About Bo Levi up next for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…no hocus-pocus from Coach Mikey…cheap shots to the head and apologies from the CFL commish…musings of a couch potato…Maple Leafs bias in the national media…the Winnipeg Sun ignoring local sports…getting squat for players who do squat…and bitching about the boss

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…

It took Mike O’Shea five years to win a playoff game. The question is: Can he do it three times in 15 days?

I don’t see why not, because there isn’t an outfit in the Canadian Football League that’s performing at a higher level than Coach Mikey’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who’ve now been on the correct end of the scoreboard in their past six skirmishes of consequence.

Oh, sure, the local lads should have had a less-difficult time of it with the Roughriders on Saskatchewan’s barren tundra on Sunday, because Gang Green entered the fray sans starting quarterback Zach Collaros. But who among the rabble is inclined to quibble when their football heroes will still be playing in the back half of November?

Bo Levi Mitchell

In dispatching the offensively challenged Riders, 23-18 at Mosaic Stadium, Winnipeg FC booked passage to the northwest quadrant of Calgary, where Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders lie in wait in their barracks on Crowchild Trail. At stake is bragging rights in the West Division and, most significant, a date vs. the eastern rep in the final match of the year.

I don’t believe it’s going out on a limb to suggest the Bombers defensive dozen will face a much sterner test on Nov. 18, because Mitchell is no Brandon Bridge. He can actually fling the football more than five yards down the field. And watch it land in one of his receiver’s hands.

Let’s face it, the Riders offence is inept. They try to win a knife fight with a handful of confetti. A glass of tap water has a more powerful kick. And that’s with either Bridge or Collaros at the controls.

Mitchell, on the other hand…let’s just say Bo Levi is a been-there, done-that QB with a chip on his shoulder the size of Chris Walby’s dinner plate, and I’m sure he’d like a second Grey Cup ring before swanning off to a National Football League outfit. If, of course, that’s the career path he chooses once his obligation to the Stampeders has been fulfilled.

None of that is to say Winnipeg FC shouldn’t bother to show up at McMahon Stadium next Sunday. Mitchell doesn’t wear a big, red S on his chest and, as evidenced by faceplants in the past two CFL championship jousts, he’s certainly beatable in large games.

Do the Bombers have the right kind of kryptonite to neuter Mitchell? Well, as stated, I don’t see anyone better than the local lads right now.

More to the point, when the two sides last met, on Oct. 26, the Bombers delivered a 29-21 wedgie to the Stampeders, a rather arrogant, uppity group that’s accustomed to getting their own way at this time of the year (until the Grey Cup game, of course).

The thing is, Mitchell and pals lost their way just as the Bombers were finding theirs in late-season skirmishing, and that makes for an intriguing West Division final.

Mike O’Shea

So, when Winnipeg FC took hold of an 11-point lead on the Roughriders—less than five minutes from time—I confess that I found myself thinking, “What goofy thing will O’Shea do to screw this up?” Turns out Coach Mikey played it straight all day. He kicked the ball when he should have kicked the ball, he gambled when he should have gambled. No smoke and mirrors. No hocus-pocus. No sorcery. Just straight-ahead, snot-bubble playoff football in the wind, the snow and the bitter cold on the Prairies. What a concept. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean he’s saving the magic act for Calgary?

Does Jackson Jeffcoat take us for fools? I mean, the Bombers defensive end felled Bridge with a nasty headgear-to-headgear wallop at the end of proceedings Sunday, then he had this to say to news snoops: “I didn’t feel like there was any head contact. I came in with my shoulder. My job is to sack the quarterback and hit him.” What a total load of hooey. It’s the same load of BS that Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions delivered a couple weeks ago when he took out Collaros with an illegal hit to the melon. Willis wasn’t flagged by the zebras (it took a coach’s challenge and a verdict from the command centre) and Jeffcoat’s crime went unpunished. Unless, of course, you consider more apologies from CFL commish Randy Ambrosie for shoddy officiating to be suitable punishment. Well, sorry, but that isn’t good enough. Careers are at risk with these blatant fouls

