing a star player for the maximum team-friendly term of eight years.” Apparently Mad Mike didn’t notice that Clayton Keller signed one of those maximum team-friendly eight-year contracts on Sept. 4. And Josh Morrissey did the same on Sept. 12. Sigh.

And, finally, the official soundtrack of today’s post was provided by The Beatles and featured the classic albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, a collection of 28 tunes recorded and released when the lads were really starting to hit their creative stride. Tomorrow Never Knows is an astonishing song for the era.

Let’s talk about 50 years after starting in the rag trade…Daniel and Gabby are Slam champs, too…Bianca’s place in the pecking order…what about Marie-Philip?…stay in your lane, young people…a good read in The Athletic…the further Torontoization of the Winnipeg Sun…High Tide and Green Grass…and other things on my mind

A special anniversary smorgas-bored…and it’s my doctor’s fault that I’m still doing this after all these years…

I walked into a newsroom for the first time 50 years ago today, fresh out of high school, and I still remember the hum of activity.

It wasn’t loud, not at that time of the morning in those days of PM papers, but it was steady and easy and soothing and vibrant.

I liked it, the way I liked Sinatra and Streisand.

I listened to the constant clatter of the teletype machines and discovered there was a hypnotic rhythm to their tap-tap-ta-tap-tap. There were three of them, as I recall, one for national and Southam news, another for dispatches from across Western Canada, and the third for United Press International. Every so often, one of them would send out a ding-ding-ding chirp. Breaking news. A copy boy would scurry over, read the alert, then tear off the story and distribute the front sheet to the appropriate department head and the carbon copy to the news rim.

Peter Warren

City editor Peter Warren might have been on the Winnipeg Tribune news rim Sept. 10, 1969, or maybe it was Harry Mardon or Jim Shilliday, who later would become the first but not last editor to bark at me. (It was for messing up a coffee order, something about too much sugar or not enough cream. He was wrong, I was right, and desker Peter Salmon, noticing my body quiver like a kitten on a limb, told him so, for which I remain immensely grateful.)

I know Gene Telpner was on assignment in the Middle East that long-ago day, but I suspect Val Werier and Hugh Allan were on site. Jack Matheson, too. Matty would have been hunkered down and proofing sports pages in his bunker in the far left corner of the newsroom, opposite the artsy-fartsy department, a domain shared by Telpner, Frank Morriss and Joan Druxman, whose flair for fashion was extraordinary and resonates to this day.

As I soaked it all in, I decided then and there that the Trib newsroom was where I wanted to be. Where I belonged.

Matty

It took me 10 months to get up to the fifth floor from the business office, where I handled incoming and outgoing mail, but I made it as a copy runner and, not long after that, Matty had a notion to bring me into the toy department.

I wanted to stay at the Trib for 50 years, but the dark forces at Southam Inc. headquarters in the Republic of Tranna had other ideas and put more than 300 of us out of work, kicking if not screaming, in late-August 1980.

But here I am, half a century after my first day on the job in the rag trade, out of work again but still scribbling about Winnipeg sports, albeit from a distance. Go figure.

I sometimes wonder why I carry on with this carry-on. I mean, it’s not like someone is paying me to put this alphabet soup together, although I suspect some among the rabble might be willing to take up a collection to shut me the hell up, and I can’t say I blame them. The thing is, one of my medics tells me it’s best that I keep my mind busy, and I’m not about to go against someone who gets to stick a needle in me on a whim. So, on doctor’s orders, I look for ways to humor myself at 1:30 in the a.m., and poking fun at sacred cows and media mooks works for moi. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going, but I know the end is closer to 50 days away than another 50 years.

Daniel Nestor (left) the Wimbledon champion and partner Nenad Zimonjic.

Now that I’ve mentioned mooks, I’m surprised that so many in mainstream media have saluted Bianca Andreescu as the first Canadian to win a tennis Grand Slam tournament. It simply isn’t so. Daniel Nestor won 12 of them in doubles play, and Gabriel Dabrowski has two major titles on her resumé. Ya, ya, I know. Doubles sucks and nobody cares. But a Slam is a Slam is a Slam, and I’m not going to insult Daniel or Gabby by saying their achievements don’t matter.

Here’s something else that gets up my nose: Our flowers of jock journalism wax on about the “greatest moments” in the history of game-playing by True North athletes, and they spew the same names and the same events. The Henderson goal. Sid’s golden goal. Donovan Bailey’s lickety-split at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Mike Weir at the Masters. Joe Carter touching them all. The Tranna Jurassics. And now, of course, Bianca’s victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in the U.S. Open. Which is fine and fitting, except for one glaring omission: None of them ever mention Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal. I don’t know about you, but nothing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics had my heart beating faster than Marie-Philip’s OT goal in Canada’s 3-2 victory over Uncle Sam’s Yankee Doodle Damsels. I still get chills watching the video. Alas, Marie-Philip’s goal fails to get the respect it deserves simply because it’s women’s hockey, which appears on the radar once every four years for most news snoops, and it’s quickly forgotten.

We all have our personal “Where were you when?” moments, and this is my top five in Canadian sports:
1. Paul Henderson’s goal in the 1972 Summit Series between the good guys and the Red Menace from Red Square Moscow.
2. Marie-Philip Poulin’s golden goal.
3. Kenny Ploen’s 18-yard skedadlde in OT to nail down a Grey Cup win for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1961.
4. Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen winning curling gold at the Sochi Olympics.
5. Bianca Andreescu beating Williams in Queens, NYC, on Saturday.
Honorable mention: Brooke Henderson winning the Canadian Open golf tournament in 2018.

