The River City Renegade


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About death by wedgie in the CFL…the Rodney Dangerfield Blue Bombers…diversity on the gridiron…nonsense on Sportsnet…boffo stuff from Ed Tait…dump the ump…hockey pride at Pride…and hot dogs for Phil Kessel

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

Randy Ambrosie wants to talk. That’s a good thing. I think.

Specifically, the Canadian Football League commissioner would welcome a fireside chat about division alignment and playoff structure, both of which are becoming hot-button issues due to a West-East competitive imbalance that borders on the sadistic.

I’m happy to have that conversation with everyone and I think we should have it,” the commish told Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

For those of you keeping score at home, West has met East 20 times during the current crusade. The tally is 17-2-1 in favor of the five outfits left of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary. One game finished 60-1.

That is not a typo. Do not adjust your monitors. It really was 60-1.

Seriously. This is death by wedgie.

Actually, West Division clubs aren’t simply giving their nerdy eastern foes a basic wedgie. They’re the high school senior pulling the freshman’s underpants up to his ears, sticking his head in a toilet bowl, flushing, then stuffing him into a locker. Oh, but first he steals his lunch money.

And yet, under the current structure, two of the eastern rag dolls will qualify for the playoffs in November. And be rewarded with home dates. Nice gig if you can get it.

Little wonder that Ambrosie says he’s “willing to have the conversation for sure.”

Wyman and others suggest the CFL scrap its antiquated West-East divisional arrangement. Lump all nine teams together, with the top six advancing to the Grey Cup tournament. Radical, yes. After all, geographic rivalry has been the heartbeat of the CFL since its inception, and getting some people to abandon tradition is like trying to pry Donald Trump’s thumbs off his Twitter account. You’ll need the jaws of life, baby.

I don’t think you have to sacrifice tradition, though. Just tweak the schedule. Reduce it to 16 games (18 is two too many) and either eliminate, or reduce by half, interlocking play. You know, just like in the good, ol’ days when West and East were separate entities. In other words, go back to the future.

Works for me. So, gentlemen, start your chins wagging.

I wondered when one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would play the Rodney Dangerfield no-respect card, and running back Andrew Harris delivered not long after he and his blue-and-gold clad pals had paddywhacked the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 39-12, on Saturday at Timbits Field in Hamilton. “I always think someone is out there slouching us and not giving us any respect.” Here’s the deal, Andrew: Beat someone other than one of the lame and halting outfits from the east and more people will climb on board.

Chad Owens and CFL commish Randy Ambrosie

The CFL broke out its Diversity is Strength T-shirts last weekend, and it occurs to me that it’s more than just a fresh marketing slogan. Among other things, the CFL has included a female general manager, Jo-Anne Polak with the Ottawa Rough Riders; another female, Catherine Raiche, is an assistant GM with the Montreal Alouettes; the Larks once had an openly gay man, Michael Sam, in their lineup; Ambrosie’s predecessor in the commish’s office, Jeffrey Orridge, is African-American; and a black man, Bernie Custis, was playing quarterback for Hamilton as far back as 1951. That’s diversity.

Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet writes this: “The MOP at the halfway point of the season is a kicker.” Say again? A punter/place kicker, Justin Medlock of the Bombers, is the most oustanding player in the CFL? Spare us the nonsense, Donnovan. Everyone knows that kickers aren’t football players (sorry Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood). Once upon a time kickers were, indeed, football players (hello Kid Dynamite James, Choo Choo Shepard, Spaghetti Legs Parker, Jack Abendschan, Don Jonas, etc.), but now they boot the football and go for a Slurpee. Your MOP right now is Mike Reilly.

Terrific read from Ed Tait on Winnipeg O-lineman Jermarcus (Yoshi) Hardrick, who look a long, hard road to the CFL. Tait’s piece is the type of feature you seldom read in either of River City’s two dailies, due largely to space and access restrictions, and it’s a reminder of what the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages lost when he defected to bluebombers.com. Anyone at the Drab Slab who thinks Tait is a hack (hello, Paul Wiecek) has totally lost the plot.

Let’s see now, umpire Joe West provides a harmless, fun anecdote about Adrian Beltre and he’s suspended for three days. So what will Major League Baseball do with Detroit Tigers second sacker Ian Kinsler? He dumped all over ump Angel Hernandez, telling the Detroit Free Press, “He needs to find another job, he really does. He’s messing with baseball games, blatantly. I’m just saying it’s pretty obvious that he has to stop ruining baseball games. Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore.” I’m guessing MLB will be making an ATM withdrawal from Kinsler’s account, at the least.

Nice to see Erik Gudbranson, Troy Stecher and Jake Virtanen of the Canucks get into the spirit at Vancouver’s Pride parade and hijinks. It takes some special kind of gonads for macho hockey players to put on a rainbow-colored skirt and lei.

