Let’s talk about Manitoba’s 21st century curling scoreboard: Buffalo Girls 8, Buffalo Boys 1

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson.

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, Scotties champs in 2020 and 2021.

I’m guessing you boys noticed that Kerri Einarson and her gal pals won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday night.

Yup. Took out Rachel Homan in the final, and I’d say they’re starting to make a habit of it.

That’s two straight national curling titles for the Gimli Gals and a personal three-peat for second Shannon Birchard, who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Scotties. She’s been there three times and she’s collected three gold medals, twice with Einarson and once with Jennifer Jones.

Hopefully you took note of all that, fellas, because you’ll soon be off on your own curling bubble adventure at the Brier in Calgary, and I trust you both realize that you’ve been letting the side down.

It’s not just you two, mind you. It’s all the Buffalo Boys.

Manitoba outfits used to win the Brier as often as McDonald’s sold a Big Mac. Now you win as often as…well, that’s the beef. You don’t win.

Mike McEwen

You’ve had five cracks at a national men’s curling crown, Mike, and you’re 0-fer. The best you’ve managed is to return home with a bronze trinket. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to devalue your parting gift from the 2017 Brier in St. John’s. You were magnificent. Hopes were high. And a favorable rub here or a fortuitous tick there might have turned that bronze into silver or gold.

But no.

Jason Gunnlaughson

As for you, Jason, you were a Brier neophyte a year ago and put a good foot forward until the games mattered most, which is to say in the championship pool. You went 0-fer.

I suppose that might have been the product of inexperience, or perhaps jitters on the big stage, or maybe the considerable burden of expectation carried by any curler wearing the buffalo on his back.

That weight might not be fair, fellas, but you can blame it on guys like Gordie Hudson and Howie Wood and Ken Watson and Ab Gowanlock and Billy Walsh and Bronco and the Snake and Dugie and the Big O and Mike Riley and Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters and a couple others. They spoiled us.

Twenty-seven times the Tankard has been hoisted by Buffalo Boys, but here’s the glitch: 26 of those victory laps came in the 20th century.

Jeff Stoughton with the Tankard Trophy.

That’s right, we’re 1-for-the-21st century. One. As in Jeff Stoughton, circa 2011.

Burtnyk, Mark Lukowich, John Bubbs, Brent Scales, Randy Dutiaume, Rob Fowler and Reid Carruthers all went as skips, but did not conquer.

That will never do, not when Alberta teams have been padding their stats with 12 Brier championships since Y2K.

I don’t know about you, boys, but I’m tired of hearing those uppity mooks in Wild Rose Country telling us that Alberta is the epicenter of Planet Pebble. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, boys, but it bugs the bejeebers out of me, and I have zero appetite for calling up the Edmonton Sun and reading a fresh serving of smug blah, blah, blah in a Terry Jones column.

Frankly, I’m shocked that Jonesy hasn’t already penned a piece to remind us that Einarson third Val Sweeting lives and works in Edmonton. I expected him to somehow twist the plot into a made-in-Alberta storyline.

At any rate, this isn’t about Jonesy and his delusions, boys.

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

My point is this: You can’t continue to let the ladies do all the heavy lifting, which is exactly what they’ve been doing since Y2K. There have been eight Scotties titles between Jen Jones and Kerri Einarson, and it doesn’t matter that three times they were cloaked in the colors of Canada. A ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team.

There are certain things Manitobans have come to expect, boys: High water in the spring, large skeeters in the summer, good grub at the Sal’s, and our curlers winning.

The Buffalo Girls have showed you the way, boys. Again. So it would be nice if you held up your half of the bargain.

No pressure. Just get ‘er done.

Let’s talk about Pebble People getting a raw deal…McDavid, Draisaitl and who are those other guys?…dirty rotten scoundrels…no room in Cooperstown for cheats and Schilling…the Babe, booze and babes…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard (clockwise from top left) from Gimli are the defending Scotties Tournament of Hearts champions.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight:

National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!

This is fair how?

Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.

That is so wrong.

Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.

If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.

Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?

We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.

That bothers me.

It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.

I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.

Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.

Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.

Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.

Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.

The Tkachuk boys, Brady, top, and Matthew.

Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.

Part of Curt Schilling’s Nazi memorabilia.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.

The Babe and the babes.

Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.

In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.

Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.

An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.

It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.

Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.

It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.

Pam Shriver, left, and Martina Navratilova.

So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:

Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16

Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190

Doubles Titles
Navratilova 187 Williams 25

There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.

Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.

The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):

Sports front
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Winnipeg Sun-1.

Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).

Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.

And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.

Let’s talk about Patrik Laine the happy camper…Puck Finn still playing second fiddle…pooping and the puckstopper…glorifying goon hockey on Sportsnet…brain farts and tripe-bogeys…Ponytail Puck set for a faceoff in Lake Placid…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you’re advised to read this blog with an abundance of caution…

Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have one task. Just one: Put a happy face on Patrik Laine.

Do whatever it takes.

If that means putting Puck Finn first in the pay queue, back up the Brinks truck. If he wants to skate alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, tell Paul Maurice to join them at the hip. If he wants to challenge Twig Ehlers to a rousing game of Fortnite between shifts, set up a PlayStation gizmo at the end of the bench.

Just get it done.

Unless, of course, it’s irreparably undone

Maybe there’s no longer a way for Chevy and the Puck Pontiff to sell Laine on the merits of Winnipeg and the Jets. Maybe the Tour de Finn we witnessed last Thursday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie—two goals, OT winner, one assist, one scuffle in a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames—was a prelude to what the faithful will be missing once the big winger swans off down the road.

Whatever the case, this is a crossroads moment for the Winnipeg franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff

Make no mistake, short of a Stanley Cup parade, how Chevy and team co-bankroll Chipman handle L’Affaire Laine will be the defining moment for the tallest thinkers in the National Hockey League’s smallest market, and time is already an adversary.

Puck Finn is a restricted free agent this summer, and if he and Chevy/Puck Pontiff can’t find common financial ground, an arbitrator will do it for them and that’s an exercise that seldom lends itself to warm-and-fuzzy pillow talk. Laine will listen while someone in an expensive suit informs him of his many misgivings, at the same time emphasizing that his goal totals (36, 44, 30, 28) are already in decline. And whatever he delivers this season will be dismissed as the sketchy product of a runted crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the kid wants out now, imagine how he’ll feel after hearing from a team rep that he’s barely a beer-leaguer, so I’m assuming that’s a path the Jets aren’t anxious to travel.

In the meantime, pundits hither and yon continue to laud Chevy for the deliberate, slow-moving manner in which he generally manages the Jets.

And it’s true. Chevy has the patience of a man who genuinely believes the cheque is in the mail.

Players march into his office and inform him they desire a new postal code, or an agent beaks off to news snoops about a client’s dissatisfaction and the need for a fresh start, but Chevy doesn’t flinch. His knees never jerk. Oh, they might twitch a mite, but not so you’d notice.

He waits and waits and waits, patiently, refusing to be bullied.

But then someone tosses a track suit into a tub of ice water and Chevy budges, recognizing he has no option but to tell a 30-goal scorer to leave the building. Evander Kane is then shuffled off to Buffalo. Similarly, Chevy took a measured tactic with Jacob Trouba, not moving his top-pair defender to Gotham until the free-agency clock was soon to strike midnight.

Now we have the only GM in Jets 2.0 history confronted with the stiffest challenge of his watch, and all I can see is Chevy standing in a corner with a can of paint and a brush, looking for a way out.

And that’s not to ignore Jack Roslovic’s pout.

Chevy’s allowing Roslovic to rot at home in Columbus, with no inclination toward granting his young forward’s wish for opportunity elsewhere. Chevy can move him on a whim, on his terms and on his timetable, and the longer the Roslovic Rot lasts the more likely it is that he becomes a forgotten man. Few among the faithful will be bent out of shape at the loss of a player who might fit in as a top-six forward in other colors, but not in Jets linen.