I try to stay in my lane when it comes to rating the events from a lifetime of watching sports, and that means 1957, or thereabouts, to the present. Anything that happened pre-1957, I don’t have a clue, other than what I’ve read about or watched on grainy, black-and-white film. I suggest young opinionists do the same. If you weren’t even on the breast when Paul Henderson slid a puck under Vladislav Tretiak in 1972, you have no business comparing Bianca’s achievement to that moment. Like, if you weren’t around when John, Paul, George and Ringo landed in Gotham, don’t tell me about Beatlemania. Stay in your lane.

Even veteran jock journos like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna make that mistake. Simmons likes to present himself as a sports historian, and he’s fooled TSN into believing it, but his point of reference can’t start any earlier than 1965, if not later. He tweets, “I choose not to make assertions about athletes I’ve never seen unless they’re Ted Williams or Babe Ruth,” yet he was arrogant enough to compile a list of the National Hockey League’s greatest 100 players. Except he never saw 20 of them play. He added a list of 40 honorable mentions. He never saw 16 of them play. Ergo, the list was a sham.

Grantland Rice

Here’s what legendary sports scribe Grantland Rice had to say on drawing parallels to events and athletes from one era to another: “Probably the greatest waste of time known to man is the matter of comparing some star or champion with another who lived and played in a different decade.” It’s a trap we all fall into, of course, and I’m convinced that Steffi Graf would kick Serena Williams’ butt six out of every 10 matches. But Ol’ Grantland is likely correct. It’s just that the then-v.-now debate always makes for such good barroom banter.

Best read I’ve had this week is Eric Duhatschek’s piece in The Athletic on Winnipeg Jets young defender Josh Morrissey. Really, really good stuff. If you’re looking for a reason to subscribe to The Athletic, this is it.

Josh Morrissey

On the subject of Josh, why all the fuss last week about him saying he wants to stay in Good Ol’ Hometown for the duration? “I want to be a Jet” screamed a Winnipeg Sun headline, in type size normally reserved for a declaration of war, moon landings or the assassination of JFK. People, people. I agree it’s swell that young Josh wants to stick around, because he does boffo work on the Jets blueline and he seems like the kind of lad you’d want your daughter bringing home for Sunday dinner. But it’s dog-bites-man stuff. It’s not news.
Here’s Josh in May 2018: “I love playing here, I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in August 2018: “I love being here. I love playing here. I love being a Winnipeg Jet.”
Here’s Josh in September 2018: “I love playing here and love being a Jet. I hope I can be here for a long time in the future.”
So he repeats what he said three times last year and it warrants a screaming headline? I shudder to think how large the type will be when he actually signs long term.

Speaking of the Winnipeg Sun and headlines, what’s up with that sports front this morning? There are pics of Bianca and hoops guy Kawhi Leonard towering over the CN tower and the Republic of Tranna skyline, with this captioning: “Bianca Andreescu and the Raptors got the country buzzing—and have changed sports forever in Toronto.” Excuse me, but we care about the sports landscape in The ROT why? The article was written by a ROT scribe, Steve Simmons, and aimed at a ROT audience. Neither the column or the cover belong in a River City rag. But it’s just the latest example of Postmedia’s pathetic Torontoization of its newspaper chain, and it sickens me.

I really hope boycotting women’s shinny players are getting on with their lives, because Dani Rylan isn’t in any hurry to shut down her National Women’s Hockey League to make way for an NHL takeover. “I see us as an international league spanning both the U.S. and Canada with a great broadcast deal, the best players in the world, and a fan base that is continuing to grow exponentially,” commish Dani told The Ice Garden. “So I think the options are endless. The future of women’s hockey is incredibly bright.” As for the recently formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Dani reports that “unfortunately, they have refused to communicate with us.” The five teams have 83 players under contract for a fifth season.

Be advised that I scribbled a good portion of this post while groovin’ to the Rolling Stones album BIG HITS (High Tide and Green Grass), which might be the best 12-song, 36-minute set in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll. You’ve got Keith’s kick-ass guitar licks, the thumping beat of Charlie’s drum kit, Mick’s snarl and sass, and some of the best, straight-ahead rock songs ever written—Satisfaction, The Last Time, It’s All Over Now, Get Off My Cloud, 19th Nervous Breakdown. Brilliant.

And, finally, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of my entry into the rag trade, a quick tip of the bonnet to a few of my all-time faves, news snoops who made the journey more enjoyable and still inspire me: Dave Komosky, with whom I spent a sizable portion of 50 years in the trenches, young Eddie Tait, Knuckles Irving, Shakey Johnson and Ringo Mingo, Big Jim, Greaser, Uncle Tom, the Caveman, Homer, Ketch, Sinch, Swampdog, Scotty Morrison, Trent Frayne, Shaky Hunt, Willie Lever, Downsy, Jon Thordarson, Ronny (Les Lazaruk), Judy Owen, Paul Friesen, Marty Falcon, Buzz Currie, Doc Holliday, the Friar, Sod, Pick, Witt, Cactus, Matty, Peter Young, Blackie, Reyn, Joe Pascucci. And thanks to the late Don Delisle for hiring me right out of Miles Macdonell Collegiate.

Let’s talk about the impeachment of Blake Wheeler…Rink Rat Scheifele and the ‘ruffled feathers’ file…the champion Winnipeg Jets…reduced pricing for Head Cheese football…the CFL head count…Bianca’s biggest win…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the dog days of August really are the cat’s meow…

This is interesting. After now-former Valour FC captain Jordan Murrell pitched a fit in Halifax, putting hands on a game official and kicking over a scorer’s table, Mad Mike McIntyre hopped on his Drab Slab soap box and demanded a defrocking.

“Being a captain of a sports team is about a lot more than slapping a letter on your jersey and proudly puffing out your chest,” he pontificated in a 1,200-word scolding last week. “You are expected to lead. To inspire. To motivate. To be a brand ambassador for the franchise. To set a positive example for your peers. To remain calm, cool and collected in the face of adversity. To be a role model in the heat of battle, in the locker, and in the community. To face the music when required.”