Bravo to Phil Kessel. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward has posted a pic of himself and the Stanley Cup stuffed with BBQ’d hot dogs, in what was a direct shot at Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who’d written a blistering piece about Kessel after he’d been dealt away by the Toronto Maple Leafs two years ago. Among other things, Simmons called Kessel “poison” and he claimed that the winger pigged out daily at a certain downtown hot dog stand in the Republic of Tranna (proven to be false). So what did Simmons think of the Kessel burn? “One, I thought ‘Phil’s pretty funny. Good for Phil for making a joke about it.’” he said on TSN 1050’s Breakfast Club. “Two, ‘This is your day with the Cup. This is your day…you’ve worked this hard, you get this thing, you’re having a party, why be so small to reference something that really isn’t important in your life?’” Yo! Steve! “Small” is writing about a guy’s rumored eating habits and getting the rumored facts wrong. What Kessel did to you, meanwhile, is a classic burn. Try lightening up.

Which brings me to today’s list: Biggest hot dogs in sports…

1. Muhammad Ali: The former heavyweight boxing champion was many things, but he most definitely was a hot dog (in a fun way).
2. Reggie Jackson: Mr. October was also Mr. Swagger.
3. Terrell Owens: Popcorn anyone?
4. Deion Sanders: He once said, “They don’t pay nobody to be humble.” He’s living proof.
5. Johnny Manziel: There isn’t enough mustard in the world to cover this do-nothing hot dog.

Further evidence of the Torontofication of the Winnipeg Sun sports section: In Steve Simmons’ past two odds-and-ends, three-dot columns that appear weekly, he devoted 21 items to sports franchises or figures in the Republic of Tranna. That’s compared to zero (0) Winnipeg references. To repeat: Toronto 21, Winnipeg 0. So, again, I ask why is a Toronto-centric column appearing weekly in a River City sheet? Aren’t any of the local writers capable of stringing together a series of wide-ranging quotes, notes and anecdotes that include opinion snippets about Winnipeg’s sports scene? I mean, if I can do it from Victoria, surely someone with their feet on the ground in good Ol’ Hometown can do it.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About Paul Wiecek feeling the wrath of the rabble…the Toronto-ization of the Winnipeg Sun…missing Kirk Penton’s work…and talking heads dreaming of Genie

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

It occurs to me that a large portion of the rabble consider Paul Wiecek to be a complete doofus.

Matter of fact, Wiecek might have supplanted Paul Friesen as resident rabble-rouser among River City jock journalists, essentially because the Winnipeg Free Press columnist has the bad manners to critique the local sporting heroes.

It’s always about the dark clouds with Wiecek, isn’t it? Never the silver linings. He’s grand poobah of the Royal Order of Negative Nellies, right?

Except, here’s the deal: The greatest percentage of Wiecek’s scribblings focus on a hockey outfit that has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby five of six springs and has won exactly zero playoff matches, and a football team that has never failed to fail for more than a quarter century. The shinny side is coached by a smooth-talking man destined next winter to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history, and the gridiron gang is coached by a blood-and-guts guy who, four years in, has a 25-34 record and still makes the boneheaded decisions of a Canadian Football League fledgling on training wheels.

And what? You expect glad tidings from Wiecek?

Look, when Mike O’Shea continues to cough up hair balls and then tells you that the cow did, in fact, jump over the moon and the dish really did run away with the spoon, you don’t look the other way and pretend it’s like a tree that falls in the forest. You call him on it. Which is what Wiecek does. Repeatedly. Because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach repeatedly trips over his own feet and tells fairy tales.

The most recent example of Wiecek’s slicing and dicing was delivered in the wake of a ghastly blunder by O’Shea in the Bombers’ 45-42 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night in Vancouver. At the most inopportune time, Coach D’oh thought it a swell idea to give his kicker, Justin Medlock, the green light to hurl a pass instead of punting the football, a gob-smacking decision that Wiecek described as “a monumentally stupid play call.” I thought he was being kind.

Paul Wiecek

But what’s the first reader comment under the article?

Give it a rest Wiecek.”

Others showed Wiecek some love. This time. In general, the fangirlz and boyz who live in a rose-colored tea room usually skewer him when he pokes and prods their sacred cows in cleats or on skates. He’s “bitter” and “garbage” and “stupid” and “a pillar of negativity” and “anti-Jets” and “sour grapes” and “meaningless” and “Jekyll and Hyde” and he should “just go write for the National Enquirer.”