It’s different with Laine.

Puck Finn is their signature selection through a decade of draft-and-develop. He’s a star performer, a game-changer who, were he to commit long term, would become the face of the franchise.

Chevy and the Puck Pontiff are already 0-for-2 with young studs who’ve demanded a one-way ticket out of Dodge, and Laine’s performance v. the Flames was a not-so-subtle hint that they should move mountains to prevent it from being 0-for-3.

What will it take to put a happy face on Puck Finn? None of us knows. But, surely, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff have an idea, and that begs one question: Why aren’t they doing it?

Puck Finn

Got a giggle out of pundits suggesting Laine’s show-stopper v. the Flames snuffed out swap talk. “Laine silences the trade rumors” and “Laine mutes trade talk for now” were the headlines in the Winnipeg Sun. Ya, good luck with that. If anything, it ramped up speculation. I mean, what was Eric Duhatschek scribbling about in The Athletic the following morning? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were Gino Reda and Craig Button nattering about on TSN two days later? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. What were David Amber and Brian Burke prattling on about on Hockey Night in Canada last night? That’s right, a potential Laine trade. Trust me, L’Affaire Laine will linger until one of two things happens: 1) Puck Finn commits to Good Ol’ Hometown for the long haul; 2) Chevy and the Puck Pontiff tell him to pack his bags. I’m still betting on the latter scenario—and we’ll know for certain if he signs another bridge deal this summer—so don’t expect the whispers to go away anytime soon.

So, you’re Paul Maurice, the Jets potty-mouth head coach. You have a 22-year-old right-winger, Laine, who shredded the Flames, and you have a 34-year-old right winger, Blake Wheeler, who’s doing his best to keep up with the pace of play. Who you gonna call on? I agree, it should be Laine. But Coach PottyMo still had Puck Finn playing second fiddle to the aging Wheeler, on the ice for a whopping 21:27, including 4:50 on the powerplay, in the opener. Laine was limited to 16:20 and 2:53. Any wonder why Puck Finn’s agents believe it would be “mutually beneficial” for him to move on? Curses to you, Coach Potty Mouth.

Took a dive into James Duthie’s book Beauties last week, and I was giggling four paragraphs into Roberto Luongo’s forward, whereby the former Vancouver Canucks goaltender describes an in-game bout of poopy pants. “I never get stomach aches during a game,” he writes. “Before the game is a different story. I go to the bathroom five times on game day. I’m talking number two here. I may have been a number one goalie most of my career, but I’m all about number two on game days. I go once in the morning when I get up, once at the morning skate, once after I wake up from my nap, once after the pre-game meeting, and once after warm-up, just in case. I don’t want any accidents during the game. It’s a skill. The guys on my team all know about it. They see my big-ass toes sticking out from under the stall door and say, ‘Lui’s goin’ again.’” That probably falls under the category ‘too much information,’ but Luongo goes on to explain missing the start of overtime in a playoff series v. Anaheim due to the runs, and it’s more than a one-yuk-per-page read. I’m 68 pages into the book and only the Paul Bissonnette yarn is a yawn. Overall, a highly recommended read.

The more things change, the more things stay the same. An example would be Anthony Stewart’s analysis of last week’s Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs skirmish on Sportsnet. Stewart, of course, is the least insightful among the natterbugs on Hockey Night In Canada and, like Brian Burke, he tends to glorify goon hockey. Thus it was no surprise to hear him cite Wayne Simmonds as the difference-maker in the Leafs’ 5-4 victory, simply because he exchanged bare knuckles with Ben Chiarot of the Habs. It was 3-1 Montreal when the lads dropped the mitts, and Stewart informed us that the Leafs scored “right after” the tiff. Wrong. The game turned when the Habs took three consecutive penalties and the Leafs scored twice with the man advantage—7½ minutes after the Simmonds scrap. But, hey, why let facts get in the way of a false narrative? Meanwhile, over at TSN, Craig Button was asked what shifted the game toward the Leafs. “Power play,” he said. Two nights later, he added, “the Leafs’ skill bailed them out.” Correct.

The search was on for Bryson DeChambeau’s ball.

So now we know why Bryson DeChambeau was feeling woozy and bombed out at The Masters in November: Brain fart. “The frontal lobe in my brain was working really, really hard,” the bulked-up golfer explains, adding a combination of things “escalated my brain, overworking and just giving out.” And here I thought it was that lost ball and a triple-bogey seven on the third hole at Augusta that made him sick. Silly me.

Interesting that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is among the notables to land a gig as celeb host on Jeopardy! once the Green Bay Packers are finished playing football. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t hire ESPN squawker Stephen A. Smith. He believes he has all the answers.

Bill Murray

Speaking of celebrities, the Pebble Beach Pro-Am golf tournament will have no pro-am component this year. Which makes it what? The Pebble Beach Bill Murray Has To Go Somewhere Else To Act Like A Complete Jackass Open?

Quitter James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets described himself as “an elite leader” at his introductory natter with New York news snoops the other day, just scant hours after mailing it in one more time and informing his former Houston Rockets teammates that they’re a bunch of scrubs. Ya, that’s an “elite leader” like Kareem Adbul Jabbar is a jockey.

Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer are now Club de Foot Montreal. Seriously? A soccer side with “club foot” in the name. They might want to send that one back to the marketing department. It’s like a brewery branding its newest product Flat Warm Beer.

On the subject of peddling product, if you’re scoring at home—and I’m sure you aren’t—a Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association team wrapped up a six-game series v. teenage boys in Florida the other day, and they left the Tampa hub with a 2-4 record. All but two games (5-0, 7-2 losses) were competitive, but I fail to see how losing to teenage boys advances the cause of Ponytail Puck.

Speaking of which, Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star found room for Ponytail Puck in his Pucks In Depth notebook on Friday, which is a good thing. If only he wasn’t so thin on facts and short on insight.

Women’s professional hockey ramps up this month,” he wrote. “The NWHL, with its Toronto expansion team The Six (I like the nickname, but I have been programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL) will play its entire season, playoffs and championship in a bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y., with some games televised (and most streamable if you know how to do that). There’s something coming out of the ashes of the CWHL, with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (which I’m programmed to root for since it’s basically the national teams of Canada and the United States). The women now represent cities, and have big sponsors. So that sounds positive. I believe COVID is getting in the way of their plans, which leads to some confusion. Are they a league? Is it tournament-based? Weekend exhibitions with grassroots ourtreach?”

A few things to peel away here:

  1. The National Women’s Hockey League’s Isobel Cup tournament runs from Jan. 23-Feb. 5 in Lake Placid, with the semifinals and final to be broadcast live on NBCSN. Why McGran chose not to share those pertinent details with readers is a mystery.

  2. I don’t know if he was writing tongue-in-cheek when admitting he’s been “programmed by our Olympians not to root for the NWHL,” but, if true, shame on them and him. (Given that PWHPA membership spent its first year of existence trash talking the NWHL, I’m guessing it’s true.)

  3. The PWHPA and its Dream Gappers emerged from the ashes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019, so it’s not new. The makeup is different, in that there are now five hubs—Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Montreal, New Hampshire, Minnesota—but there’s no “confusion.” It is not a league. The people at Secret Deodorant have diverted a portion of their attention and dollars from smelly armpits to Ponytail Puck, sponsoring a 2021 Dream Gap Tour to the merry tune of $1 million. The plan is a series of six weekend showcase tournaments (dates and sites to be determined), and the players will share prize money and award the Secret Cup to the top team at the conclusion of their barnstorming frolics.

All that information is readily available if you know where to look, or pick up a phone. Mind you, not a word has been posted to the PWHPA website since before Christmas, so a visit there is a waste of time. If you’re interested in all things Ponytail Puck, check out The Ice Garden, the Women’s Hockey Tribune or The Victory Press.