Couch Potato

Snippets from a day on the couch watching three-down football: Hamilton Tiger-Cats 48, B.C. Lions 8—will all those “experts” who’ve been squawking about the CFL’s “unfair” playoff system now put a sock in it? What we have now works just fine. And please don’t tell me it would have been different had the East Division semifinal fray been contested at B.C. Place. The Tabbies would have waffled ’em in a sandlot, a parking lot, or on any other patch of earth you’d like to choose…Why oh why were the blah, blah, blah boys on TSN so shocked that the Ticats trampled the Lions. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” said Jock Climie. Actually, some of us did. I was convinced the Tabbies would win this cat fight handily, and even wrote that B.C. QB Travis Lulay wouldn’t finish what he started. He didn’t. I realize the Lions went 6-3 in the second half of the season, but I thought it to be fraudulent…What a horrible way for Leos head coach Wally Buono to bow out. The hall-of-fame coach deserved much better from his players…Henry Burris’ Grey Cup ring is obscene. I’ll never understand why anyone would want to wear a doorknob on his hand…Is there some sort of fashion challenge among the boys on the TSN panel? If so, why don’t Matt Dunigan and Rod Smith join in? I mean, Burris and Stegall look mighty fine. The other two not so much…If we’re talking human mascots, I’ll take rassler Ric Flair of the Ticats over Drake of the Tranna Raptors any day. The Nature Boy is a goof-off, but his shtick is kind of comical in a WWE-scripted sort of way. Drake is just annoying. All together now—Woooooooooo!…I wonder if it’s possible for TSN sideline gab guy Matthew Scianitti to talk without waving his right hand in front of the camera. And is he actually as serious as he seems to be?

Blake Wheeler

Eastern media dweebs like Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star argue that our national sports networks and national newspapers don’t show bias toward the Tranna Maple Leafs.

That, of course, is like saying Fox News doesn’t favor Donald Trump.

I mean, Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets had five points in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Friday night. Five-point outings in the National Hockey League are as rare as Trump cozying up to a CNN reporter. Any CNN reporter.

But what was the main story on the TSN website the following morning? You guessed it—les Leafs getting goals from six different people in a win over New Jersey Devils. Ditto on the Sportsnet website. Top story on the National Post sports page was the Leafs’ win. Ditto the Globe and Mail.

Wheeler? His remarkable effort was relegated to “Oh, by the way…” coverage.

But, hey, there’s no Tranna bias.

As much as it pains me to say, I feel obliged to mention that the Winnipeg Sun is getting good and properly paddywhacked by the Winnipeg Free Press on coverage of local sports stories that don’t involve the Jets or Bombers. Using the respective Saturday editions as an example, the Drab Slab went all-in on the Winnipeg High School Football League Division I and II finals. It also had a piece on the possibility of a Western Hockey League franchise relocating in Good Ol’ Hometown, plus a byline article on the Canadian mixed curling championships at the Fort Rouge Club. And the tabloid? Nada. We could read an entire page on Tranna Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen (like, who in River City gives a damn?), and another full page on an Ottawa news snoop being shooed away at the boarding gate for the Senators’ charter flight to Tampa (again, who in Pegtown gives a damn?), but there was nary a word on any of the games on local playgrounds. Ignoring the two local high school grid skirmishes is not only shameful, it’s irresponsible.

Let’s be clear on something: The blame for the Sun ignoring local sports that operate on the periphery doesn’t fall at the feet of its three-man staff. The Torontofication of local rags is strictly a Postmedia call, and something I forewarned about 2 1/2 years ago when they merged eight newsrooms across the country and booted 90 journalists to the curb. “My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle,” I wrote of the little sports. “I fear the worst.” The worst has arrived and that, too, is a shame.