Look, I don’t always agree with what Wiecek writes. I thought he was terribly unfair in his commentary about Jacob Trouba when the young Winnipeg Jets defenceman went AWOL during the club’s training camp last autumn and bailed on the first month of the season. The criticism seemed creepily personal, which is never a good thing. He appears to harbour a peculiar mania for the matter of pro sports franchises limiting access to mainstream media and, instead, delivering their propaganda via in-house flacks, a number of whom have fled the falling house of cards that is the rag trade for the security of a gig with an NHL or CFL club (hello Ed Tait, Tim Campbell and Gary Lawless, all late of the Freep). And describing talented scribes like Tait and George Johnson as “hacks” because they went to the other side was hopelessly ignorant.

Wade Miller

Overall, though, Wiecek does solid work and, should the mood and need strike, he’s not shy about tossing scud missiles in the direction of movers and shakers in ivory towers, like Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Bombers CEO Wade Miller, who seems to have built himself a nice, little fiefdom in the club’s bunker at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

More than once, Chipman and Miller have declined interview requests from Wiecek, which, of course, only makes them come across as petty little men and tells me he’s doing his job.

I like his work (mostly) and I doubt the slings and arrows from the rabble cause him a moment of shuteye at night, nor do I think they have any influence on the way he goes about his business. If the Jets and Bombers insist on stinking, he has no choice but to say they stink.

It’s a shame what the Postmedia chain has done to Winnipeg Sun sports. I swear there are days when I’m convinced I’m reading the Toronto Sun, because there’s more Republic of Tranna tripe than local content. This morning, for example, I called up the Sun and there were six articles on the Toronto Blue Jays, two on Toronto FC, and one on the Toronto Raptors on the sports front. Meanwhile, I thought Paul Friesen was the main sports columnist, but apparently he’s not. It seems to be the Tranna-centric, Argonauts tub-thumping Steve Simmons, whose shtick is crapping on everyone and everything including Winnipeg. It’s not just a shame, it’s a sham.

I used to enjoy the weekly CFL Blitz feature in the Sun. Kirk Penton did a boffo job. The article was full of anecdotal insight, insider tidbits and biting, caustic commentary from coaches and executives across the land. Alas, Kirk has decided to give another side of life a try and, since his departure, CFL Blitz has basically become a collection of items that induce yawns.

Much fawning on display in the Republic of Tranna on Tuesday, with struggling tennis player Genie Bouchard in the 416 for some face time with the talking heads on The Fan 590 and Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid. Genie, of course, has more glam than game, which no doubt explains why Elliotte Friedman was swooning. I thought he was actually going to ask her for a date. Tim and Sid were captivated by Her Long-Leggedness, as well, and spent precious little time talking about Genie’s tennis, which is not good. She’s been a first-round loser in eight of 11 events since leaving Australia, she’s beaten just two world top-20 players, and her season record is 11-14. But, hey, she has cover girl good looks, so why let the facts get in the way of all that long, blonde hair and those smoky eyes?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About the greatest of them all Roger Federer…an emotional breakdown at Wimbledon…the still great Venus Williams…British knickers in a knot…a $1 million gaffe…and Sportsnet ignoring the CFL

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

I never thought I’d see a better running back than Jim Brown. I haven’t (although Gayle Sayers was absolutely breathtaking).

I never thought I’d see a better pitcher than Sandy Koufax. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better baseball player than Willie Mays. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better boxer than Muhammad Ali in his prime. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better race horse than Secretariat. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better hockey player than Bobby Orr. I haven’t.

I never thought I’d see a better tennis player than Bjorn Borg. I have. Roger Federer.

Roger Federer

Of all the athletes I have witnessed in my 66 1/2-year (so far) lifetime, Federer just might be the pinnacle. It’s a tough call, but he’s definitely in the discussion.

What I find most intriguing about Federer, who won his eighth Wimbledon singles title Sunday morning by dismantling a distraught Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on the lumpy lawn of the All England Club’s Centre Court, is his casual greatness. He plays tennis with a Zen-like calm that suggests the game is more of a stroll than a struggle. While his foes fret and fuss, it’s like Federer’s lounging in a recliner. He makes it look so…dang…easy. I mean, why does the Swiss maestro bother with a towel, on or off court? It can’t be to wipe away sweat. He sweats like the Pope swears.

Federer has been the dominant force in what must be cataloged as the platinum age of men’s tennis, with only health managing to slow him down. Temporarily.

He disappeared to the repair shop immediately after the 2016 Wimbledon fortnight and re-emerged six months later to earn the Australian Open title, with a five-set victory over nemesis Rafael Nadal, long Federer’s Kryptonite. He’s won five of the seven tournaments he’s entered this year, and he’s 2-for-2 in Grand Slam events.