And, finally, nice off-the-beaten-path piece on Kerri Einarson from Jason Bell of the Drab Slab last week. Jason caught up with the reigning Canadian curling champion on the planet’s largest curling rink—Lake Winnipeg—where she and rinkmate Shannon Birchard have been working out the kinks in preparation for defence of their title, Feb. 19-28 in a Calgary bubble.

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

Sports Santa arrives on the morrow and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has 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: If at first you don’t succeed…get it right in an extra end. And that’s what Kerri Einarson and her Buffalo girls—Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Mielleur, Jennifer Clark-Rouire, coach Patti Wuthrich—did to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw. Kerri had a chance to end it all in the 10th end of the title match vs. Rachel Homan and her Ontario group, but she was heavy with her last-rock draw to the four-foot. She got the job done in the 11th, though, sliding her final stone to the button for an 8-7 victory and the Canadian women’s curling championship.

LUMP O’ COAL: The year 2020. Seriously. Someone needs to give it a good, swift kick to the groin, and it’s not too late.

GOAL: Connor Hellebuyck won the Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the National Hockey League, putting a bit of shine on an otherwise empty season for the Winnipeg Jets.

LUMP O’ COAL: Sportsnet was guilty of a blatant double standard when it allowed Elliotte Friedman to repeatedly appear on Hockey Night in Canada with a ghastly, unruly beard that made him look like he’d been sleeping under a bridge for three months. No chance a female broadcaster would be allowed on camera with a head of hair that looks like a cluster of dead animals.

GOAL: The Winnipeg Sun celebrated its 40th anniversary, not bad for a sheet that wasn’t supposed to last much longer than a pint of beer in front of Chris Walby.

LUMP O’ COAL: 50 Below Sports + Entertainment ignored provincial health rules and allowed Winnipeg Freeze and Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to practice outside the city. So make that two lumps o’ coal, one for 50 Below bossman Greg Fettes and the other for bossman Matt Cockell.

GOAL: The good ol’ boys in NASCAR banned the Confederate Flag from race sites. Full sets of teeth, corn squeezin’s and MAGA caps remained optional.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mike Milbury, Brendan Leipsic, Thom Brennaman, Cris Collinsworth, Brett Hull, Evander Kane spewed sexist, racist and/or homophobic slurs. Come on, guys. We’re 21 years into the 21st century, and that language just doesn’t cut it.

GOAL: Katie Sowers became the first female to coach in the Super Bowl, albeit in a losing role with the San Francisco 49ers, Kim Ng became the first female GM of a Major League Baseball team, Alyssa Nakken became the first uniformed female to coach on-field in MLB, Kathryn Nesbitt became the first female to referee in a Major League Soccer championship match, and Sarah Fuller became the first female to play in an NCAA Power 5 men’s football game.

LUMP O’ COAL: Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie went panhandling on Parliament Hill, asking PM Trudeau the Younger for anywhere from $30 million to $150 million in welfare to get Rouge Football on the field during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trouble was, he failed to receive input from the Players Association, and the feds were not amused. Commish Cap-in-Hand was spurned repeatedly, and the CFL finally fell off the grid when Trudeau the Younger batted away his final Hail Mary beg in early August. Thus, there was no season, no Grey Cup week. Just a whole lot of radio silence from the commish.

GOAL: Kid curlers Jacques Gauthier and Mackenzie Zacharias joined Einarson in bringing more glory to Manitoba with their world junior championship wins in Russia.

LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy at the Toronto Star. The Marsh trinket is supposed to honor Canada’s athlete-of-the-year, except Cox and Co. don’t invite jock journos west of the Republic of Tranna to the top-jock party. Well, okay, that’s not quite true. They granted a voice and a vote to four news snoops from the colonies. That would be four out of 37 voices and votes. How gracious of them.

GOAL: O-lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif walked away from the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and millions of American dollars to fight the good fight against COVID in long-term care homes.

LUMP O’ COAL: TSN named its all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and didn’t include the great Lars-Erik Sjoberg among the top six defencemen. But wait. The geniuses declared The Shoe to be the franchise’s “foundational” player. Sigh. That’s like telling Jesus he has to sit at the kids’ table for the Last Supper. Neither the original Jets franchise nor the second coming knew a better blueliner than The Shoe.

GOAL: Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab showed us their fab journalistic chops with fab features. Freezer relived the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 Grey Cup championship with a nine-part series, while young Jeff took a deep, deep dive into the dark and sordid world of disgraced sexual predator and former hockey coach Graham James.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mainstream jock journos, shinny division, held a group pity party when the NHL revealed it wouldn’t make public the various owies suffered by players during the summer made-for-TV playoff tournament. It was as if they’d been ordered to gather in a small room to watch an Adam Sandler movie marathon, or listen to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits 24/7.

GOAL: Various sports franchises played the name game, including the CFL team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos, the NFL team formerly known as the Washington Redskins, and the MLB team to be named something other than Cleveland Indians. We still don’t know what any of them will be called, but it’s believed the animal kingdom has the inside track and they can only hope the people at PETA don’t have a beef with any new names.

LUMP O’ COAL: Former NBC Sports hockey gab guy Jeremy Roenick went on a podcast to declare his admiration for a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and mentioned something about three-way sex with his wife and the co-worker. He was promptly punted. But wait. There’s more. Rather than go quietly into the night, Roenick decided to kick up a legal fuss and sued NBC Sports for wrongful dismissal, claiming discrimination based on his sexual orientation. His argument: If he was a gay man and said the things he said, he’d still have a job. But because he’s a straight man, he’s out of work. Ya, good luck with that, hetero boy.

GOAL: Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm won her fourth WNBA title and became engaged to soccer diva Megan Rapinoe, while another gay woman, triple jumper Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela, was named female athlete-of-the-year by World Athletics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Bryson DeChambeau spouted off about Augusta National prior to the Masters in November, boasting that it would be a pitch-and-putt course for him while the mere mortals on the PGA Tour would be playing to par-72. “I’m looking at it as a par-67 for me,” he said. In that case, DeChambeau shot 18-over par with rounds of 70-74-69-73, which left him tied for 34th, 18 swings behind winner Dustin Johnson and one behind 63-year-old Bernhard Langer.

GOAL: It was girl power on Sportsnet in March, when an all-female broadcast crew worked a Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hockey Night in Canada. Leah Hextall handled the play-by-play call, Cassie Campbell-Pascall delivered color commentary and Christine Simpson was rinkside. Question is: Was it a one-off, or will they be back?

LUMP O’ COAL: Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers was yanked from the deciding game of the World Series due to a positive COVID test, but he returned to join his teammates in an on-field celebration and removed his mask. MLB chose not to punish Turner for allowing his bare face to hang out and expose L.A. players and hangers-on to the virus, so it gets a lump o’ coal, too.

GOAL: Zamboni driver David Ayres took over the blue paint for the Carolina Hurricanes one night in the Republic of Tranna, and the emergency goaltender beat the Maple Leafs. Not since Sid Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon pulled into the Tim Hortons drive-thru has a Zamboni driver received so much attention.

LUMP O’ COAL: Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz thought COVID-19 was a big joke, so he mocked news snoops about the virus at a press session. A couple days later, he tested positive and the kibitzing stopped. As did the NBA and the rest of the sports world.

GOAL: Our leading lady of soccer, Christine Sinclair, became the top goal-scorer of all time in international fitba. She finishes the year with 186, and there might be more to come if the women get back on the pitch in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics.

LUMP O’ COAL: Novak Djokovic, who wears a tin-foil hat and might lead the sports world in hissy fits, ignored scientific and medical advice and staged a mini-tennis tour when almost all sports had shut down due to the COVID pandemic. Social distancing was ignored by players and fans, and the Joker was one of four players to test positive. The final tourney was canceled. Later, he was ushered out of the U.S. Open tennis tournament for whacking a lines judge in the face with a ball. What a doofus.

GOAL: Rafael Nadal won his 13th French Open title and his 20th tennis Gran Slam, at the same time running his career record at Roland Garros to 100-2.