What was Mike McIntyre going on about in the Drab Slab the other day? “A franchise that prides itself on the draft-and-development model can’t keep cutting players such as (Marko) Dano loose with absolutely no return and expect not to feel it down the road,” he wrote. McIntyre prattled on about the grave danger of les Jets losing luminaries such as Dano, Alexander Burmistrov and Joel Armia for squat. Oh, puleeeeze. First of all, none of the three were drafted by les Jets. Dano was a Columbus Blue Jackets pick, Armia was plucked by the Buffalo Sabres, and Burmistrov was a holdover from the Atlanta Thrashers. Second, what did he expect any of that trio to fetch in barter? Burmistrov did nothing but skate in circles during his time in Pegtown. Dano wore street clothes, sat in the press box and ate popcorn. Armia, while a useful worker, proved to be the cost of business in the move to rid Winnipeg HC of Steve Mason’s burdensome contract. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff couldn’t have gotten a bag of pucks for either Burmistrov of Dano. In no way is the departure of any of these players a game-changer. They weren’t worth squat, and neither is McIntyre’s argument. The column should have been spiked.

And, finally, it’s about that Uber thing whereby seven members of the Ottawa Senators trashed talked assistant coach Martin Raymond: What, none of us has ever bitched about our boss?

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About Claude’s boy Brendan going off his nut…Beastmo Bighill for MOP…fifth Beatle Ty Long…Andrew Harris had to get the ball…a new headset for Coach LaPo?…Sportsnet drops the ball on U football…the Bosox beer toss…Clayton K is no Sandy K…a good read on No. 4 Bobby Orr…and just say no to Slava

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and keep in mind that no one has ever won a bar bet based on anything I write…

Top o’ the morning to you, Brendan Lemieux.

Well, I guess it’s true what they say—you’re a chip off the old blockhead. That’s right. Your old man, Claude, was a cheap-shot artist of the tallest order, and now here you are, just 18 games into your National Hockey League career, and already you’re facing a suspension for attempting to rearrange Vincent Trocheck’s facial features.

Brendan Lemieux

Mind you, what you did to Trocheck of the Florida Panthers on Friday in Finland was the equivalent of a paper cut compared to the bludgeoning Papa Claude laid on Kris Draper in 1996.

I’m sure you know all about that, Brendan. Probably seen the video. Heck, you and the old man might have had a giggle or two watching it on YouTube. Just to refresh, though, Papa Claude drove Draper into the boards—from behind—and broke his face. That’s not an exaggeration. The force of the blow shattered an orbital bone, a cheekbone, Draper’s nose and his jaw.

That’s the signature moment of your old man’s career, Brendan. A goon act.

Oh, sure, some folks talk about his Stanley Cup victories, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the 19 game-winning goals in the postseason. But the conversation always comes back to Kris Draper and the night Papa Claude went all Pearl Harbor on the Detroit Red Wings forward.

You once told a reporter that you want to be seen as a “young Claude Lemieux,” and “every time I’m compared to my dad, it’s a compliment.”

The Claude Lemieux goon show.

Sorry, Brendan, but you don’t want to run off with the notion that folks are speaking favorably when they draw parallels between you and Papa Claude. More than likely they’re calling you a couple of dipsticks. Sure there are positive similarities. There’s tree bark to your game, just as there was to his. You can be a useful, disruptive irritant. But I’m certain fly-by muggings are not what the Winnipeg Jets had in mind when they brought you on board.

Your attack on Trocheck wasn’t just wanton and lawless, it was selfish. It was game-changing in a destructive way.

So here’s the bottom line, Brendan: I think it’s great that you’re proud of your old man, but just because Papa Claude had a tendency to go off his nut, it doesn’t mean you have to.

Straighten up and fly right, kid.

I’ve long held that a player like young Lemieux was a missing element to les Jets makeup. I reckoned they needed someone of the Nazem Kadri ilk. You know, a guy with serious skill but also a royal pain in the ass. Sadly, Lemieux isn’t even a reasonable facsimile. Although only 22, he might already be an NHL writeoff.

Puck Finn

Nice to see Patrik Laine rediscover his scoring touch during Winnipg HC’s two-game tour of duty in Finland, but let’s make something perfectly clear: Criticizing Puck Finn’s play early in this crusade does not make anyone a “Patrik Laine hater” or a “Patrik Laine naysayer.” It’s fair comment. The guy’s been gawdawful most nights, something he copped to post-hat trick in Winnipeg HC’s 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Thursday. “I’ve been a pretty bad player,” he admitted. So let’s keep this in mind: Laine still has yet to score at even strength with a goaltender in the net. That’s not hating on Puck Finn. It’s reporting the facts.