Mad Mike went on to say Murrell “failed miserably in every aspect” and “must be stripped” of the captain’s armband by the Canadian Premier League soccer club.

Harsh. But I don’t disagree with any of it.

So surely Mad Mike will demand the same of Winnipeg Jets ownership/management.

I mean, unless I missed a memo, when the National Hockey League club commences training exercises next month, belligerent Blake Wheeler will be wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey. But shouldn’t we be talking about an impeachment before the lads assemble?

Wheeler, you’ll recall, didn’t appreciate the tone of Paul Friesen’s voice when the Winnipeg Sun opinionist posed a question after Winnipeg HC’s ouster from the Stanley Cup runoff last April, so the chronically grumpy man who’s expected to be a “role model” and “brand ambassador” stood behind his ‘C’ and told the longtime jock journo to “fuck off.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

This is setting a “positive example” for his peers? Great. Now those peers can tell Friesen, or any news snoop for that matter, to “fuck off” if the questions are too touchy for their delicate sensitivities. Just as long as they’re “calm, cool and collected” while doing it, of course.

Again, I’m totally on board with the call to action in the Murrell case, and Valour FC agreed when it reduced the former captain to the rank of regular foot soldier, but Mad Mike’s silence on Wheeler is a curious bit of business.

And don’t tell me this is an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman

What Murrell did was disgraceful. What Wheeler said was disgraceful. And, frankly, it wasn’t the first time that he’s engaged in a pissing contest with news snoops. It’s become abundantly evident that the surly Wheeler puts the quill-and-microphone crowd on the same evolutionary scale as pond scum, and I really don’t know why they put up with his BS.

There’s been post-season chatter of changes to the Jets leadership group, and that’s where I’d begin—stripping the ‘C’ from Wheeler’s jersey before the lads gather for their next crusade.

I like that Wheeler is a sourpuss on the ice, but propping up a grumpy pants, F-bombing captain in front of the rabble isn’t a good look, especially for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s True North fiefdom, which fancies itself as a goody-two-shoes operation.

Should True North not be held to the same high standard as Valour FC?

I think they should.

Rink Rat Scheifele

I wouldn’t expect Rink Rat Scheifele to do anything other than preach the party line whenever news snoops ask about a “fractured” Jets changing room. He’s an loyal, obedient worker who wouldn’t say crap if his mouth was full of a Mad Mike gossip column. So when Mike Zeisberger of nhl.com caught up with the Rink Rat at a ping pong tournament in the Republic of Tranna recently, the answer was predictable: “People can claim whatever, but I know we have a tight-knit team. We have great guys in our room. And there’s no question in my mind about the character we have in our room, the unity that we have. That other stuff, that’s the stuff as a team you block out. You know what’s going on in the room. Anything extra is a bunch of baloney.” You don’t have to believe the Rink Rat, but I’ve yet to hear or read a shred of evidence to support the notion that Winnipeg HC was a house divided. Mad Mike, who ignited that particular brush fire, hasn’t done it, nor has Elliotte Friedman, who fanned the flames.

Here’s Murat Ates’ latest take on the “ruffled feathers” file in The Athletic: “It’s my opinion that losing hockey teams *should be* pissed off and that the amount of airspace ‘the room’ has gotten is out of proportion. If I ever learn something I can cite and source which says otherwise, I’ll write that.” Hmmm. I believe that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Murat, by the way, has posted the second segment of his two-parter on the 1978-79 Jets, who won the final World Hockey Association championship. It’s good stuff and no doubt enlightening for those of you who weren’t along for the ride. I just wonder why we had to wait until the dog days of August for it to appear. I mean, the 40th anniversary celebration was June 1. Still, it’s worth the read and Murat has the good sense to stand back to let member of the Jets’ Houston Mafia—Scotty Campbell, Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich and Rich Preston—and Peter Sullivan tell the story.

Just wondering: I suppose it’s cool that Patrik Laine will appear on the cover of a video game in Finland, but why is that newsworthy there or here?

No surprise that the sticker price to watch the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raider later this month at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry has been slashed, from $164 plus taxes and fees to $92 all-in. So now instead of costing you and arm and a leg, you’ll only have to pay through the nose.

Folks who fork out for the discounted tickets for the faux four-down football will be sitting in what they’re calling the Miller Lite End Zone, as opposed to those who paid top dollar for the best seats in the house—the Miller Lite In The Wallet Section.

No danger of a sellout for the National Football League exhibition, but it will be embarrassing if the Packers-Raiders’ dress rehearsal lures more of the rabble to Football Follies Field than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have managed this summer. Winnipeg FC performed in front of 25,354 for last week’s first-place showdown with the Calgary Stampeders, and that’s the best head count of the Canadian Football League season at FFFIFG. The local lads in pads are averaging 25,057 customers through four home assignments, and I cringe at the thought of the Packers-Raiders topping that number.

Let’s be clear about something: I have no problem with the CFL awarding the Saskatchewan Roughriders a victory over the Montreal Alouettes, even though they played less than 45 minutes of football on Friday. My issue is with the wait time. Why allow just an hour for the lightning and thunder to pass? What’s the rush? And what does it matter how many fans decide to trot off home rather than wait out the storm? I don’t know what the magic number is, but for a day game they should wait as long as necessary. At night, I’d say the wait should be two hours, at least.

What are we to make of these numbers from golf’s two major circuits?
PGA Tour wins by Americans 32, Rest of World 13.
LPGA Tour wins by Americans 3, Rest of World 21.