LUMP O’ COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Toronto spent much of the year shaking his fists and shouting at clouds, as is his wont, and he reserved his most ignorant hit pieces for PM Trudeau the Younger and the National Women’s Hockey League expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna. He claimed Trudeau had “let us down again” by permitting the Blue Jays “to play their home games this summer in Toronto. That is beyond stupid.” He later doubled down, calling the decision “beyond ridiculous.” Except Trudeau and the feds never gave the Jays the okie-dokie to play in the Republic of Tranna. In fact, he told them to pack their bats and balls and find a home in the U.S., which they did in Buffalo. Meantime, Simmons assailed the NWHL when it would add a team in The ROT. “You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play and no big-name players,” he harrumphed. He also noted there was no team logo. “When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first-class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.” Except he had no such harsh words for the NHL when it introduced expansion franchises in Las Vegas and Seattle. They were introduced without team names, without team logos, and without big-name players. They were the Vegas and Seattle Whatevers for two years. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: If women do it, bad; if men do it, cool. I believe we can file that under subtle sexism.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by visiting the River City Renegade. We’ve topped 57,000 views this year, and that’s a new high-water mark for the third successive year. So thanks. Happy Christmas.

The Hens In The Hockey House “hurry hard” to a discuss Chevy’s handiwork…Coach PoMo’s porn star…a wild card playoff spot…and Coach PoMo’s shelf life

Another National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone, so what you see is what you get with the Winnipeg Jets. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, who better to sort out general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork than our all-knowing Two Hens In The Hockey House.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: You sure you want to natter about the Jets this morning, girlfriend? Shouldn’t we be talking about Kerri Einarson and her gal pals instead?

Answer Lady: You might have a point. Kerri, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur did boffo business in Al Capone’s old hangout—that’s Moose Jaw, girlfriend—and you have to go a long, long way back to find a Manitoba skip not named Jennifer Jones or Connie Laliberte who won the Canadian women’s curling title.

Question Lady: Any idea how long ago it was?

Answer Lady: I’ll give you some hints: You and I were both in training bras. Papa Pierre Trudeau was PM. The Winnipeg Tribune was still publishing. The Bee Gees had the No. 1 hit, Stayin’ Alive. The event wasn’t called the Scotties Tournament of Hearts back then. It was the Macdonald Lassie and the sponsor was a tobacco company.

Question Lady: So who was the skip?

Answer Lady: Cathy Pidzarko. She and her twin sister Chris got together with Iris Armstrong and Patti Vandekerckhove to win the Lassie in The Soo. And here’s what’s noteworthy: Patti Vandekerckhove became Patti Vande, then became Patti Wuthrich and she was coach of the Einarson team in Moose Jaw last week. Talk about coming full circle. Oh, one more thing: The Pidzarko twins and I went to the same high school—good, ol’ Miles Mac Collegiate in East Kildonan.

Question Lady: Well, we’re just full of trivia this morning, aren’t we?

Answer Lady: Many people have told me that I’m full of something or other, and it was never meant as a compliment.

Question Lady: Fine. But can we talk about the Jets now?

Answer Lady: Fire away, girlfriend.

Question Lady: Are you giving GM Chevy thumbs up or thumbs down for his tinkering at the NHL trade deadline?

Answer Lady: It’s more like the sound of one hand clapping. I mean, it’s not like I expected Chevy to go out and trade one of his young, blue-chip forwards in exchange for a top-four defenceman and a Zamboni driver to be named later. He knew one more piece wasn’t going to make his club Stanley Cup worthy.

If we’re being honest, the Jets are playing with house money. They probably have no business being in the playoff discussion today, not when you consider the numerous nights during the first five months of the fray when head coach Paul Maurice’s blueline had the hand-me-down look and feel of an old hobo’s coat. It hasn’t been “next man up” for Coach PoMo, it’s been Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

Mind you, it figured to be this way after the defections of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien. But still. Does any combination of Anthony Bitteto, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, Dmitry Kulikov, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and Carl Dahlstrom scream out “playoff defence” to you? Didn’t think so.

Yet here they are this morning, just a chin whisker away from qualifying for Beard Season.

Question Lady: Can a guy like Dylan DeMelo be the difference between the playoffs and an early tee time?

Answer Lady: You mean Coach PoMo’s porn star? Actually, Dylan DeMelo is kind of a porn star-sounding name, isn’t it? It’s not quite Long John Holmes quality, but I think it has marquee value.

Question Lady: Can you believe that PoMo said watching DeMelo play hockey is coach’s porn?

Answer Lady: Makes you wonder what goes on at a coaches’ bachelor party, doesn’t it? What do they do, sit around watching old film of Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson breaking up two-on-one rushes? Or maybe they get their jollies by watching raunchy film of Nick Lidstrom poke check the puck off Brett Hull’s stick. They sound like a real fun bunch.

Question Lady: Ya, but as long as Coach PoMo keeps delivering those kind of quotes, the scribes and talking heads will continue to be completely hornswaggled. They love the guy, and they’ll be loving him for another three years. Was his contract extension warranted?

Answer Lady: Well, we both knew that Coach Sound Bite was safe this year, even if some of the meatheads in the media thought his seat was a bonfire. But just because a guy signs for three years, it doesn’t mean he gets to coach for three years. I doubt Coach PoMo makes it to the end of his freshly minted deal. I’d almost wager that we’ll be listening to his sound bites on TSN Trade Centre two years from now.

Question Lady: Which brings us back on topic. Chevy made two moves just before the deadline, bringing in DeMelo and Cody Eakin. Is that enough to guarantee there’ll be meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April?

Answer Lady: I already had the Jets pegged for a wild card team, and they’re better with those two guys. So, ya, I don’t see Nashville, Minny or Chicago squeezing them out.

Question Lady: What about the Calgary Flames?

Answer Lady: Have you been paying attention this season, girlfriend? Those young millionaires look like they’re already on the first tee at the hoity-toity Calgary Golf & Country Club.

Question Lady: Question is, are the Jets good enough to make some noise in the Stanley Cup runoff, or will it earn Winnipeg HC nothing more than a third one-and-done participation pin?

Answer Lady: Ideally, this is how it would shake down for the Jets: They secure the first wild-card spot, which means they’d avoid either St. Loo or Colorado in the opening round of Beard Season and meet the Pacific Division winner. Is there anything to fear in the Vancouver Canucks? Nada. How about the Edmonton Oilers? Connor McDavid, Leon D. and a whole lot of McNothing. The Vegas Golden Knights would be problematic, but if either the Canucks or Oilers can hold up their end of the bargain, I can see the Jets getting through to the second round. That might sound crazy, but I believe it’s doable.

Question Lady: Gotta say, girlfriend, that does sound a bit nutso. You’re really convinced the Jets can beat the Canucks or Oilers in a seven-game series?

Answer Lady: As sure as Donald Trump likes Twitter.

Question Lady: If you say so. But I’d feel more comfortable if Chevy had landed a top-four defenceman at the deadline. And if that meant sacrificing one of his young, blue-chip studs, don’t you think he should have done it?

Answer Lady: Unlike many among the rabble, I don’t squirm at the thought of Chevy tossing Jack Roslovic or even Twig Ehlers into the pot, but this wasn’t the right time to do it. It wasn’t going to push them over the top.

Question Lady: So we’re supposed to be satisfied that it’s status quo?

Answer Lady: Hell no. You should be properly PO’d at Chevy and Mark Chipman, because it didn’t have to be this way. When the entire right side of your defence and a quality guy from the left side disappear in one foul swoop, that’s totally on the GM/owner. Just like they’ve known for more than two years that they don’t have a No. 2 centre, they’ve known since last July that they needed an upgrade on the blueline. Waiting until the trade deadline to acquire Coach PoMo’s porn star doesn’t quite cut it as proactive management. That dithering is the reason the Jets weren’t ever going to be anything better than a wild card outfit.