Fashion note: Saw one of those horrid Jets aviator alternate jerseys in a sports merchandise shop last week. The thing is selling for $134. That’s a lot of coin to spend on ugly. Sales dude told me nobody’s buying them out here on the west flank of the land. “People prefer the Jets heritage sweaters,” he said. Ya think?

Adam Bighill

I’ve studied the list of nominees for most outstanding player in the Canadian Football League and I don’t see anyone whose work has been more boffo than Beastmo Bighill, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers ransackish, plundering linebacker. Beastmo won’t win the vote, though, because the Football Reporters of Canada have a thing for guys who play the glam or diva positions. You know, the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs. Only once since they began doling out the MOP trinket in 1953 have news snoops broken ranks and saluted a pure defender. That was Solomon Elimimian of the B.C. Lions in 2014. So, if my math is correct, another defensive player isn’t due to win the MOP award until 2076, by which time we hope Winnipeg FC head coach Mike O’Shea finally has figured out when—and when not—to gamble on third down.

The Beatles

The Lions’ MOP candidate this year is Ty Long. He’s a punter/placekicker. No knock against Long, but that’s kind of like nominating Ringo Starr as the most outstanding Beatle. (For you kids in the audience, the Beatles were a rock band in the 1960s and Ringo was the drummer. The other band members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Two of them are in the grave, and Ringo still isn’t the most outstanding Beatle.)

O’Shea did the right thing by starting Andrew Harris in the Bombers’ meaningless matinee vs. the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town on Saturday. Sure there was a risk he’d suffer an owie that would put him on the shelf for the Grey Cup runoff, but you’ve gotta give the ball to a guy who’s eight yards shy of another rushing title. It’s said that Coach Mikey is a player’s coach, and that’s what a player’s coach does.

Paul LaPolice

So what are the odds of Paul LaPolice landing a CFL head coaching gig? There’s a vacancy in the Republic of Tranna, where the Argonauts kicked Marc Trestman to the curb (apparently for his failure to keep Ricky Ray vertical), and Wally Buono has had his fill of football in B.C. and anywhere else people grab grass and growl. Jason Maas’ status in E-Town is still iffy, and perhaps the same can be said for Mike Sherman in Montreal. If the Bombers inflict serious damage during this month’s sprint to the Grey Cup, guaranteed the Winnipeg FC offensive-coordinator will be on someone’s short list. More to the point, I’d expect to see him wearing a head set on the sidelines next year. If so, good on him because I still believe Coach LaPo got a raw deal from inadequate, trigger-happy GM Sleepy Joe Mack with the Bombers in 2012.

Marc Trestman

Here’s my take on the Trestman dismissal by the Argos: A lot of folks who follow three-down football outside the Republic of Tranna will give a damn; few in The ROT will even notice he’s gone. Such a shame.

Also a shame that Sportsnet totally ignored the Canadian university football playoffs, which commenced on Saturday. What kind of a national sports network doesn’t cover the postseason from start to finish? They won’t have their cameras and talking heads on site next weekend either. Pathetic.

The Bosox Beer Toss

Interesting tradition Boston sports fans have during title parades—the beer toss. Yup, the rabble gathered last Wednesday in downtown Beantown to greet their most recent conquering heroes, the World Series champion Red Sox, and Bud Light bombs were bursting in air. It was a 21-can salute from the fawning faithful to their baseball icons. At first blush, I thought it a horrible waste of beer, but then I realized it was American beer. I’d toss it away, too.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have been ushered out of the World Series for the second straight autumn, can the ill-informed cease with the Clayton Kershaw-Sandy Koufax comparisons? The great Sandy K. got the job done when it mattered most. Kershaw not so much. Koufax pitched in four World Series, going 4-3 with a 0.95 ERA and a 0.825 WHIP. The Dodgers won three of those series and Koufax twice was chosen WS MVP. Kershaw, meanwhile, has a losing record in money games (9-10 overall; 1-2 in the World Series), his ERA is a plumpish 5.40 and his WHIP is 1.163. Case closed.