Lou Marsh Trophy

Yesterday I touched on the sometimes touchy subject of the Lou Marsh Trophy, which is awarded annually to our vast land’s top jock by a cartel of news snoops who mostly operate out of The ROT and mostly prefer to keep their identities secret. Right now, it appears to be a two-horse race, in this case a pair of talented fillies—golfer Brooke Henderson and tennis player Bianca Andreescu, both of whom have a pair of Ws on their scorecard. The last female golfer to be anointed athlete-of-the-year? Sandra Post, 1979. The last tennis player, woman or man? It’s never happened. Since this isn’t an Olympic year and our soccer women fell flat in France’s World Cup, it’s doubtful that an outrider will sneak in and steal the Marsh trinket from Brooke or Bianca. All bets are off, though. I mean, the news snoops certainly got it wrong last year when they snubbed Henderson for a moguls skier, and they got it wrong two years ago when they bypassed Rachel Homan for a baseball player. Homan’s 2017 was arguably the greatest year in curling history; Joey Votto’s 2017 was definitely not the greatest in baseball history. So, no, I don’t have confidence in the news snoops doing the right thing.

Bianca Andreescu

The likable Bianca Andreescu’s rise in women’s tennis has been mercurial, astonishing and uplifting. Her win on home soil in the Rogers Cup final on Sunday was full of the warm-and-fuzzies, even if her vanquished and wounded foe, Serena Williams, was brought to tears. But Bianca delivered her biggest win earlier in the year, at Indian Wells, a Premier Mandatory event on the WTA calendar. That is to say, it’s as close to a Grand Slam tournament as damn is to swearing. The Rogers Cup is a level lower. It just feels better when it’s on national TV and the champion wraps herself in the Maple Leaf at the end.

Fancy skater Scott Moir is engaged to be married to a woman not named Tessa Virtue. Who saw that coming? I suppose Jackie Mascarin did, because she’s the woman not named Tessa Virtue who’ll be walking down the aisle and become Moir’s bride.

And, finally, I’ll say this for the Winnipeg Sun, there’s very little local content in the sports section (aside from the pro teams), but they sure do put all that Republic of Tranna, Montreal and United States news in a pretty package. I just wish some of it told me what was happening in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Let’s talk about skeptics and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…the long and short of Check Down Charlie…get off my lawn!…that rainy day feeling in the CFL…no one like Gizmo…Smilin’ Hank, bad manners and cheese…Brooke and Bianca…just the facts, ma’am…and going to beat 100,000

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and hold all my phone calls today while I watch women’s tennis…

Skepticism abounds. And I get that.

I mean, when there’s been nothing but nothingness for going on 29 years, the tendency is to stick an italicized “ya but” at the end of every happy thought about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

They beat the Calgary Stampeders. “Ya but…they’ve gotta play ’em two more times.”

Janarion Grant

Janarion Grant is an electric kick returner. “Ya but…what about that lame offence?”

Crown Lands was a boffo halftime show. “Ya but…don’t they have any barber shops where those boys come from?”

And so it was for me while watching Winnipeg FC make fewer mistakes than the Stampeders on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. It was like those commercials where there’s a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both of them yanking on some poor sap’s good-versus-evil chain?

Only instead of a devil and an angel, it was a Cynic and a Polyanna nattering in my ears and, after listening to them squawk for three hours and a day, I needed an aspirin. Or a pint.

Seriously, for every blah-blah-blah there was a yadda-yadda-yadda.

Coach LaPo

Pollyanna: “Isn’t that new guy Janarion Grant absolutely wonderful? Two touchdowns on punt returns! Over 300 yards bringing back kicks! Meet the new Gizmo! But let’s call him Quick Six!”

Cynic: “Good bloody thing he was there, because Paul LaPolice’s offence totally sucked. No imagination. No creativity. No freaking TDs.”

Pollyanna: “Matt Nichols silenced his critics. Great game management and zero picks.”

Cynic: “You mean Check Down Charlie? Hard for anyone to pick off one of his passes when he’s afraid to toss the football more than two yards at a time. The hair on those two dudes doing the halftime show is longer than any of Nichols’ passes. He does more dunking than a cop in a donut shop.”

Justin Medlock

Pollyanna: “Impressive. Justin Medlock kicked four field goals, including a 55-yarder.”

Cynic: Whatever. Early August. Perfect weather. No pressure. We’ll talk about Medlock if he does it in mid-November when the wind is howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.”

Pollyanna: “Richie Hall’s defence came up big when it had to, with a key interception to close the first half and another one to seal the victory. Gotta love that!”

Cynic: “Let me know when they actually beat a certified starting quarterback. They haven’t had to deal with anything but clipboard jockeys since Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris in June.”

So, yes, I remain (mildly) conflicted about Winnipeg FC after pondering its 26-24 victory over the always difficult Stampeders. Oh, I’m convinced the Bombers’ 6-2 log is legit. They’ve earned their perch atop the tables and, one game shy of the midway mark of their Canadian Football League crusade, there’s ample cause to believe there’ll be a playoff skirmish at Football Follies Field come November, when it’s a reasonable assumption that the aforementioned Medlock and his left leg will, indeed, be battling winds howling like a couple of frat boys at closing time.

Mike Reilly, down again.

Further, the local lads ought to deliver the B.C. Lions a good paddywhacking later this week, because Mike Reilly can’t beat them while lying on his back. Reilly is the toughest dude QB in the CFL, but the Leos keep asking him to win a knife fight with a plastic straw, and that seldom leads to a happily ever after ending.

So I’m saying the Bombers will head into the back half of their crusade at 7-2, also with a leg up on finishing first in the bumper-to-bumper crawl that is the West Division.

Alas, the alpha-dog argument likely won’t be settled until the late-October, home-and-home dosey doe with the Stampeders, which means everything in between is filler guaranteed to fascinate, infuriate and, hopefully, entertain.