Federer did, of course, skip the French Open in late May/early June, a decision he might regret should he carry on to triumph at the U.S. Open. That, mind you, is not to say Federer can’t get the job done on clay. He’s won on every surface but the moon. Still, success in Paris this year (or any year) was extremely unlikely, because Roland Garros is a Rafa Nadal thing. Ten times a Rafa Nadal thing. Jesus in sneakers couldn’t beat an on-form Nadal in Paris. Thus, Federer passed on Paris and prepped for Wimbledon. The results are in. Good call.

So, who or what can beat and stop Federer? Age. Eventually. There’ll be 36 candles on his birthday cake next month, and the aging process has to kick in one of these years.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy this seemingly ageless athlete who’s one for the ages.

Marin Cilic

How do you spell both the men’s and ladies’ singles championship matches at Wimbledon? D-U-D-S. After a final week of superb play—the Rafa Nadal-Gilles Muller fifth set was spellbinding—the lasting image of the ultimate matches is not one of terrific shot-making but that of Marin Cilic being reduced to an emotional train wreck during a side changeover vs. Federer. That was wince-inducing and very painful to watch. Been there, done that on the field of play, which is why I wanted to cry right along with him.

What’s that you say? Women’s tennis is lacking star power? Well, yes it is, with Serena Williams becoming a mama and Maria Sharapova trying to figure out how to play without the aid of banned substances. But there’s hope. The two most recent Grand Slam champions are French Open queen Jelena Ostapenko, just 21 and a powder keg of charisma and talent, and Garbine Muguruza, the 23-year-old Venezuelan-born Spaniard who paddywhacked five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the ladies’ final. Muguruza is the only woman to beat both of the Williams sisters in a Grand Slam final.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia just can’t seem to get out of his own way. After Muguruza had mopped Centre Court with Venus Williams on Saturday, he wrote: “Williams was a dominant player in 2000 and 2001 when she won the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Since then, a good player, just not a great one.” Really. I’m uncertain how Simmons measures greatness in athletes, but Williams won Wimbledon in 2005, 2007 and 2008, and only four women—her sister Serena, Justine Henin, Sharapova and Kim Clijsters—have won more Grand Slams post-2001. Venus also has won 10 doubles Grand Slams post-2001. Venus Williams has been a great, not just good, player and champion for two decades.

Tsk, tsk. Venus Williams was in the pink at Wimbledon.

Nobody does pomp better than the British, but nobody gets bent out of shape like the British, either. I mean, tsk-tsking Venus Williams because she’s wearing a pink bra? Ordering players to the changing room to put on white skivvies? Talk about getting your knickers in a knot over nothing.

Okay, enough about Wimbledon. It’s about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I’m sorry, but I simply didn’t understand all the teeth-gnashing and angst after the Bombers came out of the chute at 1-1. How bad was it? Bad enough that those two pesky Grumpets at the Winnipeg Free Press actually had a chin-wag during which sports editor Steve Lyons asked columnist Paul Wiecek if Thursday night’s assignment against the Toronto Argonauts was a “must win.” Are you kidding me? A “must win” three games into the Canadian Football League season? Come on, man. Don’t talk to us about must wins until the frost is on the pumpkin.

A drophead in the Freep described the Bombers-Argos joust as an “epic battle.” Ya, 10 field goals, that’s epic. The Argos failed to score an offensive touchdown. That’s epic like I’m Shania Twain. Come on, man.

Only one thing about that game was epic—the officiating blunder that jobbed Karen Kuldys out of $1 million. For those who missed it, Karen was the Safeway/Sobeys Touchdown to Win contestant, meaning if two kickoff returns went the distance she’d win a million Canadian bucks. Well, Ryan Lankford of the Bombers takes the opening kickoff to the house, then Martese Jackson of the Boatmen skedaddles 109 yards for a TD. But wait. There’s a flag on the play. One of the zebras has observed Toronto’s Llevi Noel ambushing Mike Miller from behind, whereas in fact the Bombers special-teamer has tripped over his own shoelace. No touchdown. No million Canadian bucks for Karen. The good news is, all Touchdown to Win contestants are now allowed one challenge flag per half.

So which head coach gets punted first, Chris Jones of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Kent Austin of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? The smart money has to be on Austin, whose Tabbies are winless. Somehow I don’t think there’ll be a whole lot of tears shed when he’s shown the door.

Two games in the CFL on Friday night and not a mention of either on the front page of the Sportsnet website at 2 o’clock Saturday morning. And this is the gang that trumpets itself as Canada’s #1 Sports Network. They had headlines about Kevin Klein signing to play hockey in Switzerland, some guy named Nikita Gusev signing to play hockey in Russia, and a piece on a Honda Indy practice, but nary a whisper about the CFL. I returned for a looksee at 4:30 a.m. Still nada. There was no mention of Wimbledon either. That, like dissing Venus Williams, is totally lame.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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Winnipeg Jets: No more excuses for head coach Paul Maurice

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Well, now that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and once-inert general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have addressed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ specific wants and needs, guess where the focus shifts? That’s right, Mr. .500 standing behind the bench. It’s squarely on you.

