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

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

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

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

Then there was this:

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

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

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

Yup, those were the days.

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

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

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

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

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

Sami Jo Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck Finn

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

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

Paul Azinger

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

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

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

Felix Auger-Aliassime

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

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

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

Kenta Nilsson

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

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

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About ponytails and pucks…the Hurricanes getting jerked around on Coachless Corner…someone is a piece of crap, and it isn’t Marcus Stroman…it all went wrong for the all-skip team…the write stuff on curling…and nobody does it better than Vic, Cheryl and Hurry Hard

A holiday Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and happy Louis Riel Day to those of you in Good Ol’ Hometown and happy Family Day to the rest of you…

Remember when Kendall Coyne Schofield raced against the boys and beat one of them during the National Hockey League all-star hijinx?

Jaws dropped. Eyebrows arched upwards. Gobs were smacked.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

“The moment three weeks ago impacted the world,” Coyne Schofield was saying Sunday afternoon in Detroit. “It changed the perception of our game.”

Well, yes, that singular dash around a San Jose freeze was supposedly a signature moment for women’s hockey. Prevailing logic (wishful thinking?) suggested the rabble—and mainstream media—would no longer have any choice but to sit up and take notice of Ponytail Puck.

Or would they?

Putting that theory to test in the past week were the top two female hockey outfits on the planet. Canada vs. U.S.A. in what was marketed as the inaugural Rivalry Series. Three games. (I’d call them “friendlies” except there’s no such animal as a “friendly” when Canadian and American women share a frozen pond.)

So how did it shake down? Depending on your individual barometer, the Rivalry Series was either enthusiastically received or largely ignored.

Let’s start with the head counts.

The women packed ’em in at Budweiser Gardens in London, with an SRO crowd of 9,036. Another 8,414 showed up for Game 2 at the home of the Maple Leafs, Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. For Sunday’s rubber match at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, 9,048 watched Canada clinch the series with a 2-0 victory. Those are significant numbers. The Florida Panthers only wish. And, remember, these were exhibition skirmishes. Bragging rights were at stake, nothing more.

Perhaps that’s why news snoops paid only token notice.

Credit TSN for broadcasting all three games, but why not on the main channel? The women were assigned to the boondocks of TSN2, TSN4 and TSN5 while TSN1 featured American college hoops, the Daytona NASCAR RV Duel, Motoring TV and something called EOAN Man v Machine.

On the print side, it was mostly “oh, by the way” coverage.

Our national rag, the Globe and Mail, dispatched Rachel Brady to London to do a feature piece, but it used mostly wire copy from The Canadian Press to track the Rivalry Series. Columnist Cathal Kelly ignored the women because there were other topics in urgent need of his attention—skier Lindsey Vonn, a lack of charisma in baseball, golfer Matt Kuchar being a chintz, and fighting in men’s hockey. Not to worry, though. I’m confident he’ll find time to notice our women in 2022, since it’s an Olympic year.

Over at what passes for our other national rag, the Post, there is neither a sports department nor a sports section, so whatever.

The Toronto Sun has both sports department and section, but apparently no space for women’s hockey. It didn’t staff Game 2 in The ROT. It didn’t even run wire copy. Nada. This is the same sheet that counts Michael Traikos among its stable of scribes. He was so wonder struck and moved by Coyne Schofield’s race around the rink in San Jose that he posits the women should be allowed to play in future NHL all-star games. Not just serve as a novelty act in the skills shenanigans, understand. Participate in the actual game.Yet when the two greatest teams on the planet showed up in his neighborhood, either he was on vacation or he took a pass. Bottom line: The Sun completely ignored the women.

At the Toronto Star, columnist Dave Feschuk acknowledged the Rivalry Series, but he was flying solo. Wire copy was used to cover the actual game in The ROT.

Stateside it was much the same. The Detroit News hired a freelancer to work the deciding game, and the Detroit Free Press couldn’t be bothered, so it ran an Associated Press piece.

So, as much as I’d like to think Coyne Schofield is correct and her lap “impacted the world” and “changed the perception” of Ponytail Puck, the early returns indicate that it did nothing to move the needle in mainstream media.

That’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.

Having said all that, the women don’t do themselves any favors in advancing their game. If you call up the Canadian Women’s Hockey League or National Women’s Hockey League websites, you’ll read not a word on the Rivalry Series. If it isn’t important enough for them, should mainstream media care?

Curmudgeon Alert! Don Cherry is shouting and waving his fists at clouds again. Oh, yes, the Lord of Loud used his Hockey Night in Canada pulpit Saturday to launch into a full-throated, unhinged, rambling rant about the Carolina Hurricanes’ post-match antics, which include cornball and cringeworthy gimmickry like a game of Duck, Duck, Goose.

“These guys, to me, are jerks,” Grapes huffed and puffed. “This is, to me…and I’ll tell ya one thing, they better not do this in the playoffs. What I don’t understand, (head coach Rod) Brind’Amour’s a straight shooter, he always was. This is A JOKE!”

