About the absence of a women’s game for Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead…nobody does it better than Ron MacLean…the Great Wall of Oil…the NHL salary cap hell…Espo didn’t ‘move his feet’…a QB in Lotus Land…a menage-a-gridiron in the CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I don’t see my name on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, so I guess I’m not going anywhere…

How can you tell that Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead is a big deal?

Because it isn’t every weekend that Sportsnet dispatches octogenarian gasbag Donald S. Cherry and his setup man, punster Ron MacLean, to the frigid flatlands.

Normally, of course, the Yin and Yang of Saturday shinny are confined to quarters, which is to say they’re tucked away in a cozy, modest Hockey Night in Canada studio in the Republic of Tranna, far removed from the frost-bitten colonies.

But there they were Saturday on location in Speedy Creek, which, according to the tiny town’s tourism spin meisters, is “where life makes sense.”

It certainly made sense that Saskatchewan and, specifically, Speedy Creek would serve as the centrepiece for Hockey Day, because it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than pucks, prairie and a wind chill reading of minus-30.

Speedy Creek is Prairie-speak for the wonderfully named Swift Current, a welcoming, convenient stopping-off point just a hop, skip and a slapshot west of Pile O’ Bones (that’s Prairie-speak for Regina) and east of the wonderfully named Medicine Hat. It has been the breeding ground for numerous National Hockey League luminaries, such as Patrick Marleau, Adam Lowry, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, Joe Sakic, Terry Ruskowski, Sheldon Kennedy, Geoff Sanderson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz.

Don and Ron

So, ya, it was a great fit and Hockey Day seemingly had it all, including the on-site star power of Don and Ron, Canadian television’s longest-running bromance since Wayne and Shuster.

There was, however, one notable exception—the package did not include our best women in action. And that made no sense on a show from a town “where life makes sense.”

Oh, sure, there were numerous references and interviews about the distaff side of our great game during the 12-hours marathon on CBC and Sportsnet, and they parachuted Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall into Speedy Creek for some glad-handing and chin-wagging during the four-day festival. But that carried the waft of forced tokenism and nothing more.

Hockey Day is supposed to be our annual celebration of all things puck, and the women’s game is supposed to be a happening “thing,” especially given the upbeat chatter since Kendall Coyne Schofield’s jaw-dropping skedaddle a fortnight ago at the NHL all-star showcase. So how could they leave the Canadian Women’s Hockey League out in the cold, figuratively if not literally?

It was a glaring, inexcusable omission. Kind of like organizers of the Grammy Awards telling female singers they’re welcome to attend the show but they can’t perform. Stay in your lane, ladies.

I don’t know what, if any, obstacles prevented Sportsnet from including the Tranna Furies-Montreal Canadiennes afternoon skirmish, but I do know they should have moved mountains to get that game on air.

Dick Irvin

That snub aside, Hockey Day delivered some truly wonderful, Kleenex-worthy stories, and it reminded us how good Ron MacLean is. I’m quite uncertain how he isn’t anointed our country’s top broadcaster every year, because nobody does it better. Not even James Duthie. It was also nice to hear the legendary Dick Irvin’s voice. I’ll go to my urn convinced that Irvin and Danny Gallivan were the best hockey broadcasting tandem ever.

Tough viewing choice for the afternoon game, Habs vs. Leafs or Connor McDavid flying solo vs. the San Jose Sharks. I started with McDavid, but quickly switched to Montreal-Toronto because the Edmonton Oilers are a total fire drill.

The Great Wall of China has been a work in progress for more than 2,000 years, only a week or two longer than the Oilers rebuild.

There’s nothing wrong with the Oil that someone like David Poile or the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff couldn’t cure. Trouble is, Poile already has a job. Ditto les Jets bird dogs. So the Oilers are stuck with Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky. Good luck with that.

With so many NHL outfits about to enter salary cap hell, I’m inclined to suggest they ought to scrap the thing. I mean, why should a club like les Jets be penalized just because they have better talent snoops than most? Alas, there’d be no franchise in Good Ol’ Hometown without a salary ceiling, so it stays.

Eugene Melnyk

Bytown Senators bankroll Eugene Melnyk vows to spend close to the cap between 2021 and ’25. Until then, he’ll continue to squeeze nickels, tell fibs and order his players to stay away from Uber.

Anyone still believe there’s a goaltending controversy with Winnipeg HC? Didn’t think so. After watching Laurent Brossoit give the royal wave at pucks with his left hand in les Jets’ 5-2 loss to the bottom-feeding Senators in Bytown, I’m convinced he has a hole in his catching mitt. Apparently the Senators are, too.

There’s no danger of les Jets missing the Stanley Cup runoff, but there is a danger of them failing to secure home-ice advantage. And I don’t see them going the distance without an extra game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in every playoff series.