Paul Maurice

You know that annoying laundry list of excuses that you made a habit of trotting out during the Jets’ latest crusade that ended, once again, without a playoff whisker sprouting from your players’ chinny, chin-chins? Sorry, but whinging about the schedule, injuries, youth and the price of petrol won’t cut it anymore. Probably not even with mainstream news snoops, a number of whom actually bought your bunk.

Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.

You’ve got your goaltender and, even though I don’t expect Steve Mason to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, I’m guessing (hoping?) that he and the work in progress known as Connor Hellebuyck won’t be the second coming of Pokey and the Bandit either.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pokey and the Bandit, Coach Potty-Mo. Two interesting, young dudes from the back half of the 1980s. One, Daniel Berthiaume, was mostly a cheery sort and the other, Eldon (Pokey) Reddick, had a tendency toward the sullen, with gusts up to sourpuss. Together, they combined to provide Winnipeg Jets 1.0 with the sort of goaltending that will cost a National Hockey League coach his job. Matter of fact, two head coaches and one GM drew pink slips during their tour of duty in the blue ice.

So, no Coach Potty-Mo, you don’t want your tandem of Mason-Hellebuyck to be Pokey and the Bandit II.

But, again, even if they bottom out, it’s going to be on you and your system(s).

Meanwhile, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy added one-vowel-short-of-a-full-load Dmitry Kulikov to shore up the left side of your blueline brigade. They’re telling you he’s an upgrade on Mark Stuart. You might not agree, given your fascination with greybeards of sketchy skill, but a left flank of Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Kulikov sounds better to me than Morrissey-Enstrom-Stuart.

On the down side, Coach Potty-Mo, they took away your favorite play thing, Chris Thorburn. I’m not convinced that means you’ll be less of a street busker with your forward combinations—your juggling Thorbs from fourth to first line and the two slots in between truly was annoying—because you’re apt to adopt a new teacher’s pet to infuriate the faithful.

You have your way of doings things, curious as they are, Mr. .500. They’ve seldom worked, but now they must work. If there are no meaningful matches being contested at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next April, you’re the fall guy.

Still no contract extension for Maurice, whose lifeline has been reduced to one more season as the ice-level puppet master. Not that I think he deserves a new deal, but Cheveldayoff repeatedly insists that he and his head coach are joined at the hip. So what’s the hangup? Could it be that the Puck Pontiff has grown iffy about Coach Potty-Mo? Naw. He won’t let Maurice go into the season as a lame duck. I say it gets done this month.

Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer celebrate the iconic goal.

I get a chuckle out of young people who weren’t even an embryo in 1972 telling those of us who were there that their goal in 2010 was more iconic than our goal. Our goal, of course, is Paul Henderson sliding a shot under Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, in a hostile, corrupt environment a world away to win a signature, culture-shifting series that was as much about politics as pucks. Their goal is Sidney Crosby whipping a shot through Ryan Miller’s legs to win an Olympic gold medal against a southern neighbor in front of friends and family in the cozy confines of our own back yard. Only someone who lived both can compare both, and there is no comparison. Yet Emily Sadler of Sportsnet submits that Crosby’s 2010 golden goal is the most iconic moment in Canadian sports history. I submit that Emily is showing her age.

Among other things, Sadler allows that the Crosby goal has earned “Where were you when…” status. I’ve got news for her. I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing when the red light behind Miller flashed. But I do know that I was sitting in my living room on Wayoata Street in Transcona, with my young son Tony on my lap, when Foster Hewitt yelped, “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I get the drill. The Sadler piece was meant to stir conversation and debate, which it no doubt did. But, geez, someone at Sportnet might have clued in and had a writer who was at least knee high to Yvan Cournoyer in ’72 scribble that story. A 30something simply cannot relate to the Cold War intrigue of the times, any more than they can provide a first-hand account of what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived on our shores. Heck, most of them don’t even know who John, Paul, George and Ringo are.

How intense was the eight-game, us-vs.-them ’72 series between our guys and the Soviet Union? Here’s what Team Canada leader Phil Esposito offered years after the fact: “I’ve said this publicly and I’m not too proud of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have killed those sons of bitches to win. And it scares me.” Can you imagine Crosby saying that about the Americans? After losing the opening skirmish, 7-3, head coach Harry Sinden detected a shift in attitude among the Canadian players. “They switched to a war mentality,” he said. “They understood the politics at play, the Cold War backdrop. Imagine a team playing the Germans in the middle of World War II—that’s what it was like.”