Two questions: The Professional Golf Association Tour has begun its 2018-19 season. Will anyone notice before Tiger tees it up? And does the professional tennis season ever end, or do they just keep playing until everyone is injured and sent to the repair shop?

If you’re looking for some good reading (the kind you won’t find here), check out Bruce Arthur’s piece on Bobby Orr in the Toronto Star. It’s boffo stuff on the boffoest of all hockey players.

And, finally, disgraced defenceman Slava Voynov has applied to the NHL for reinstatement. How fast can 31 teams say “no” to the wife-beater? Any outfit interested in recruiting Voynov is soulless.

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

About an eastern bum and creep invading River City…Champions ‘R’ Us…No. 4 Bobby Orr…Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and the puck…goaltender shrinkage?…hype from The ROT…going to pot…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.

Damien Cox is one such news snoop.

Jennifer Jones and gal pals won Olympic gold, but didn’t get a parade.

Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.

This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.

“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.

That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.

Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.

“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.

Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.

Winnipeg Goldeyes: More proof of a championship team from River City.

But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:

Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!

All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.

But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.

The 1979 WHA champion Winnipeg Jets. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull are nowhere to be seen.

Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.

Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.

Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.

Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?

What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?

If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?

If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.

Can you hear the hype about Auston Matthews.

Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.

Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.

I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.

If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.

Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”

Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”

Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).

Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”

Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.

And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.

Giving thanks on Turkey Day in Canada

Turkey Day in Canada seems like the appropriate time to talk about gobblers in sports, but I’m going to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day instead…

Jennifer Jones

Thanks to curling and curlers. Real people. Regular working stiffs who just happen to have better draw weight than the rest of us. Easily the most pleasant, most obliging athletes to cover.

Thanks to Jennifer Jones. Give or take Jeff Stoughton, Dugie, Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters, she’s the best curler ever produced in Manitoba. I know all about the nasty Cathy Overton-Clapham business, but it’s one of those things people should have let go of years ago. I don’t understand why Jones hasn’t felt universal love from the rabble. She’s always struck me as a lovely young woman.

Thanks to the Canadian Football League. I was born and raised on the Prairies and weaned on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Zazu Pitts, Choo Choo Shepard, Kid Dynamite and Tricky Dick Thornton. So I care.

Thanks to the Bombers. See above.

Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. I no longer reside in Good Ol’ Hometown, but I know how long and harsh the winters can be. (I believe I still have some frost bite from the winter of 1998-99.) The Jets can’t change that, but they do provide locals with a delightful diversion while waiting for the deep freeze to disappear. And, for transplanted Peggers like myself in Canucks country, they’ve become a source of pride.

Thanks to newspapers. I can’t recall the last time I actually held some fish wrap in my wrinkled hands, because I get my daily dose of the rag trade on the Internet. I unfailingly call up the two River City sheets in the small hours each morning and (usually) enjoy the scribblings of the boys on the beats at both the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun. I don’t always agree with what’s written, how it’s written, or how it’s displayed, but I’m grateful that Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe, Jeff Hamilton, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell, Mike Sawatzky et al are there to detail the goings-on in the toy department.

Thanks to the Athletic. A digital sports section, it’s become a gathering place for some very good scribes who either chose, or were obliged, to leave mainstream jock journalism. That includes my favorite football writer, Kirk Penton. (If only they’d hire more people to join Kirk on the CFL beat.)

Thanks to the Republic of Tranna. Yes, I’m grateful for big, bad TO. The (so-called) 6ix unites us out here in the colonies. Oh, there are a few misguided dissidents who actually root, root, root for the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Argonauts, Raptors and Tranna FC, but mostly The ROT outfits provide us with a laugh track. And it’s always good to laugh.

Black-and-white proof that the Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup.