Maybe Check Down Charlie will even throw a pass that stretches farther than Pinocchio’s nose at some point. Wouldn’t that be something?.

check Down Charlie

Lest anyone run off with the wrong notion, I believe Nichols can take the Bombers where they need and want to be in November. No, he’s not the kind of QB to grab a game by the back collar and give it a good rag-dolling, but there’s enough there there to get the job done. I mean, if Sean Salisbury can win the Grey Cup, so can Check Down Charlie. It’s just that he’ll have to stop playing with one arm tied behind his back. Either he and Coach LaPo add variety to the offence (read: a few more long balls) or this crusade aborts earlier than planned and someone is looking for work.

Crown Lands

It’s about Crown Lands, the halftime entertainment last Thursday: Oh my. Don Cherry’s wardrobe isn’t that loud. I spent most of the next day playing my vinyl albums from the 1960s, just to remind myself what real rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to sound like. But, hey, the young people at Football Follies Field seemed to enjoy the show, so I’m not going to be an old frump and shake my fist and shout at clouds. I would, mind you, call the cops if Crown Lands showed up to play on my lawn.

Actually, I was shaking my fist and shouting at clouds on Friday night. I mean, handing a W to the Saskatchewan Roughriders after less than 45 minutes of football because of a cloud burst in Montreal? Wrong. Dumb rule. Should be revisited. What’s the hurry that they can’t wait out the lightning, thunder and wet stuff for more than an hour? The large lads that anxious to get to the bar?

Having said that, they could have called off the Edmonton Eskimos-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish any time after the first quarter and you wouldn’t have heard a peep out of me. Purely dreadful.

The hosannas, rightly so, are raining down on this year’s crop of lickety-split, whiz-bang kick returners, on pace to take a CFL record 42 boots back to the house. But don’t let me hear anyone put them in Gizmo Williams’ class. Giz was the best ever. And probably always.

Smilin’ Hank

If you see Henry Burris and the TSN squawkbox is thoughtful enough to open a door for you, for gawd’s sakes thank the man! I say that because Smilin’ Hank reckons us hosers are short on behavior and tall on rude. Asked by Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic how he explains Americans to his Canadian friends, Hank replied: “I always tell people America is sectional. In the South, where I’m from, people are typically much nicer. They’re more accommodating. We cook our food differently than they do in the northeast. Even though people still barbeque and do those things, for us, BBQ and fry, that’s how we do it down south—we want it on the grill, or we want it in the fryer (smiles). The people are very respectful and their manners are excellent. I always tell Canadians—Canadians could learn something from Southerners. Canadians are nice people, but Canadians can be rude. There’s a lot of rude Canadians. I’ve held the door for a lot of Canadians, and they’ll walk in and not even say thank you.” Listen, Hank, that door swings both ways. Don’t let it hit you on the ass on your way out.

Just kidding, of course. Hank’s always struck me as a good guy, and he makes a point of informing his American pals that we don’t actually live in igloos and that the Republic of Tranna is “a bit like Chicago and has the mentality of New York, to a point.” He didn’t say what Winnipeg is “a bit like,” to a point, but I’m thinking Buffalo with the mentality of Green Bay. Sans the cheddar on our heads, of course.

Hey, I don’t mean to sound insulting. I like Green Bay. Had a wonderful time there in the late 1990s. But I’m still trying to get the cheese smell out of my hair.

Bianca Andreescu

Speaking of cheesy, I try my best to root, root, root for our young tennis guy Denis Shapovalov. Really, I do. It’s a struggle, though. The kid has too much of the P.K. Subban hot dog in him for my liking, and I don’t know how much of his playing to the crowd is an act and how much is sincere. Teen sensation Bianca Andreescu also plays to the crowd, but it never strikes me as cheesy.

Brooke Henderson

Our girl Bianca was across the net from the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, in today’s Rogers Cup final in The ROT, and her victory gives the clowns who choose the Lou Marsh Trophy recipient something to chew on. It’s her second tournament W this year, the same as our Lady of the Links, Brooke Henderson. So what carries more value, tennis or golf? Last year, Brooke won twice, including the Canadian Open, but they gave her a pass and anointed a guy in a fringe sport (Mikael Kingsbury, moguls skiing) our country’s top jock. This year, Brooke’s second W was her historic ninth, making her the most successful Canadian on either the LPGA or PGA tour. That should be the determining factor. Unless, of course, another moguls skier catches the voters’ fancy.

Milos Raonic

Here’s someone way out of his lane—Steve Simmons (I know; what a shock). The Postmedia Tranna columnist graced the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna with his presence last week, and all he did was double fault on his facts. First, he scribbled this of our Andreescu: “She’s never lost to anybody in the top 10 because she’s never played anybody in the top 10.” Incorrect. Bianca played four matches v. top-10 opponents prior to the Rogers Cup: World No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in Auckland, world No. 6 Elina Svitolina and No. 8 Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells, and world No. 4 Kerber at Miami. Whupped ’em all. Next, Simmons advised us that Genie Bouchard was “the highest-rated Canadian player, man or woman in tennis history.” Again incorrect. Genie’s career best was world No. 5 in 2014. Milos Raonic reached world No. 3 in 2016 and ’17. This information is easily accessible. But apparently taking two minutes to visit the WTA and ATP websites is too much to ask of a national sports columnist. Why clutter an essay with correct information when misinformation will do, right? So I’m not sure what lane Simmons is supposed to be in, but it definitely isn’t women’s tennis. Or, really, anything to do with women’s sports..

And, finally, I noticed that this River City Renegade blog passed the 30,000 milestone for views this year and 100,000 overall for 3½ years. To those who have stopped by for a peek, I thank you, with a caution that if you make a return visit it won’t be any better. To those who haven’t visited, I can’t say I blame you.

Let’s talk about Mayor Brian Bowman bailing on the Blue Bombers…split screens and Benny on TSN…Sleepy Joe and Wile E. Coyote…CFL head counts…the Roger and Novak show…Simona Halep beating the bully…and fond memories of local tennis

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and you won’t find any aces in here but there are plenty of double faults…

So, Brian Bowman wants the City of Winnipeg to wash its hands of the Blue Bombers.