Moving to present-day topics, I note that a group of 40 guys in Buffalo have set a new world record for marathon shinny by playing an 11-day hockey game. Yes, 11 days. By happy coincidence, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane has now gone 11 days without being in trouble with the law.

Just wondering: Would you want a field goal kicker who’s last name begins with the letters C-R-A-P? That’s what the Saskatchewan Roughriders have in Tyler Crapigna, whose wonky right leg has failed Gang Green twice when they needed it most. The Riders are already 0-2 on a new Canadian Football League season, leaving us to wonder what the before/after is on head coach Chris Jones being asked to leave that swanky, new building on the bald Saskatchewan prairie? I say he’s gone by Labour Day, especially if he doesn’t find a leg that aims straight.

Theoren Fleury

For those of you puzzled because Theoren Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here’s the reason in his own words (from his book, Playing with Fire, in which he details his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing, his heavy gambling and his bar brawling): “The whole league reacted to my leaving the way you would feel after having a big, happy dump. There were a lot of guys like me in the game, but they didn’t want anyone to know that. My presence kept the bad news on the front of the sports pages. Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock, and I was really fucking with that image.”

Here’s proof that sports scribes carry no influence on the public: Steve Simmons of Postmedia pleaded with his readers to support the Toronto Argonauts prior to their home-opener vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats, writing: “Please, pretty please, pretty, pretty please, buy a ticket and take in the game against Hamilton.” Let’s ignore the deeper issue, that being a prominent Canadian columnist serving as a screaming shill for the Argos and the CFL. I’m actually okay with that because, like Simmons and most others who have covered three-down football, I love the CFL. As for Simmons’ sway with readers, the head count was only 13,583 for the opener and even less, 11,219, for their encore performance against the B.C. Lions. He has more than five times that many followers on Twitter.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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My Two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s addition by subtraction

Well, look who’s dropped in for an unexpected chit-chat about all things Winnipeg Jets. That’s right, it’s the Two Hens in the Hockey House, who, when last seen, were breaking away to enjoy summer. Turns out they delayed their good, ol’ summertime frolic to discuss the most recent goings-on with their fave National Hockey League outfit and its general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: What gives, girlfriend? I thought we were going to give our jaws a rest until October. What happened to a summer sans chit-chat about the Jets?

Answer Lady: Kevin Cheveldayoff happened, that’s what.

Question Lady: How so?

Answer Lady: Well, once they put the NHL entry draft to bed, I was convinced he’d become Rip Van Chevy and snooze the summer away, like he always does. Remember? Way back in April, I predicted this would be Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing. So what does the guy do? Instead of heading to the cottage to dip his fishing line into the lake, he dips his toes into the free-agent pool. He goes all GM on us. Go figure.

Question Lady: So, what are you telling me, that you were wrong?

Answer Lady: Yes, I was wro…I was wro…geez, I’m like the Fonz on Happy Days. I can’t say the word wro…oh, pooh. I was mistaken about Chevy. This time. Every other time I was unmistaken.

Question Lady: Actually, you weren’t wrong, girlfriend. You predicted that Chevy would be active once the free-agent bell rang. You said he’d sign at least one player. Remember which player?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, Chris Thorburn. D’oh! Can you believe the St. Louis Blues actually reeled that sluggo in for two years, at 900K per? Were they not paying attention? Thorbs is a five-minutes-a-night forward with zero upside.

Question Lady: Aren’t they buying his bare knuckles? You know, to replace Ryan Reaves? One goon for another?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, like that’s going to fly with the faithful in St. Loo. Thorbs is a fighter like I’m Jennifer Aniston’s stand-in. He drops his gloves and holds on like barnacles clinging to the hull of a rusty, old ship. He had what, 13 scraps last season? And threw maybe four punches. By the way, they don’t call players like Reaves and Thorbs goons anymore. They’re energy enforcers, don’t you know.

Chris Thorburn

Question Lady: I’ll try to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, won’t Thorbs be missed?

Answer Lady: Ya, like a yeast infection. Thorbs and Anthony Peluso have long been my measuring sticks for the Jets’ progress. I said in June 2015 that the presence of either in the lineup served as a retardant to the development of the young players, and only when Thorbs and Joe Palooka were told to vamoose would we see actual progress. They’re both gone—hallelujah!—so I guess it’s game on.

Question Lady: Is Steve Mason going to be the answer in goal next season?

Answer Lady: I’d feel a whole lot better about Mason if he wasn’t coming over from Philadelphia. I mean, the Flyers know goaltending like Gary Bettman knows the North End of Winnipeg. They haven’t had anyone who could stop a sniffle since Ron Hextall was acting like a one-man SWAT team in the 1980s. Talk about a guy off his nut. And now Ronnie Axe-tall is the Flyers GM. Who’d have thunk that?