Question Lady: And what do they do with Dustin Byfuglien?

Answer Lady: That’s a discussion for another day, girlfriend. For now, let’s see how this season plays out, then we’ll talk about Big Buff.

Question Lady: Fair enough. What’s up next for you?

Answer Lady: More curling. The Brier’s on deck. If either Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson can get the job done next week in Kingston, that means Manitoba runs the table this season—world mixed, two world Junior, Scotties and Brier champions. It doesn’t get better than that.

Let’s talk about Jennifer Jones and Father Time…a tradition of top-drawer curling coverage…JLo, Shakira and a big-hair halftime show…Cassie for commish…SRO for the Rivalry Series…and oh woe is Puck Finn

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and now that the football season is over, it’s time for pitchers and catchers to report…

It would be easy this morning to write off Jennifer Jones as the latest of curling’s been-there, done-that champions who’ve discovered they cannot outrun Father Time.

Jennifer Jones

After all, shots that once were so routinely made now often seem so iffy.

Like her last-rock draw attempt in the fifth end of the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final on Sunday in beautiful downtown Rivers.

All Jones needed was the eight-foot ring which, for a world-class curler, is no more difficult than cracking an egg and dropping it in a frying pan. If you were to ask the Olympic and world champion how often she’s drawn the eight-foot in a career of making the other team cry uncle, it would number in the many thousands. Not this time, though. Her stone ground to a halt, as if some unseen hand had reached down and placed a piece of sandpaper in its path. It was a shot she had no business missing.

Thus, instead of scoring one for a 4-2 advantage, it was a steal of three for Kerri Einarson and a 3-5 deficit.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t that gaffe that derailed Jones in her bid to earn a ninth Buffalo jacket, because she rallied to manufacture a 6-5 advantage through seven ends of a game that was as erratic as a teenager’s mood swings. But she never scored again.

In the final reckoning, the Manitoba women’s championship was decided by two bricks: Each skip’s last in the 10th.

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur

Both the four-foot and button were blocked by enough granite to sculpt a life-size statue of Sandra Schmirler, making it a delicate bit of business. Einarson’s rock took the scenic route and stopped—right…on…the…nut. And totally buried. Still, Jones had hope. She could glance off one of her yellow stones and nudge Einarson’s shot rock off the button. Game, set and off to Moose Jaw for the national Scotties, right?

Except that’s not how Jones’ universe unfolds anymore.

As she hunkered in the hack, I thought to myself, “No way she makes this shot.” I don’t recall ever doubting Jones before. She missed, her rock wrecking out front.

So, instead of swanning off to Moose Jaw with the Buffalo on their backs later this month, Jones and her gal pals—Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen—will be required to get the better of Tracy Fleury in a one-off, wild-card game on Valentine’s Day. The winner plays on, the loser returns home, presumably without parting gifts.

Even if she is to win the wild card, a daunting task is stretched out in front of the 45-year-old Jones.

Chelsea Carey

The Scotties field includes defending champion Chelsea Carey, former champ Rachel Homan, Krista McCarville, Robyn Silvernagle, Suzanne Birt and Laura Walker, a Scotties neophyte out of Edmonton but we all know that Alberta never sends a scrub team to the national tournament.

And that’s not to forget Einarson and Gimli playmates Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, who enter the fray no worse than even-money to bring home the bauble.

That’s tough sledding for Jones.

Still, I wouldn’t be so hasty in having the bugler play taps for the six-time Canadian and two-time world titleholder. Jones still has, as they say, game. She and her St. Vital accomplices stand third in the country’s team rankings, and they didn’t get there by accident.

So let’s put it this way: I’ll be surprised if Jennifer Jones wins another Scotties, but I also won’t be surprised.

Thoroughly enjoyed reading Melissa Martin’s daily dispatches from Rivers. I assume the deep-thinkers at the Drab Slab have booked Double M’s passage to Moose Jaw, where she can cover the curling and hang out with local resident Burton Cummings. Unless Burt and old buddy Randy Bachman are already on tour by then.

Also many good reads from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. River City rags have a long history of top-drawer curling coverage (the best in the country, if you ask me), so I hope the tabloid plans to send him to Moose Jaw, where he can check out some of those tunnels Al Capone left behind. Just as long as he doesn’t get lost between draws.

It’s about Super Bowl LIV: Good game.

It’s about the halftime show, featuring JLo and Shakira: Lots of big hair, legs, gyrating groins and lip-syncing.

It’s about my pre-game prediction of Kansas City Chiefs XXXV, San Francisco 49ers XVII: Not bad. Final score was 31-20.

It’s about the American commercials: Haven’t seen any of them yet.

Caught the latest edition of Hometown Hockey on Sunday, and I must say that Sportsnet is pushing hard for women’s hockey. I just hope they’re as geeked up about Ponytail Puck if and when there’s a Women’s National Hockey League with outfits based in Canada. They basically ignored the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it turned out the lights.

Ron MacLean

There’s a heavy bias in Sportsnet coverage of the women’s game, in that it’s slanted heavily in favor of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and its Dream Gap Tour. And Cassie Campbell-Pascall is given free rein to preach falsehoods about the National Women’s Hockey League, which is never a good idea. Objective journalists would invite NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan to the discussion and get her take on where the game’s at and where she sees it going. But Ron MacLean abdicated long ago, Tara Slone isn’t really a journo, and Campbell-Pascall is too busy campaigning to become the first commish of the WNHL.

We get another serving of Ponytail Puck this very evening, and this time it’s the real thing, not one of those half-baked Dream Gap scrimmages. It’s Canada vs. U.S.A. in the Rivalry Series at Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena in Victoria, and the barn is sold out. The barn is also just one block away from my modest dwelling, but financial limitations prevent me from attending. I shall watch it on TSN, though, even if it’s long past my bedtime.

Patrik Laine

Just wondering: Why are so many among the rabble down on Patrik Laine? True, the kid’s no Auston Matthews, and not just because he keeps his pants on in public. Puck Finn doesn’t score like Matthews, but last time I looked he had 19 goals, which likely means another 30-snipe season. That would make him 4-for-4. Seems to me that would have been acceptable when the Winnipeg Jets used their first shoutout to claim Laine in the 2016 National Hockey League auction of teenage talent. So why isn’t it good enough anymore? Maybe if Puck Finn went ice fishing instead of playing Fortnite he’d be more agreeable to the masses.

And, finally, it’s Feb. 3 and Paul Maurice is still head coach of the Jets. I told you he would be.

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.)

Merry Sportsmas! Will it be goals or lumps o’ coal for the Jocks and Jills?

Not the usual Sunday smorgas-bored today, kids, because Sports Santa is on his way to town and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department

GOAL: Wasn’t that a party that Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and their Winnipeg Jets accomplices threw last spring on their merry way to the National Hockey League semifinals? They fell seven victories shy of a Stanley Cup parade, but good times were had by all, especially the mosh pit on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

COAL: Frank Seravalli of TSN wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty, and he proved it by describing the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Ya, like Don Cherry has been the face of Mother Russia since the days of the Soviet politburo. Seravalli is a mook. A Philly mook.

GOAL: Brooke Henderson, the sweetheart of the golf rodeo. Delightful, charming and all those other good things we like in our athletes, Brooke earned two LPGA titles, including the Canadian Open, something no home-grown woman had done in 45 years.

COAL: Brad Marchand, the Boston Licker. The Bruins agitator just couldn’t keep his tongue to himself, twice mistaking foes for lollipops. Ugh. Beyond disgusting.

GOAL: Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris struck for Olympic Games gold in the quirky brand of curling known as mixed doubles. Kaitlyn, like Brooke Henderson, is an absolute delight, and Johnny Mo is both a great curler and a great quote.