Mayor Brian Bowman

Was it something they said? Is it that 28-year, no Grey Cup parade thing? Someone at City Hall doesn’t like Mike O’Shea’s sideline look? Whatever the case, surely we can work this out, even if it means convincing Coach Mikey to shop at Mr. Big & Tall instead of finding his game-day attire on the racks at Sally Ann’s.

Personally, Coach Mikey’s t-shirt-and-shorts chic has never bothered me. I look at him as Coach Grunge. You know, the way Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge.

Come to think of it, perhaps Neil Young will be Mayor Bowman’s next target. No more official bragging about the Sugar Mountain kid skipping school at Kelvin High to earn his musical chops hither and yon with the Squires, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and Crazy Horse. Who wants to be bragging on a high school dropout as a homeboy? Let the Republic of Tranna claim him.

And, hey, while he’s at it, maybe Mayor BB can order favorite citizen Kenny Ploen deported back to Lost Nation, Iowa. After all, it’s been more than half a century since K.P. had a hand in bringing the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown.

Mind you, Mayor BB wouldn’t know much about that. He wasn’t around in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Zazu, Kid Dynamite and the large lads in Blue and Gold won championships like kids collected bubble gum cards of their Canadian Football League heroes.

By the time Mayor BB squeezed out of the womb, those legends were long gone and so were the Bombers’ glory days.

Mayor Steve Juba: Friend of the Bombers.

But I’ll tell you who could have filled him in on those “best of times”—Steve Juba, one of his predecessors in the mayor’s office. Trouble is, Steve left us in 1993, so he isn’t available for a fireside chat with the present-day Hizzoner. If he were, no doubt Mayor Steve would regale Mayor BB in what it was like back in the day. You know, when the mayor of all the people actually embraced the connection between city and Winnipeg FC.

True story…

Once upon a time, the Bombers held a Blue and Gold intersquad game during training exercises. It was a huge deal. Anywhere from 17,000 to 19,500 locals would make their way to the real-grass football field on Maroons Road to take in the annual frolic, and I was among the east-side rabble on the night of July 21, 1960.

The opening kickoff tumbled near the Gold goalline, whereupon a return man scooped it up and began to skedaddle toward the right sideline. He had the awkward gait of peg-leg pirate and the giddyup of a sloth, but admirable escapeability. Would-be tacklers flung themselves at him in desperation without success, and he made it untouched to the far 35-yard stripe before an unknowing skunk shirt ruled him out of bounds.

I describe the game official as “unknowing” because the fix was in. The return man, you see, was Mayor Juba and the pre-arranged script had him lugging the kickoff back for a touchdown. Alas, someone forgot to clue in the sideline official. Didn’t really matter, though. Mayor Steve had punked the audience.

Three years later, a Blue and Gold game official ejected Kenny Ploen and receiver Farrell Funston when they connected for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage. The rabble howled in protest, demanding that Ploen and Funston be reinserted to the fray. They hadn’t paid $2 a pop to see some clown in a striped shirt turf two of their heroes. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the man in stripes was…you guessed it, Steve Juba. Yup, once again, Mayor Prankster had pulled one over on the Big Blue masses.

It was fun stuff. And a charming, folksy chapter in the historic bond between city and football club.

Yet, given his druthers, Mayor BB is inclined to bail on the burg’s beloved (well, aren’t they?) Blue Bombers. He’s not interested in the City of Winnipeg occupying a seat on the board.

Mayor Steve must be spinning like a lathe in his cold, Blue and Gold grave.

One thing to keep in mind about Winnipeg FC: It isn’t a community-owned operation. No one owns the football club. It’s community-run.

A couple of words on TSN’s innovative(?) split screen/live mic thingy during the Bytown RedBlacks-Montreal Alouettes skirmish on Saturday: The worst. We were forced to watch Antoine Pruneau and Henoc Muamba do absolutely nothing on the left side of our flatscreens for a dozen or more plays, while squinting at the right side of the screen to see what the other 22 players were doing. I’m all for new-fangled gadgetry, but this was a colossal failure. And, since I can’t afford a 70-inch TV, I hope this experiment goes the way of the Indian head test pattern (Google it, kids).

Mike Benevides

Kirk Penton, as always, delivered the good stuff in his CFL column for The Athletic last week, and it included this gem from a former coach: “It was great to see one of us (coaches) on TSN. Benny (Mike Benevides) sounded like what he is—a solid football guy. He understands our game. He picks up the keys to the game and explains them. Without him, the rest of that group is no different than watching Entertainment Tonight Canada. A lot of expensive clothes and a lot of talk about nothing.” Burn! Personally, I find Benevides uppity, if not flat-out arrogant. He doesn’t talk as much as he lectures, as if the former players on the TSN panel are still in film study. Benny could spend a bit more time in wardrobe, too. He’s not smoooooth like Milt Stegall. But, then, who is?

Anyone have a clue what’s going on in Montreal? Or maybe this is a better question: Does anyone in Montreal have a clue, period? I mean, the Alouettes are a welfare case (read: no owner); they play in a half-empty house; they fired head coach Mike Sherman on the eve of the CFL season; now they punt GM Kavis Reed after twin Ws leveled their record at 2-2. Strange bit of business. But here’s where it gets Rod Serling/Twilight Zone weird (cue the creepy music)—they’ve handed the keys to the shop to Joe Mack. That’s like giving Wile E. Coyote another stick of dynamite. Nothing good will come of it.

Sleepy Joe

Blue Bombers loyalists can tell the Larks all about Sleepy Joe and how he believed a brittle Buck Pierce was a better option at quarterback than Mike Reilly in 2013. It took present-day GM Kyle Walters more than three years to find his way out of the rubble that Sleepy Joe left behind, but we still feel an after-shock every now and then.