Question Lady: Shouldn’t we be concerned that if Hextall has no use for Mason, Cheveldayoff could have done better than a recycled Philly Flyer?

Answer Lady: I’m going to cut Chevy some slack here. Yes, he’s goalie blind. As goalie blind as the Flyers. And it’s of his own doing that he found himself sifting through the dregs of the goaltenders who became available in the past 2½ months. But…at least he did something. Finally. Even a Philly Flyers reject has to be better than what Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson delivered last season.

Question Lady: You don’t think Hellebuyck is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Is Homer Simpson the poster boy for good parenting? Does the Pope skip mass? If Hellebuyck played in New Jersey or Columbus or San Jose, no one in Jets Nation would be talking about him. I mean, it’s not like everyone in the NHL is saying, “Geez, if we could pry that Hellebuyck guy out of Winnipeg we’d be a shoo-in to win the Stanley Cup.” I think Hellebuyck will be an upgrade on Hutchinson as a backup. That’s as half full as I can make that glass.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: What do you know about the defenceman Chevy reeled in, Dmitry Kulikov?

Answer Lady: I know he’s a Russian, he shoots left, he spent an awful lot of time in the repair shop last season, he’s buddies with Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele, he’s overpaid, and he could use one more vowel in his first name.

Question Lady: That’s it? That’s all you have to say about him?

Answer Lady: What else is there to say? The guy was a bust in Buffalo, but the Jets believe he’ll be boffo paired with Buff. Now stop me before I OD on alliteration.

Question Lady: So are you giving Chevy a passing grade for his off-season tinkering?

Answer Lady: Mostly, it’s been addition by subtraction. Gone are Thorbs, Peluso, Ondrej Pavelec, Mark Stuart, Paul Postma…that’s all good. Meanwhile, the Jets are better with a Mason-Hellebuyck combo than Hellebuyck-Hutchinson and, if buy-a-vowel Dmitry works out, the blueline is improved. But Chevy gagged at the expansion/entry drafts by dropping 11 slots in the first round just to protect fringe players on a non-playoff roster. And, he still hasn’t dealt with the elephant in the room—Jacob Trouba’s desire to get out of Dodge. Getting Trouba’s signature on a long-term contract ought to be priority No. 1. Overall, I’d give Chevy a passing grade C, for getting the goalie and for what he unloaded. He’s probably earned a week or two of down time at the cottage.

Question Lady: Before we go, what did you think of the TSN and Sportsnet coverage on free-agent day?

Answer Lady: I mostly watched TSN and their talking heads did boffo business, although I cringe every time I see Aaron Ward. Still can’t get past that domestic violence issue. As for Sportsnet, was it bad-hair day on the panel, or what? I mean, what’s up with the mops on Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos? Friedman looked like he had half a head and Kypreos looked like he had his hair cut at Coif du John Deere. I swear, he must have laid down on the lawn and let someone run over his head with a riding mower. And the glare from John Shannon’s coke-bottle glasses blinded me. I’m still seeing double. Other than that, it was all good. Both groups were on their games.

Question Lady: Okay, that’s it. Time to do summer. See you in October.

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. Have fun and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 


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About bad behaviour in sports…straight guys talking about gay things…sports scribes eating their own…the unlovable Blue Jays…clay-court tennis…and cole slaw on a hamburger?

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

It’s been an interesting and odd past couple of weeks in the sandbox. Let’s recap:

  • Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays was shut down for two Major League Baseball games and instructed to do some serious soul searching after directing a homophobic nasty toward Atlanta Braves pitcher Jason Motte.
  • The National Hockey League lightened Ryan Getzlaf’s pay envelope to the tune of $10,000 after the Anaheim Ducks captain went all potty-mouth and homophobic in a playoff match.
  • Four heterosexual men who, to the best of my knowledge, have not spent a single day of their lives as gay men, gathered around a table in a TSN studio and discussed gay issues as if they harbored special insight into what words do and don’t offend gay people.
  • Tiger Woods

    Tiger Woods, much like his golf game, was discovered asleep at the wheel and hauled off to a Florida hoosegow on a DUI charge. Tiger’s mug shot was rather ghastly but, hey, who looks good in the small hours of the morning when they’re hopped up on every pill known to man?