COAL: TSN gets an entire coal bin for its shameful adulation of Johnny Manziel, on-again/off-again quarterback with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats/Montreal Alouettes. Let’s forget for a moment that Manziel once beat up and threatened to kill a woman and should not be allowed to play in the Canadian Football League. As a QB, he was dreadful. The absolute worst. Yet the talking heads on the TSN panel and in the broadcast booth created a Cult of Johnny. They were like teenage groupies, gasping in worship for their favorite lousy QB. Totally creepy.

GOAL: Tessa Virtue is another sweetheart and her fancy skating partner, Scott Moir, is a total hoser, eh? After striking gold twice at the Olympics in South Korea, Tessa had fans swooning while Scott went all McKenzie Brothers by tossing back pints of beer and getting glassy-eyed and noodle-legged during the Canada-U.S. women’s hockey game. Beauty, eh?

COAL: Phil Mickelson is a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater. After missing a putt at the U.S. Open, Lefty scurried after his still-moving ball like a donut-fueled cop in pursuit of a bad guy, then stopped the Titleist before it could roll off the green. He laughed and shrugged it off as no big deal, telling everyone to lighten up. What a drip.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Dawn McEwen and Shannon Birchard got it done on the pebble. Together, they won a provincial curling title, a Canadian curling title, a world curling title, two Grand Slam titles, and an Olympic curling title. That’s the best haul this side of Santa’s bag of goodies.

COAL: Fans booed when Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Matt Nichols appeared on a giant screen at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to deliver a public service announcement against the evils of drunk driving. Are you kidding me people? Can you slink any lower than that? Who will you boo next? Rudolph if his red nose goes on the fritz Christmas eve? Shame, shame.

GOAL: Barry Trotz, a local boy who made good by coaching the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup. The former Dauphin Kings and University of Manitoba bench maestro was out of work shortly after swilling beer from Stanley, but he landed safely on Long Island, so it’s all good.

COAL: If Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star wasn’t blaming victims for cyber bullying, he was describing the Vegas Golden Knights as a “shitty” team. Well, that “shitty” team reached the Stanley Cup final. Mr. Smarm was a creepy irritant on Hockey Central at Noon, although I haven’t seen him taking up space on the gum-flapper this season. Perhaps a suit at Sportsnet finally wised up.

GOAL: Andrew Harris of the Bombers earned himself another Canadian Football League rushing title.

COAL: Darian Durant stiffed the Bombers on the eve of training camp by promptly retiring, then kept the $70,000 signing bonus he’d been paid. Bad form. Truly lame. Sort of like many of the passes he threw in his final season in the CFL. So, hey, good riddance.

GOAL: Former Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons offered this quote during another trying season for the Tranna Nine: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Somewhere Yogi Berra is nodding in approval.

COAL: I’m not sure you could mine enough coal to stuff into Steve Simmons’ Christmas stocking. The Postmedia Tranna print hitman totally trashed mixed doubles curling (he presented fiction as fact) at the Olympics, he totally trashed team fancy skating at the Olympics, he totally trashed Pedro Martinez’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, he totally trashed Marc Savard for not returning phone calls…basically, his entire year was a trash-a-thon. He really is Grandpa Simpson at the keyboard.

GOAL: Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals went into party-animal mode with Lord Stanley, dragging him hither and yon while acting like drunken curlers. Apparently they ran out of booze, so they agreed to start playing hockey again in October.

COAL: Serena Williams staged a different kind of party—a pity party at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The former world No. 1 woman came completely unglued in the final vs. Naomi Osaka and attempted to turn her temper tantrum into a crusade for motherhood and gender equality. In reality, she simply behaved like a spoiled-brat loser that no mother could be proud of.

GOAL: Chris Streveler came out of nowhere and gave rise to the possibility that the Blue Bombers have actually unearthed their QB of the future.

COAL: Postmedia has completely destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports section for readers interested in local clubs not named Jets, Bombers or Goldeyes. If you aren’t one of the big three, you no longer exist. Instead, Sun readers are force-fed a steady diet of copy on athletes and teams from the Republic of Tranna, pro rasslin’, UFC, sports betting, fantasy sports, etc.

GOAL: Winnipeg Free Press football scribe Jeff Hamilton’s podcast with Andrew Harris—The Handoff—was boffo stuff.

COAL: Randy Ambrosie kicked Jerome Messam out of the CFL after the running back was charged with voyeurism, but the commish allowed Johnny Manziel to play, even though he beat up a woman and threatened to kill her. As I have written: “What part of its own policy on violence against women does the CFL not understand?”

GOAL: Kirk Penton keeps cranking out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic.

COAL: Jock journos in the Republic of Tranna couldn’t stop slobbering over hip-hopper Drake at Raptors games. I haven’t seen that much drool since the day I brought a St. Bernard home for my kids. The press box in The ROT is groupie central. It’s really quite simple: Ignore Drake.

GOAL: Mike O’Shea, who doesn’t share warm-and-fuzzies with the media, gets high marks for this glib response in an exchange with a news snoop…

Do you have any plans for your bye week coming up?” the Bombers coach was asked.

I do…you’re not included in them,” he replied.

COAL: Mark Masters, a man, actually asked another man, Darren Cahill, to put the last year of Serena Williams’ life into context. Given that tennis analyst Cahill has never been pregnant or given birth (we won’t even talk about breast feeding), he could not possibly relate to what Williams had lived through. It was the dumbest question. Ever, ever, ever.

GOAL: Curmudgeonly Brian Burke is as grumpy as Scrooge with a toothache, as blunt as the business end of a hammer, and as harsh as turpentine. He’s also extremely insightful and a boffo addition to Sportsnet’s stable of gum-flappers. He even wears his necktie properly some nights.

COAL: The Houston Astros claim to have a zero-tolerance policy re domestic violence. Any man who strikes a women need not apply. Unless, of course, he can also strike out the side in the ninth inning. In that case, the Astros will overlook domestic violence and sign a relief pitcher like Roberto Osuna. When the disgraced former Blue Jays hurler imploded in the Major League Baseball playoffs, it was poetic justice.

GOAL & COAL: Dave Dickenson is a yappy, little lap dog, but Coach Chihuahua of the Calgary Stampeders also came up with a perfect description of the Bombers braintrust during one of his sideline squawk sessions—The Canadian Mafia.

COAL: TSN continues to trot out Dave Poulin as a hockey expert. Ya, and I’m Julia Roberts’ movie double. Any guy who leaves Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot is no expert, and Poulin’s no expert.

GOAL: A lot of people don’t like Bo Levi Mitchel. They reckon he’s too cocky and/or arrogant. Well, I like him. So much that I hope the Stampeders QB lands work in the National Football League.

About the Rink Rat Scheifele feel-good story…pass the broccoli but hold the mushrooms…Hitch is Mr. McGrumpy after the “mauling” of Connor McDavid…wah, wah, wah in Edmonton…a tough day at the office for Kerri Einarson…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…because Mark Scheifele and the Jets keep working overtime, I will too…

The thing about Rink Rat Scheifele is that he’s already one of those cool “Remember when?” stories.

As in:

  • Remember when the Winnipeg Jets chose him seventh overall in the National Hockey League’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers and most folks said, “Huh? Who’s he?”

  • Remember when he initially arrived in River City and took more tumbles than a load of laundry? Clumsy? Bambi was Tessa Virtue compared to this kid. If he stayed vertical for more than 15 seconds, someone would alert the media and there’d be film at 11.

  • Remember when he was so scrawny he could have qualified as poster boy for a UNICEF famine relief campaign? I’ve seen more flesh on a Christmas turkey wishbone. He rattled like a pair of dice when he walked.

But just look at nice guy Scheifele now.

Chevy and the Rink Rat were all smiles in 2011.

You need a goal in OT? Who you gonna call? Mark Scheifele. He did it twice in three days, in two different cities. He’s done it three times this month. He’s fifth in NHL scoring, just 10 points out of the lead and three in arrears of Connor McFabulous in Edmonton.