Mike McIntyre and the Drab Slab’s obsession with Patrik Laine continues without any signs of a retreat. In the past two weeks, Mike M. and Jason Bell have combined to scribble seven stories on the Jets bewitched, bothered and bewildered winger, none of which told us anything we don’t already know. Yo! Boys! It’s no longer news that Puck Finn isn’t scoring. It’s only news the next time he makes the red light flash.

Mike M. described Puck Finn’s playmaking skills vs. the Senators as “impressive.” I must have nodded off when that happened. I mean, other than a nifty pass to set up Bryan Little for a score, Laine handled the biscuit like it had cooties.

Puck Finn

Some deep, penetrating analysis (not!) on Laine’s struggles from Donald S. Cherry and Mike Johnson. The Lord of Loud used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday to tell us this: “Somebody better give Laine a smack. This is his contract year. Get going kid! I know ya got 25 goals, but he’s done nothing. Give him a smack.” Earlier in the week, TSN’s Johnson advised us that Puck Finn has to start “moving his feet.” Oh, please. “Moving his feet” has become the worst cliché since “our backs are against the wall.” Phil Esposito scored 76 goals one season without moving his feet. Difference is, Espo was willing to go into the dirty area in front of the net and gobble up Bobby Orr’s leftovers. Laine, meanwhile, plays on the periphery and Dustin Byfuglien is no Bobby Orr.

Alexander Ovechkin is now the highest-scoring Russian in NHL history with 1,182 points, which works out to a 1.119 per-game average for the Washington Capitals captain. Coincidentally, 1.119 was also Ovie’s blood-alcohol reading during his summer-long Stanley Cup celebration.

Mike Reilly

I don’t know if Mike Reilly is an adventurous guy, but if he’s looking for a challenge—and if he doesn’t mind playing in front of empty seats—he’ll sign with the Tranna Argonauts when the Canadian Football League livestock auction begins on Tuesday. But word from the left flank of the nation suggests the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback is heading for Lotus Land and all those empty seats in B.C. Place Stadium. If true, it isn’t surprising on a number of levels, not the least of which is Vancouver’s proximity to Reilly’s offseason home in Seattle. It is, however, shocking that GM Ed Hervey has convinced Leos skinflint bankroll David Braley to part with $700,000. It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Braley’s wallet that wide open.

Will Reilly’s return to B.C. translate into ticket sales in the Great Wet West? I have my doubts. I live in Leos Land and I hear more chatter about the Seattle Seahawks than three-down football.

Randy Ambrosie

Another busy week of global hobnobbing for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who now has signed more treaties than the Sioux Nation. For those of you scoring at home, Commish Randy has crawled into bed with Mexico, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Finland, and it’s believed his menage-a-gridiron will soon include Dutch Holland and the gang that organizes the annual New Year’s Day Toilet Bowl at Blossom Park in River Heights. Those boys are in their 80s now, but Commish Randy expects them to attend the Foreign Flag Combine in March.

So what do we call three-down football now? The CMGASND2FFL? And if gay guy Michael Sam makes a comeback with the Gentille Alouettes, does it become the CMGASND2FLGBTQFL?

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a whole lot better about Commish Randy’s off-season handiwork if it included the letters CBA, as in Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mike Riley

Old friend Mike Riley is coaching San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, and Dan Barnes tells us all about the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward in an excellent piece for Postmedia. Mikey says he “loved” Good Ol’ Hometown, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning the Bombers after their most-recent Grey Cup conquest (if you can call more than a quarter of a century ago “recent”). Those 29 years without a CFL title? I blame it all on Mikey for getting out of Dodge.

And, finally, I note that the jersey toss is once again in vogue in Edmonton Oilers country. Wouldn’t white towels be more appropriate?

Chelsea Carey’s Scotties championship was a made-in-Manitoba moment

Random thoughts and observations from a couch potato after a week watching the 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts from Grande Prairie, Alta….

A commercial that played on TSN during the Scotties was a promo for the province of Manitoba, finishing with the tag line “Canada’s Heart…Beats.”

They might want to change that slogan to: “Manitoba…where lady curlers rock!”

Chelsea Carey
Chelsea Carey

I mean, there have been some lean sporting times in the Keystone Province. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers haven’t won the Grey Cup this century and the Jets didn’t even exist for the first 10 years of the century (and, much like their football kin, all they do is lose).

The one undeniable and enduring source of sporting pride has been Toba’s curlers, most notably the women, starting with Jennifer Jones and her Olympic champion gal pals from the St. Vital Curling Club. But now we’ve also got Chelsea Carey and Kerri Einarson in the mix. The 2014 (Carey), ’15 (Jones) and ’16 (Einarson) queens of Toba curling claimed three of the four playoff perches at the Canadian women’s championship tournament. Never happened before. Not likely to happen again.

Oh, sure, I realize Carey now calls Wild Rose Country home, but that does nothing to disturb the reality that the freshly minted Canadian champion was weaned on the pebbled freezes of Winnipeg.