Then, using a tone that suggested the Canes don’t measure up to real men, he mocked and pooh-poohed them as “Young men expressing themselves for joy of winning.” (One assumes he would rather they do something manly, like chomp heads off live chickens post-match.)

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

Then he was back to bombast: “Ya don’t do this thing in men’s professional hockey! What are these guys, JERKS OR SOMETHINK? And I’ll tell ya one thing, they do this in the playoffs, making fun of the other team…that is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. I know the rest of the people, I know all the broadcasters and everythink are afraid to say somethink like that, they’re jerks doin’ it. I know what I’m TALKIN’ ABOUT. You never do anythink like that. They’re still not drawin’, they’re a bunch of jerks AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED! Imagine, Justin Williams doin’ stuff like that. Ridiculous.”

All that from a guy who was wearing a foofy sports jacket that made my eyes bleed.

Reason No. 8,958,001 why many athletes want nothing to do with news snoops: Steve Simmons.

The Postmedia Tranna gasbag wrote this about Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman in his weekly offering of three-dot cheap shots: “On Friday, Aaron Sanchez threw a bullpen session in Florida and came out afterwards and talked optimistically about his comeback and his blister-free fingers. On Saturday, Marcus Stroman threw a bullpen session in Florida and didn’t come out to talk. What a charmer.”

Just so we weren’t confused, Simmons doubled down on that tidbit with this: “Marcus Stroman is a piece of work or a piece of something else—you take your pick. One day, he wouldn’t show up for his scheduled Blue Jays spring training interview and the next day, Sunday, he wouldn’t shut up, tossing baseball grenades in all directions—sparing no one.”

Which compels me to suggest that, on Saturday, Steve Simmons was a “piece of something else” and, on Sunday, he was still “a piece of something else.”

Seriously, can Simmons not make his point without describing someone as a yard cigar? That isn’t a cute or clever turn of phrase. It’s the sort of stuff you expect to find on a blog. Come to think of it, I’m overdue for calling someone a yard cigar. I’ll have to work on that—not!

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

I don’t know about you, but I’m shocked that Kerri Einarson and her all-skip outfit out of Gimli failed to qualify for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney. That was the best team in Manitoba until the provincial Scotties, and now Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur are watching the Canadian championship on TV. Go figure.

I must say that I enjoy reading Melissa Martin’s musings on the Scotties in the Drab Slab, and it’s nice to see that Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun has feet on the ground in Novy. Can’t remember the last time the tabloid had someone on site at the Scotties, the Brier or a world championship.

Vic, Cheryl and Hurry Hard.

And, finally, I’ve written this before but it warrants repeating: The TSN trio of Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Hurry Hard Howard are as good as any team of talking heads that you’ll find on sports TV. Any sport. They’re informative, knowledgeable, witty and not shy about poking fun at each other. They also know enough to zip the lips when we want to hear what the curlers are saying. (Bryan Mudryk and Cathy Gauthier are boffo in the supporting role while Vic, Cheryl and Russ are sleeping in.)

About Major Junior hockey and Benny’s pie in the sky…put that WHL name on Ice…Barnum & Bailey & Mayhem on Maroons Road…Jeff Hamilton racing a woman…Jake and les Leafs…open season on Puck Finn…and good reads from Teddy Wy and Mike M.

A midweek smorgas-bored…and it’s a good day for stepping into the Junior shinny Way Back Machine to a time when some hockey coaches wore fedoras…

Major Junior hockey. Winnipeg.

Some of us are old enough to recall the days when those two went together, like Johnny Carson and late-night laughter.

That’s right, kids, once upon a brief time Major Junior worked in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Bobby Clarke, Chris Worthy and Reggie Leach

Oh, they didn’t exactly sardine-can them into the old shinny barn on Maroons Road every night, but it wasn’t just family and friends who surfaced to watch the Winnipeg Jets. Especially when the Flin Flon Bombers of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach rode into River City with a sneer and something to prove to the big-city boys.

Logically, the Brandon Wheat Kings, being just a hoot and a holler down the road, should have been cast in the role of the Jets’ antagonist in what was then known as the Western Canada Hockey League. But no. It was the bunch from the northern Manitoba mining town named after the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin who wore the black hat.

The dreaded Bombers were piloted by Paddy Ginnell, a rascalish head coach given to filling news snoops’ notebooks with goading, in-your-face candor.

Paddy Ginnell

In the spring of 1969, for example, the Jets evened a playoff joust with the Bombers at 2-2-1 (yes, there was a tie game), which meant the eight-point series was heading back to intimidating Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.

“How the hell are they going to win up there?” a cocksure Ginnell scoffed. “They’ve never won there. If I was Ben (Hatskin, Jets bankroll), I’d forfeit the series and save the money.”

Turns out Paddy was right.

The Jets couldn’t quite figure out a way to win in the Flin Flon Forum, which provided cozy comfort for the Bombers but served as a chamber of horrors for the Winnipegs in ’69 and the following spring.