Sorry to report that attendance across the CFL is not on the rebound. The numbers continue to plummet everywhere but Calgary, and it’s gotten so bad in the Republic of Tranna that they don’t bother to take a head count. I agree. That’s unacceptable. After all, how long does it take to count to 100? Maybe they can bring in the Army to do it for them.

Novak Djokovic

Sports theatre doesn’t get much better than what played out on Centre Court Wimbledon on Sunday, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer knocking the fuzz off tennis balls at the All-England Club. Five sets, tiebreaker in the fifth, three ‘breakers total…bloody brilliant. And dare I say, the loser in this historic 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 tussle was the better player most of the afternoon. It’s just that Djokovic won the points that mattered most in claiming his 16th Grand Slam title, and that included fighting off two match points against Federer’s serve.

Simona Halep

I must confess, while watching the very likable Simona Halep give bully Serena Williams a good and proper rag-dolling in the women’s final on Saturday, I kept wondering if tournament officials would be required to dial 911 and call for a SWAT team to restore law and order. That is, I expected Williams to dig into her bag of angry theatrics and take the event hostage, much like she did in losing last year’s U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. Thankfully, she brought her prim and proper manners to the English party. But she’s still a bully.

Halep worked a mere 56 minutes in winning her title. Djokovic needed four hours and 57 minutes to get the job done v. Federer. Each champion received a winner’s purse of $2.95 million. Any complaints about pay equity? I hope not.

Since Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, it’s been same old, same old on the men’s tour. Only 10 men have won a major. That’s it, just 10 in 17 years. Between Swiss maestro Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, they’ve collected 54 of the 65 majors, which is insane. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, there have been 24 Grand Slam champions in the same time frame.

Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club

I’m partial to tennis because it was my favorite beat at the Winnipeg Tribune. I spent countless enjoyable hours courtside at both the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and the Canoe Club through most of the 1970s, and I have fond memories of people like Rick Borland, Judy Peake, Jo and Jack Brown, Eleanor O’Gorman, the Campbell sisters, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Al Skaletar, George Kylar, and so many others. So it pains me that the Winnipeg Sun would choose to ignore the National Bank Challenger tournament, which wrapped up at the WLTC on Sunday. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, did it right with young Taylor Allen’s feet on the ground through the entirety of the event.

And, finally, here’s something for the Winnipeg Jets rabble to chew on, and I’m guessing some might not like the taste:
Jordan Binnington salary: $4.4 million.
Connor Hellebuyck salary: $6.166,666 million.
Stanley Cup rings: Binnington 1; Hellebuyck 0.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

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

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

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

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

Then there was this:

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

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

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

Yup, those were the days.

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

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

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

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

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

Sami Jo Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck Finn

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

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

Paul Azinger

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

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

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

Felix Auger-Aliassime

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

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

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

Kenta Nilsson

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

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

About Humpty Harold, a blowhard in Bytown, a CE-D’oh! in Edmonton, a Puck Pontiff in Pegtown…Kevin Hayes a keeper?…the undressing of P.K….TSN Sportscentre gets leggy…a cat fight on court…Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture…our Pebble People lose…best-selling books…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now that spring has sprung let them play ball…

Humpty Harold Ballard

Time was when Humpty Harold Ballard provided the National Hockey League with its soundtrack for stupid. Now we get it in surround sound.

I mean, talk about clowns to the left and jokers to the right. Meet Bob Nicholson and Eugene Melnyk.

I’m not sure if Nicholson and Melnyk were trying to one-up each other last week, but the sound bites they delivered were definitely Ballardian in bluster, crass in content and, basically, outrageous.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Melnyk.

The Ottawa Senators bankroll did the gasbag thing on both 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna and CFRA 580 in the nation’s capital, and he told the mayor of Bytown, Jim Watson, to shut the hell up, he labeled one news snoop “bush league,” and this owner of the 31st-place team in a 31-team league felt the need to counsel the architects of the fifth-place team in the proper construction of a championship roster.

Eugene Melnyk

He stopped short of instructing his head coach, Marc Crawford, to wear a paper bag over his head while behind the bench, but it could be that it simply slipped his mind.

“I better not say what I was going to say,” Melnyk said before saying what he was going to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs, “but they’re going to have a very hard time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. Because they are hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in. They’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful…mistakes were made. Somebody forgot about defence.”

That from a man who held a garage sale and peddled off most of his shiny playing pieces, including Erik Karlsson who is—oh, that’s right—a defenceman. One of the very best, in fact.

Bob Nicholson

Meanwhile, Nicholson also summoned his inner Humpty Harold.

Once upon a time the head of Hockey Canada and now CE-D’oh! of the Edmonton McDavids, Nicholson stood before a live audience of disgruntled, if not hostile, devotees and laid the blame for another playoff-free spring in E-Town on a spare part named Toby Rieder. That’s right. Toby Rieder.

“If Toby Rieder had scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs,” said Nicholson.

Cripes, man, I didn’t even know Toby Rieder existed until Nicholson went off on him, but now I know where we can find him—under a bus. It might even be the same bus that Humpty Harold hurled Inge Hammarstrom and his pocketful of eggshells under back in the day.

At any rate, the squawkings of the two Ballard wannabes—you can call them Harold Lite and Harold Lite Jr.—made me think of our own Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman.

Mark Chipman

Will we ever hear a similar level of bombast emanate from the ivory tower at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Not bloody likely. You’re more apt to see a UFO land at Portage and Main first. I mean, Chipman is chatty like a Zamboni is a dinky toy. Compared to the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll, a street mime is a blowhard. The Puck Pontiff is seen and heard from so infrequently that I’m convinced he’s actually Howard Hughes, tucked away in some dark room, watching old hockey film, walking around with Kleenex boxes on his feet, peeing in pop bottles, and munching on candy bars and pecans. That’s not really Chipman you see in the owner’s suite at les Jets home games. It’s a stunt double, probably some bit player on loan from the Prairie Theatre Exchange across the street.