I like to think of Chelsea as a loaner to Alberta, not a keeper. I want her back one day.

  • You’ll have to excuse me for root, root, rooting for Chelsea Carey to win the Scotties, which she and her Calgary-based outfit did Sunday night. It’s personal. Her dad, Dan, and her Uncle Bill were childhood friends of mine. The former Brier champions lived across the back lane on Chelsea Avenue and I was on Melbourne in East Kildonan. Uncle Bill and I got into a scrape or two, as I recall, but nothing serious.
  • I don’t know if it’s my imagination of not, but it seems to me that the girls at the Scotties have more fun than the guys at the Brier. There’s a lot more laughter.
  • No disrespect to Jenn Hanna and her Ottawa outfit, who seem like lovely, young ladies and clearly earned their place in this field, but a Scotties without the Rachel Homan team is like a golf tournament without Tiger Woods when he was the world’s premier golfer.
  • After watching an interview with the thoughtful Hanna, I realized how much I miss talking to curlers. Of all the athletes I covered during my 30 years in mainstream jock journalism, none were more obliging, accommodating and genuine than curlers.
  • Can’t get enough of Amy Nixon, the Alberta third. She’s a delightful bundle of high-octane energy.
Bryan Mudryk and Cathy Gauthier
Bryan Mudryk and Cathy Gauthier
  • It’s 9:30 a.m., Bryan Mudryk. Do you know what broadcast booth you’re supposed to be in? The TSN announcer, who works so well in concert with Cathy Gauthier (another great Manitoba curler), went to the wrong booth for the opening draw on Thursday morning. Wake up, sleepy head. And maybe hit the pillow a wee bit earlier at night.
  • I really enjoy the self-deprecating humor Mudryk and Gauthier inject into their gab gig.
  • Name a sport, any sport, and you won’t find a better broadcasting crew than TSN’s Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard. There’s a folksy charm to their banter, especially between Vic and Russ, and Howard has perfected the art of being brutally honest without being brutal.
  • I never get tired of watching Jennifer Jones’s final shot to win the 2005 Scotties. It still gives me goose bumps.
  • So nice to see Vic Peters in the house at Revolution Place. Vic, a former Brier champion, is Manitoba second Liz Fyfe’s pop and he tends to stand or wander on his own when his girl is playing, something Gauthier noted when the TSN cameras caught up with him one morning. “There he is with all his friends,” she joked as Vic stood surrounded by unoccupied seats. “I love Vic.” Everybody loves Vic Peters, truly one of the nicest people on this planet.
  • My favorite line from the tournament was delivered by Saskatchewan skip Jolene Campbell, who was greeted with nothing but silence when talking to her third, Ashley Howard, at a critical juncture in one game. “I was waiting for you to say something,” Campbell said to Howard. “It’s like talking to my husband.” That’s the beauty of live mics on the curlers. It’s so real.
  • Karen Sagle and Brit O'Neill
    Karen Sagle and Brit O’Neill

    Love the ‘do on Ontario third Brit O’Neill. That’s some kind of funky hair.

  • Unless I missed it, it went without mention that O’Neill is one of two openly gay women to participate in the 2016 Scotties. She’s partners with Ontario lead Karen Sagle in life and at the curling rink. If there was a husband-wife combo on a team in the national mixed championship I’m certain it would be worth noting, so why wouldn’t TSN advise viewers that O’Neill and Sagle are a couple?
  • Hey, they freed the nipple! The morning after a minor tempest arose about curling moms having to go off-site to breast feed their wee ones, Scotties organizers arranged for a special breastfeeding area for the curlers at Revolution Place. Nice touch, but there should have been a spot for the moms from the get-go. Talk about boobs. Hopefully, that’s already in the plans for the world women’s championship next month in Swift Current. Must keep those future curling champs well nourished!
  • Speaking of milking it, it’s about Bryan Mudryk and nicknames. If you want to hang a nickname on a lady curler, Bryan, it’s probably not a good idea to include the word “Slasher.” Mudryk took to calling P.E.I. skip Suzanne Birt the “Island Assassin” early in the tournament, and he wondered if the handle would stick. Nope. Not after he mistakenly called her the “Island Slasher.”
  • I felt so sorry for Saskatchewan skip Jolene Campbell when she missed her final shot, a seemingly routine hit-and-stick, against Alberta on Thursday night. It was so jaw-dropping in its sudden-deathness. I wept for her. Literally.
  • Is anyone a fan of the relegation system at the Scotties? I’m not. Under no circumstances should provinces like B.C. and New Brunswick be required to participate in a pre-tournament mini-tournament to gain entry.
  • If Chelsea Carey and her Alberta team hadn’t won Sunday night’s final against Krista McCarville and her gal pals from Thunder Bay, I would be demanding a Parliamentary inquiry. That isn’t meant as a slight to Northern Ontario, but the girls from Wild Rose Country were the top outfit in the field, from start to finish.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.