Thanks to the ROT media. Such an annoying mob. Always mentioning the Leafs and Stanley Cup in the same sentence. Totally delusional. But, again, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because they provide more fodder for rude and/or smug laughter. (I’ve actually seen les Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Four times, in fact. But I was 16 years old the last time they did it and I’m guessing I’ll be ashes in a urn before it happens again.)

Thanks to TSN and Sportsnet. Some of the natterbugs drive me bonkers, most notably the gab guys on TSN (yes, I’m looking at you Rod Black and Glen Suitor). Their slobbering over TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, is embarrassing and makes the viewing experience painful. But, hey, thanks also to the guy who invented the mute button on the remote, right? The point is, our two sports networks usually deliver the goods. If there’s something worth watching, chances are one of them is there.

Thanks to women in sports media. It’s a tough gig. Much tougher when you’re seen as nothing more than a Sideline Barbie. I’d like to see more female bylines and hear more female voices, but as long as the old boys’ network exists in print and on the air, it continues to be an agonizingly slow process.

Thanks to sports blogs and bloggers. Got something to get off your chest? No need to write a letter to the editor that gets slashed down to 100 words. Just create your own blog (guilty as charged). Or join a blog site like Arctic Ice Hockey, Winnipeg Hockey Talk, or HockeyBuzz. The writing on sports blogs is often more pointed and honest than what you’ll read in the mainstream.

And, finally, thanks to everyone who visits this silly blog. I’ll try to get better. I promise.

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.

About scribes and their quotes…Blackie going gaga over Johnny 0-Fer…CFL power rankings…no coaching in boxing and golf?…and other things on my mind

Another Monday morning and more weekend leftovers…

I don’t know about you, but I find the takes from jock journos covering the same event interesting and, often, humorous due to their conflicting content.

Consider, for example, the much-anticipated introduction of Kawhi Leonard to those who detail the goings-on of the Toronto Raptors. News snoops and opinionists in the Republic of Tranna waited 68 days to lend an ear to this reportedly reclusive man with the guarded thoughts and numerous National Basketball Association citations on his resumé, so there was considerable anticipation when he was trotted out as their main chew toy on media day last week.

And what did we learn about Leonard, who sat at a table with teammate Danny Green and Raptors bossman Masai Ujiri? Well, I’ll let the scribes tell it in their own words.

Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet: “In less than 30 seconds much of the myth around Leonard as the NBA’s icy Howard Hughes was put to rest. Leonard’s words struck exactly the right tone. He didn’t deflect, nor did he pretend, he stated the facts plainly and clearly.”

But wait…

Kawhi Leonard: A facial expression with Masai Ujiri and Danny Green.

Here’s Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “He said as little as possible, as quickly as possible, without facial expression, mostly looking down, without a whole lot of warmth. At Leonard’s introductory media availability he scored as the third-least interesting person at a desk of three people. Leonard was available because he had to be there and with no real hint of what next season will bring.”

But wait…

Here’s Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star: “Kawhi Leonard was finally unveiled as a Toronto Raptor on Monday. He smiled, did you see? He actually smiled. And that laugh! That creaking, awkward, charming laugh. On the other hand, sometimes he was expressionless, and Kawhi Leonard’s resting face mostly looks like that of a man contemplating the sea on the horizon, wondering whether he will ever escape this cursed island, or whether he is doomed. (He gave) reasonable answers to questions that can’t really be answered right now.”

But wait…

Kawhi Leonard, clearly smiling.

Here’s Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “The first words out of his mouth—“I’m a fun guy”—were said in such a dreary monotone that there were a few titters in the audience. Then people realized he was serious. Leonard’s affect was so wooden, verging on pained, that Green jumped in to say, apropos of nothing: “He’s having a good time up here.” Leonard stared at Green like he’d only just realized he was speaking English.”

So, to sum up: Kawhi Leonard is a wooden, dreary, emotionless, cold, uninteresting, reclusive man, except when he’s being a reasonable, charming, laughing, available good-time Charlie, and he says all the right things, except when he isn’t saying all the right things.

It’s like these four guys went to the same John Wayne western and couldn’t decide if he was the bad guy or the good guy (for the record, the Duke is always the good guy, even when he’s the bad guy).