It’s kind of a rags-to-riches story when you consider they didn’t even have a team jersey for Rink Rat to wear on stage the day general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plucked him in the entry draft. Remember, les Jets were a team with no name ahead of the 2011 teenage rummage sale, so why not pick a no-name player, right? And drape him in an NHL sweater, just to add a touch of humility to the moment.

Not that the hockey nerd from the Barrie Colts seemed to mind. He beamed, his smile measured in megawatts. Ditto Chevy, who cared little that many observers considered his selection of Scheifele to be something of a head-scratcher.

Turns out les Jets scouts knew exactly what they were doing. And it’s a terrific, feel-good story about a guy who, by all accounts, is the sort you hope your daughter brings home for dinner.

Rink Rat Scheifele

If you kids out there want to grow up to be just like Mark Scheifele, eat your veggies. But you can pass on the mushrooms. “That’s the only vegetable I don’t eat,” the fitness freak told GQ magazine last summer. “Other than that, I am good with anything. If you put a mushroom in front of my face, I will not go anywhere near it. If I’m in a restaurant, I’ll tell them to hold the mushrooms. I don’t want mushrooms on any of my food at all.” But bring on the broccoli!

The biggest surprise in the NHL standings this year? Five Pacific Division outfits currently are in playoff positions. Who saw that coming? No one. The big dogs of the Western Conference are supposed to be in the Central Division, but the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars are major disappointments. Bruce Boudreau, meanwhile, will be the next head coach looking for work if his Minnesota Wild don’t get it together.

I’ve always been a Bryan Little fan, but I still say les Jets will need a guy like Paul Stastny once it’s crunch time (read: the Stanley Cup tournament). That and an upgrade on left defence. I fully expect Chevy to tinker with his roster before the trade deadline.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe the Calgary Flames are for real. I’m not sold on their goaltending. Just saying.

Alexander Ovechkin: Still the Gr8t 8.

Something tells me Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star might like a do-over on his “Auston Matthews is the greatest goal-scorer in the world” column. Every time I check the leaders in the chase for the Rocket Richard Trophy, that Gr8t 8 guy in Washington is atop the chart. I suppose if Matthews could stay out of the repair shop he might challenge Alexander Ovechkin, but until then any suggestion that he’s the planet’s premier sniper is pure propaganda from the Republic of Tranna.

Hitch is McGrumpy.

Apparently Connor McDavid has become Connor McMugged, and that’s made Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock a Mr. McGrumpy. After his lads dropped a 4-2 verdict to the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday night, Hitch went all squawk-a-lot about the guys in striped shirts:

“The stuff that really bothers me is what is happening to Connor, and that really bothers me because we’re in a league that is supposed to showcase our top players, and you don’t want to give them all the freedom, but the tug of war on him was absolutely ridiculous today,” said Hitchcock.

“And that’s a little bit discouraging to be honest with you. Because I can see the whackin’ and hackin’ going on when he’s got the puck, but to me it’s all the stuff behind that doesn’t allow him to showcase his speed. And if that’s what we want, well, that’s fine. But I think it’s a real disservice to a player like him. He’s not allowed to play give-and-go. It’s give-and-hold. So we’re going to have to figure out a way to fight through it. We’ll just play toughness with him and figure it out from there.”

Can’t fault Hitchcock for spouting off, but, let’s face it, it’s nothing more than mind games. He’s looking for an edge, as if McDavid needs it.

Connor McDavid: Too much hooking and hacking.

In the boo hoo, cry me a river department, I present Postmedia Edmonton scribe David Staples, who, in an exercise of blatant homerism, cranked up the wah-wah-wah machine and eagerly provided the backup vocals for the Hitchcock lament.

“Hitchcock has now made clear the truth of the matter, making comments that should embarrass the refs for their slack work and the National Hockey League for allowing its greatest star(s) to get repeatedly mugged,” Staples wrote about the “mauling” of McDavid. “I hope ears are burning at NHL head office. They should be.

“If you think my own comments are the self-indulgent whining of an Oilers fan, you are correct. But what of it? Because I’m mad that the hometown hero gets a bad shake from the refs doesn’t mean Hitchcock isn’t right. He is right. McDavid gets mugged repeatedly and the NHL doesn’t do anything much about it. It’s a bad joke. This isn’t a league for superstars to shine, it’s a league for hookers, holders and hackers to slow down those superstars and to thwart them with the complicity of incompetent refs.

“Wayne Gretzky never hesitated to blast the officials. Some folks called him a whiner, but I call him a winner. Glen Sather was a master of getting under everyone’s skin, be it opposing coaches, players, the league or the refs. It’s time the Oilers stood up for themselves verbally. Why? Because it works. Calling out rubbish for what it is has an impact.”

Wow. Take a pill, man. Maybe have some mushrooms.

The TSN World Junior Hockey Championship will be coming to a rink exactly two blocks from my humble home next week. I can hardly wait to see that big Kazakhstan-Slovakia showdown.

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

Talk about your bad days at the office. What Kerri Einarson endured in the women’s final of the National curling tournament in Conception Bay South, N.L., on Sunday wasn’t pretty. It was painful to watch. The Manitoba skip did a lot of wincing, but not much shot-making, and finished at just 54 per cent in a 4-1 loss to Rachel Homan. Not to worry, though. The Pebble People are done for the year, so Kerri and her all-skip team of Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur can enjoy their Christmas turkey and have ample time to regroup. They’ll be the ladies to beat at the Toba Scotties late next month in Gimli.

And, finally, the Winnipeg Sun sports section on Sunday: 13 pages, 1 local story. Sad. The Sun sports section this morning: 15 pages, 1 local story. Really sad.

About an Officer and a world champion…thank you notes from Jill Officer and Vic Peters…dumb hockey prophets…no Calder for Connor…transparency from hockey scribes…an Irishman and booze…Mac and Martina…what about Tricky Dick and Leo the Lip?…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Jill Officer has yet to utter the R-word. Retirement. She insists she’s just taking “a step back.”

Well, okay. If she says so.

I mean, Officer can define her retreat from elite curling with the terminology of her choosing, but she wept openly last month after going public with her decision. You don’t cry if you’re staying. You cry when you’re leaving.

Thus, there’s no escaping the fact that we have arrived at the end of an era. An unparalleled era.

Thelma and Louise

Officer, of course, has been playing Thelma to Jennifer Jones’s Louise since…well, since about the same time the fictional Thelma and Louise were on the lam, leading cops on a catch-us-if-you-can romp across America. That classic chick flick arrived on the big screen in May 1991. Curling’s two J Girls united shortly thereafter, and foes and friends have been chasing them ever since.

A quarter century. Who stays together that long? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Homer and Marge. Mick and Keith. Fish and chips. That’s about it.

Here’s some time perspective: One of the J Girls’ teammates on the Canadian rep at the world women’s championship in North Bay the past week, fifth Shannon Birchard, wasn’t even in her mama’s womb when Officer and Jones first joined forces. The outfit’s third, Kaitlyn Lawes, had yet to begin grade school.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

And it’s been quite the trip that skip Jen and second Jill have taken us on since that day in the early ’90s when the teenage Jones pulled the teenage Officer aside for a chit-chat by a Coke machine at the Highlander Curling Club in Winnipeg, whereupon they forged a partnership that has produced provincial (nine), Canadian (seven), Grand Slam (15), world (two) and Olympic titles. (Did I mention it was an unparalleled era among Manitoba curlers?)

Following Canada’s drama-drenched 7-6, extra-end victory over Sweden (brilliant game) on Sunday, there’ll be two curtain calls for the 42-year-old Officer in Grand Slam of Curling competition, then she’ll ease away, making only cameo appearances for the world-champion Jones team, which includes lead Dawn McEwen and will add Jocelyn Peterman to throw second stones next season.