  • Terry Frei, award-winning sports columnist with the Denver Post, was told to leave the building and not return after a tweet in which he expressed his discomfort with a Japanese man, Takuma Sato, winning the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day in the United States. Frei later said we’re free to call him an idiot for his idiotic and racist remark, but he asks that we don’t call him a racist for his idiotic and racist remark.
  • Tennis legend Margaret Court has gone completely off her nut. She described the women’s tour as a lesbian-infested enterprise in which senior players groom vulnerable youngsters to adopt a lesbian lifestyle; she bemoaned the birth of Casey Dellacqua’s second child because she’ll be raised by two mamas and no papas; she insisted that transgender kids are the work of the devil; she compared a phantom LGBT lobby to Adolph Hitler and communism; she accused that same phantom gay lobby as the force behind a move to have her name scrubbed from one of the venues used for the Australian Open. (What is it with old tennis farts? It wasn’t so long ago when Romanian pig Ilie Nastase went off his nut with racist remarks about Serena Williams’ unborn baby—“Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?” and he made sexist comments about Britain’s top female player Johanna Konta, calling her a “bitch” and asking for her hotel room number.)
  • French tennis player Maxime Hamou, perhaps in an attempt to disprove Court’s theory that everyone in tennis is gay, was kicked out of Roland Garros for forcibly and repeatedly kissing Eurosport reporter Maly Thomas during a live TV interview.

I think that pretty much sums up the seedy side of sports in recent days, and I think we can agree that there’s been a whole lot of ugly going on.

The worst optic for me was the TSN panel on The Reporters with Dave Hodge. I mean, when I think of poor casting, Johnny Depp as Tonto comes to mind. Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. John Wayne as Genghis Khan. Ashton Kutcher as anybody. All bad, bad, bad, bad. But four heterosexual sports guys talking about gay things? The worst.

Heterosexual male sports scribes should be discussing gay issues only if they are gay, if they have spent considerable time in the LGBT community, if they offer a named gay source as a point of reference, if they have felt the sting of a homophobic barb, or if they have had to fight society for the right to marry the partner of their choice.

I doubt Hodge, Michael Farber, Steve Simmons or Dave Feschuk qualify on any count.

Farber suggested the way the Blue Jays and MLB handled the Pillar situation was “admirable.” Well, I’m sure it was to him. But he isn’t gay. Perhaps a gay sports writer might think the punishment for calling an opponent a “faggot” was too namby-pamby.

Trouble is, there are no gay sports scribes in Canada. At least not in the mainstream. If you’re talking about a jock journo at big city daily rags in the True North, there’s a 99.9 per cent probability that he’s a he, he’s white and he’s a confirmed heterosexual. The other 0.1 per cent is female. And probably straight.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet represents the 99.9 per cent, and he recently wondered why the NHL cannot hear a homophobic slur “the way a gay man would hear the word.” Well duh. It’s because the people who occupy the ivory tower in the NHL are not gay.

Spector’s piece is thoughtful (he actually solicited gay insight from Brock McGillis, a former Ontario Hockey League goaltender who came out post-career) and he asks this question: “Why have the other sports experienced players come out, but not the National Hockey League? Or Canadian Major Junior Hockey?” Spector might pose the same query about his own business. I started in the rag trade in 1969. I worked with gay entertainment writers, gays on news side, gay librarians, gay department heads, but never once a gay male jock journo. You’d think that in the ensuing 48 years there’d have been at least one gay guy scribbling about sports at one of the big-city, mainstream dailies. But no. There have been more sightings of Sasquatch. Why no openly gay sports scribes? Probably the same reason there are no openly gay hockey players—they fear ridicule and don’t want to be thought of as a weaker-than or a lesser-than.

Hey, look who’s back! It’s the two Grumpets, Steve Lyons and Paul Wiecek. They’ve reappeared on the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages, and they did the unthinkable with their return volley: They ate their own. Actually, it was Wiecek who called out Cathal Kelly in a discussion about Tiger Woods’ arrest on a DUI charge. “The normally staid Globe and Mail had a hyperventilating column by Cathal Kelly up on their site already by Monday afternoon, which made the paper and Kelly—who is usually excellent—looking very stupid.” Yowzers. I can’t recall the last time I read one sports scribe dissing one of the brethren like that, but I think JFK was still alive.

Got a kick out of good guy Doug Smith’s blog in the Toronto Star. “How can you not hope for the best for a team that’s lost so many vital components already and still manages to soldier on?” Smith asks of the beleaguered Blue Jays. Well, Doug, I’ll give you two names to explain why I cannot root, root, root for the Tranna Nine: Jose and Bautista. He is the most tedious, tiresome man in professional sports.

While watching a McDonald’s commercial during the terrific five-setter between our top tennis guy Milos Raonic and Pablo Carreno Busta at Roland Garros on Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but wonder: Who thought it would be a good idea to put coleslaw on a hamburger? I’m not lovin’ it.

I do love clay-court tennis and its long rallies, though, which might explain why the French Open is my preferred Grand Slam event and my two main men of all time are Bjorn Borg and Rafa Nadal. The Raonic-Carreno Busta match was terrific theatre, with the Spaniard enduring 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 8-6.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.