Whatever the case, it should make for fun times on the hoops beat in The ROT this winter.

Most conflicting, yet accurate, comment following the Leonard presser was delivered by Simmons, who wrote: “In the big picture, the basketball picture, none of this means anything. Podium performances don’t win basketball games.” True that. So why crank out 1,000 words to crap all over Leonard if it all meant nothing?

Connor McDavid

Actually, Simmons seems to have a serious issue with athletes who don’t deliver what he considers boffo sound bites. Here’s what he wrote about Connor McDavid in late August: “He is all genius on the ice—and the best person on earth, as Sherry Bassin calls him—but a little tight and a touch uncomfortable when confronted by cameras and lights and microphones and anyone who wants to know his opinion of anything that is hockey. He is still just 21 years old, still a kid in many ways, still playing the part of the robotic, say-nothing hockey player. It’s a safe place to be. But really, wouldn’t you like to know what he thinks about his team and about anything else in hockey? He is bright and opinionated and thoughtful until the cameras come on.” For the record, jocks don’t owe news snoops a damn thing.

Rod Black

I can’t be certain, but I’m thinking old friend Rod Black had an orgasm while describing Johnny Manziel’s play Sunday afternoon in Montreal. He probably had a cigarette when it was all over. Seriously. I think Blackie out-Suitored Glen Suitor, heretofore the main groupie in TSN’s Cult of Johnny. More than once he excitedly referred to the Alouettes starting quarterback as “Johnny Canadian Football!” He informed us that this was Johnny Rotten’s “breakout!” game. Based on what? He made two extraordinary plays. In the entire match. Only nine of his 16 wobbly passes were caught. For a paltry 138 yards. There were eight starting QBs in the Canadian Football League this weekend: Seven of them completed more passes. For more yardage. And he’s still Johnny 0-Fer, meaning he’s yet to win in four starts (the guy he replaced, Antonio Pipkin, was 2-2). But because two of his completions went for TDs, it was all Johnny this and all Johnny that with Blackie. My ears wanted to get up and walk out of the room. It was awful and painful.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (11-2): Business as usual.
2. Saskatchewan (9-5): Big day for QB Zach Collaros.
3. Ottawa (8-5): One of the many Jekyll and Hyde teams.
4. Hamilton (7-7): No dumb coaching this time.
5. Winnipeg (7-7): Where’d that D come from?
6. Edmonton (7-7): Wrong time for a trip south.
7. B.C. (6-7): Really, really bad.
8. Toronto (3-10): Playing out the string now.
9. Montreal (3-11): Awful in both official languages.

I took five minutes to check out Alessia Cara on Google. Nice voice, nice singer, serious set of eyebrows. I’m sure the youngsters in the audience will enjoy her performance during recess time at the Grey Cup game next month.

Caddy Mark Fulcher coaching world No. 1 Justin Rose.

Stumbled upon this incredible exchange between a chap named Tim Monteith and Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star on Twitter:

Monteith: “Hey Damien what’s the reasoning behind no coaching in a tennis match? Just seems silly to me?”

Cox: “Individual sport. The challenge is being out there on your own without a coach. Like track. Like golf. Like boxing. Like swimming. Figure it out yourself.”

Is Cox for real? Boxers don’t get advice from their corners during a bout? Golfers never consult with their caddies about which club to use? About yardage? They never assist them in reading a putt?

In the words of John McEnroe: You cannot be serious!

Overheard this exchange during my once-a-week visit to my local watering hole:
Guy 1: “Everyone wants Tiger Woods to win one more tournament.”
Guy 2: “He’s as good as the older guy, what’s his name?”
Guy 1: “Arnold Palmer?”
Guy 2: “No, not a dead guy. An older guy.”

Yes, the National Hockey League should throw the book at Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals for his dangerous head shot on St. Louis Blues Oskar Sundqvist. Unfortunately, the NHL “book” on discipline is the size of a pamphlet.

And, finally, with the 2018-19 curling season nicely underway, you might want to check out Jason Bell’s piece in the Winnipeg Free Press on the revamped landscape in Manitoba. It’s good, informative stuff.