This world title was the ideal, also appropriate, way for Officer to leave the big stage. One final run for glory. One final crown. And a perfect (14-0) storybook ending.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vic Peters

Terrific Jill Officer story from Paul Wiecek, longtime curling scribe and now columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press: “For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she’d buy at Morden’s in Winnipeg before she left. She’d tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who’d been covering her team, just to thank us for the coverage. You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody.” I can relate. After covering the 1997 Brier in Calgary, I received a thank you card in the mail. It was from the late, great Vic Peters, his bride Deb, and their kids, Elisabeth, Kassie and Daley. That card sits atop my bookcase, 21 years after the fact. Curlers are wonderful and Peters, who left us almost exactly two years ago to this very day, was a total treat.

Doug Flutie

This is an equal-opportunity blog, folks. That is, any and all who do, say or write something stupid in sports are fair game for scorn, ridicule, rude laughter and no-insults-barred cheap shots. No exceptions. Sacred cows do not exist. Unless, of course, I harbor a special fondness for someone (hello, Tessa Virtue), in which case nary a discouraging word shall be written.

With that in mind, it’s only fair that I direct your attention to an analysis delivered prior to the first puck drop of the Winnipeg Jets current National Hockey League crusade. To wit:

It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian Prairies.”

And what goomer wrote that tripe? Guilty, yer honor. Yup, it was little ol’ moi. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

But, hey, it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever scribbled. I once referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game as the “annual Fall Classic,” even though it’s played in July. And, of course, there was the time I mentioned something about Doug Flutie being nothing more than a fair-weather quarterback, only to then watch him win a Grey Cup game in a blizzard.

So, ya, Brain Cramps ‘R’ Me.

Connor McDavid

I find little or no consolation in the knowledge that the Edmonton McDavids and Flames fooled the majority of those who observe the goings-on of the NHL. I mean, seven of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet picked the McDavids to win the West. Fifteen of 16 forecast either the McDavids or Flames to finish with the highest points total among the seven Canadian clubs. Over at USA Today, the boys and girls on the beat had the McDavids finishing first in the Pacific Division, with Calgary in third. Yet, once the Stanley Cup tournament commences next month, the McDavids and Flames will have their noses pressed to the window, watching the fun from the outside. Sigh. The difference between me and the scribes/talking heads at Sportsnet and USA Today? They get paid to be dumb. I don’t. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna dates back to a Dec. 12 tweet, in which he wrote: “With four points tonight, @cmcdavid97 moves into 3rd in NHL scoring behind Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid be back in the scoring lead within 10 days, I figure, maybe sooner.” Connor McDavid moved atop the scoring chart on Saturday night, meaning Simmons missed the mark by 92 days, or three months. Yup, another guy getting paid to be dumb.

Kyle Connor

Going from dumb to dumber, we give you this headline from the Winnipeg Sun last week: “Jets Connor for Calder?” Oh, shut the front door! I like Kyle Connor. He’s been the second-best contributor named Connor on the Jets roster this crusade. So, I agree, the kid’s boffo. But the NHL’s leading freshman? As if. Donald Trump will give up golf, Playmates and porn stars before that happens. Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders is your top frosh. No debate. After that, it’s Brock Boeser and the rest. And it won’t have anything to do with Connor doing his thing in out-of-the-way Winnipeg. “Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” says Jets captain Blake Wheeler. Road apples! Dale Hawerchuk didn’t go under the radar. Teemu Selanne didn’t go under the radar. Barzal will win because he’s had the better rookie season, to date by 29 points.

Sweeney Odd

Lest we forget, the Jets have Don Sweeney to thank for Connor’s 28 goals, because the Boston Bruins general manager passed on the University of Michigan winger on three consecutive shout-outs during the first round of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Odd bit of business, that. Sweeney Odd, we hasten to add, also overlooked Barzal and Brock Boeser to instead claim Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. So let’s do the math: The trio of Connor, Barzal and Boeser have combined for 77 goals and 178 points this season. The three guys the Boston GM swooped in on have contributed 14 goals and 39 points to the Bruins’ cause. Difference: 63 goals, 139 points. Sweeney Odd gets to keep his day job, though, because his club is already selling playoff tickets.

Humpty Harold Ballard

So, it only took the Professional Hockey Writers Association half a century to do what they’ve been demanding of everyone from Clarence Campbell to Harold Ballard’s parole officer since forever—full disclosure. Oh, yes, in recent balloting, 81.3 per cent of the jewels of puck journalism agreed that voting on the NHL’s annual year-end trinkets ought to be made public. PHWA vice-president Frank Seravalli of TSN declared this “a big moment.” I hope he didn’t pull a muscle patting himself on the back. I mean, if 81.3 per cent were in favor of complete transparency, 18.7 per cent still prefer the process be kept hush-hush. In other words, they don’t have the balls to defend their choices for the Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Masterton, Calder, Selke and Smythe nick-nacks. If ever there was a vote that should have been unanimous, that was it.

Best lip service of the week comes from Tranna Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Sometimes? You only want to be unstupid sometimes? Tells me it’s gonna be another long baseball season for the Tranna Nine.

Rory McIlroy

If Rory McIlroy had his druthers, the ‘P’ in PGA Tour would stand for Prohibition. Yup, McIlroar wants them to turn off the taps at golf tournaments. “I think they need to limit alcohol sales on the course,” he said after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. Imagine that. An Irishman calling for a ban on booze. St. Patty is spinning. But McIlroar is serious. By his measure, too man fans are getting banjo’d, Magooed, gee-eyed and jarred at PGA events. “It used to be you bring beers on the course, but not liquor,” he went on. “And now it seems like everyone is walking around with a cocktail. So I don’t know if it’s just people walking around with beers in their hand, that’s fine.” Ya, we all know that no guy drinking beer has ever gotten loud, obnoxious and blethered. Slainte, Rory.

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe

So, Martina Navratilova is having herself a proper, little hissy fit after learning how much the BBC stuffs into John McEnroe’s pay envelope ($210,000-$280,000) for flapping his gums during the Wimbledon fortnight. The tennis legend is “not happy” and “it’s shocking” that Johnny Mac earns 10 times the $27,000 she collects. “It’s still the good old boys’ network,” she says. “The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.” Get a grip, girl. You’re both getting paid by the word, and McEnroe never shuts the hell up.

Seriously, although the BBC is guilty of gender pay inequity, the McEnroe-Navratilova situation isn’t a he-she thing. It’s a talent thing. He’s the best tennis talker. Is he 10 times better than her? That can’t be measured, but I’ll submit he’s superior by a considerable margin. His work load is also considerably heavier. Look, Al Michaels reportedly earns $5 million per year to talk football on NBC. His sidekick, Cris Collinsworth, collects $1 million, or thereabouts. They sit in the same broadcast booth, for the same length of time; they watch the same players and the same game. Yet one hauls in $5 mill and the other $1 mill. It’s the same 5-1 ratio with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over at Fox Sports. Nothing to do with gender.

And, finally, I’ve heard little quarrel about the Canadian Football Hall of Fame class of 2018—Hank Ilesic, Scott Flory, Baron Miles, Brent Johnson, Frank Cosentino, Paul Brule and Tom Hugo.

One dissenting voice, however, comes from Steve Simmons (I know, what a surprise). He wonders why Tricky Dick Thornton, the all-purpose player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tranna Argonauts in the 1960s and early ’70s, and Leo (The Lip) Cahill, former head coach and general manager of the Boatmen, continue to be snubbed.

It’s a shame and overdue because both were significant to the success of the Canadian Football League and for reasons I’ve never ascertained, have been pushed aside on an annual basis,” he writes.

I agree with Simmons on Thornton. Makes no sense. Ya, sure, he was a non-conformist. He wore his hair long, he wore an earring, he had a Fu Manchu mustache, he wrote poetry and sucked up to the media. But he also played every position but percussion in the symphony orchestra. And played them all exceptionally well.

As for Cahill, he was a charming, colorful character but a career .500 head coach. He never won the Grey Cup.