Should we be thankful that the Puck Pontiff is a recluse? That he doesn’t go off his nut like the clown to the left and the joker to the right?

Well, it’s a lot less entertaining but, ya, we can do without the racket. Serenity now! Serenity now!

Apparently Rieder was disturbed by CE-D’oh! Nicholson’s unflattering remarks. “I’m offended,” the E-Town forward said when news snoops tracked down what was left of him under the bus. Offended? Ya think?

Leave it to Brian Burke of Sportsnet to deliver a blunt take on Melnyk’s runaway mouth: “He is aiming at both of his feet. He’s not just shooting himself in the foot, he is aiming at his feet. This guy’s gotta stop doing interviews. He needs to take a nap. He needs to get out of the media.”

Kevin Hayes

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but let’s wait to see how Beard Season shakes down before we talk about les Jets signing Kevin Hayes long term. Based on the early returns, yes, it appears that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has knocked it out of the park with the addition of Hayes, the long, tall drink of water Chevy scooped up at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. Hayes contributed a goal and three helpers in Winnipeg HC’s most significant victory of the current crusade, a 5-nada paddywhacking of the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, but let’s not lose sight of the fact it’s all about the Stanley Cup runoff for les Jets. If Hayes delivers at the Paul Stastny rate (15 points in 17 games) when the skirmishes matter most, I’ll agree that Chevy should make the Little Hockey House On The Prairie the lanky centre’s permanent address.

Just wondering: Were the Preds lying in the fetal position and sucking their thumbs when they left Good Ol’ Hometown? Seriously. If les Jets weren’t in the Preds’ heads prior to the Saturday rag-dolling, they are now. And what kind of unspeakable nightmares must Pekka Rinne be having?

The Golden Boy

Yo! P.K. Subban! You can collect your laundry—lock, stock and jock—at Kyle Connor’s locker. An undressing? What Jets sophomore Connor did to the Preds veteran defender should be illegal in 10 provinces and three territories. He left P.K. as naked as the Golden Boy.

I don’t get it. Why do people keep throwing down on Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins? I mean, what part of “Ouch, his fists really freaking hurt!” do they not understand?

So, how’s your March Madness bracket doing? I’d like to report that mine is doing just fine, but I don’t have a bracket. Never have had a bracket. More to the point, I don’t know what a March Madness bracket is. I just wish it would end so we can go back to regularly scheduled highlights on TSN and Sportsnet.

Kara Wagland

Is it my imagination, or are the heels and hemlines getting higher on TSN Sportscentre? It’s either that or Lindsay Hamilton and Kara Wagland have grown longer legs. Notably, no one at TSN has attempted to sexify the male talking heads, unless you consider Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage sexy. It’s a blatant sexist double standard that the women must look and dress the way they look and dress while a male talking head can have a face like and old catcher’s mitt and clothes right off the rack at Couture de Riff Raff. That isn’t a complaint. Just an observation.

Just wondering: Why does Kara Wagland think it’s “funny” when a man gets drilled in the nuts with a tennis ball? When did injuries to such a delicate area of the bod become “funny?”

Apparently Angelique Kerber doesn’t like Bianca Andreescu. After losing to our girl in the third round of the Miami Open tennis tournament on Saturday, Kerber bared her fangs and showed her claws at the post-match handshake, calling Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever.” Guess Kerber has never seen Ru Paul. Or Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. Whatever, I can’t say that I blame Kerber. I mean, I wouldn’t like someone who kept stealing my lunch money either.

Adrienne Clarkson and her cup.

Nice of our national media—print division—to notice women’s hockey. Both Scott Stinson of the National Post and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail genuflected in the direction of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title tilt today in the Republic of Tranna, but they had very different takes. Stinson scribbled something about the participants—it’s the Calgary Inferno vs. Les Canadiennes de Montreal—while Kelly wrote about Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture and sipping tea with the former Governor General. WTF? It’s nice to know that Lady Adrienne is of considerable refinement and that her home furnishings didn’t come from the Sally Ann’s, but can’t we make it about the women who’ll actually compete for the trophy she donated to the CWHL?

Connor McDavid: Better than Auston Matthews.

Must be difficult days for news snoops in The ROT. They spent much of the winter prattling on and scribbling about the unparalleled, other-wordly wonders of Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly of les Leafs, making one out to be a latter-day Wayne Gretzky and the other a born-again Bobby Orr. Now along come more than 500 NHL players to tell them they’re full of phooey. Best forward in the world? The players’ poll says it’s Connor McDavid. Matthews wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Best defenceman? Victor Hedman. Rielly didn’t register. Most difficult to play against? McDavid. The guy you’d want to start a franchise with? McDavid. But, hey, what do the guys on the ice know compared to a bunch of balding, overweight, out-of-shape, middle-age men with food stains on their shirts?

Chelsea Carey

Oh drat. Chelsea Carey’s crew crashed and burned at the World Women’s Curling Championship in Denmark, failing to qualify for the playoffs, and that leaves me to wonder what it is about Alberta-based outfits that they can’t get the job done on global pebble. The women from Wild Rose Country remain 0-for-life when wearing the Maple Leaf, and that’s at both the worlds (0-5) and Olympics (0-2). Are they not drinking the same water as the men?

Hard to believe, but Alberta remains the only western province that has yet to produce a women’s world champion. B.C. and Saskatchewan have four each and Manitoba three.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Sometimes I wonder about this country I adore: Cathal Kelly and David Shoalts have written fine books but are not found on the bestsellers list for non-fiction but last time I looked Steve Dangle had a book on the list.” So, if we aren’t buying his friends’ books, there’s something wrong with the country? What freaking ever. (Quick aside: One of his copy editor’s might want to introduce Simmons to the comma. Punctuation is useful, also advisable, in a 32-word sentence.)