Pistol Dorohoy

The thing is, whatever pre- and post-game hype Ginnell and his counterpart, Eddie (Pistol) Dorohoy, were selling to anyone with a notebook or microphone, the rabble was buying. The Jets topped out at a head count of 7,326 and totaled 20,516 for three home dates in ’69, and upped that in 1970 with a WCHL single-game record of 9,043 and 33,206 for their four home dates vs. Flin Flon.

Queen Liz looked down approvingly from the north end of the barn.

That all changed, however, when the aforementioned Ben Hatskin saw two bigger pies in the sky. One was called the World Hockey Association. The other was Robert Marvin Hull.

Five years after Benny and the WHA Jets reshaped the local shinny landscape in 1972, Major Junior hockey disappeared, despite the earnest intentions and heavy sledding of people like Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson, Gordie Pennell, George Dorman and so many others.

Ben Hatskin

My perch in the press box allowed me to witness the slow, steady decline of a franchise that morphed from the Jets to the Clubs to the Monarchs, and customers disguised as empty seats was not only a bad optic but a killer on the bottom line.

“I don’t understand why people won’t come out to watch us,” Brisson would lament the day after a home assignment would attract an audience numbering no more than 1,200 diehards.

It didn’t help, of course, that Brisson did some goofy things, like replacing his head coach with the team trainer in the middle of a game and later demoting the same head coach to assistant coach, to scout, then firing him via Canada Post. Correct. He sent George Dorman a Dear John letter. And, in general, Brisson iced outfits that could scarcely lick their lips.

Bottom line, though, was the WHA and the Jets. That was the nut nobody could crack.

I’m guessing that Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell are aware of this unfortunate history (not to mention the aborted re-entry of the WHL in the early 1980s), yet they’re still planning to pitch their tent in the boonies (RM of Macdonald) and swim upstream next autumn. Their Kootenay Ice will become the Winnipeg Ice, and Fettes/Cockell seem convinced they can make a go of it in a hockey pool that includes the NHL Jets and American Hockey League Manitoba Moose. You can take them for fools if you like, but, hey, it’s their coin.

Someone please tell me that Fettes and Cockell plan to rename their franchise. Ice doesn’t work for me, nor does an angry Sasquatch as a team logo. We haven’t seen anything resembling a Sasquatch in Good Ol’ Hometown since Jimmy Mann was dragging his knuckles around the freeze.

Wild Bill Hunter

Among the selling points of the old WCHL were the owners/operators. Guys like Brisson, MacPherson, Ginnell, Pistol Dorohoy, Punch McLean, Scotty Munro and Wild Bill Hunter were Sideshow Bobs, equal parts Barnum, Bailey and Ringling Bros. Some, notably McLean and Ginnell, were maestros of mayhem. It wasn’t uncommon for all hell to break loose on any given night, and the lads really frothed at the mouth with Flin Flon in town. Then it was Mayhem on Maroons Road, and much of it seemed orchestrated. Neither Fettes or Cockell strikes me as a carnival barker, and I somehow doubt their head coach, homeboy James Patrick, is inclined to hurl garbage cans onto the ice when his universe isn’t unfolding as it should. Oh, the good, old days.

Here’s how popular the Junior Jets of Ben Hatskin, Pistol Dorohoy and coach Nick Mickoski were: Some fans actually purchased passage on the team charter to attend playoff skirmishes in Flin Flon.

Jeff Hamilton

Young Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab writes this about the Ice’s entry into the River City shinny glut: “A WHL franchise in Winnipeg, together with the unprecedented investment in hockey development, would create a unique sports marketplace and position Winnipeg as the hockey capital of North America, home to teams in the NHL, AHL and the Canadian Hockey League.” Whoa there, young fella. There’s this little burg I call the Republic of Tranna that trumps Good Ol’ Hometown. The ROT has the Maple Leafs, the Marlies, the Mississauga Steelheads, plus the Furies and the Thunder. Unless young Jeff is one of the many men who pooh-pooh the distaff side of the game, The ROT’s two Canadian Women’s Hockey League franchises give it the edge. If young Jeff isn’t convinced, let’s see him beat Kendall Coyne Schofield in a foot race and then we’ll talk.

Leafs GM Harry Potter

Something tells me the Maple Leafs made a trade this week. And I think it involved Jake Muzzin. I could be wrong, though. I mean, maybe I was just dreaming when I saw those 12 headlines about Muzzin on the front page of the Leafs blog known as the Sportsnet website on Wednesday. They usually reserve that kind of over-the-top coverage for Auston Matthews’ grooming habits (film of toenail clipping at 11). So I guess I’m mistaken and Muzzin is still working the Los Angeles Kings blueline.

Let’s be clear about something: Les Jets do not have to make a significant move just because les Leafs snared Muzzin. This isn’t tit-for-tat. The Muzzin transaction has no impact on Winnipeg HC unless they’re the last two National Hockey League clubs standing in the Stanley Cup runoff. If that’s how it shakes down, it won’t be because general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was prodded into action by Leafs GM Harry Potter.

Puck Finn

Tough week thus far for Patrik Laine. The young Jets winger still can’t score, he spent most of Tuesday night in Beantown glued to the pine, and the natterbugs in print and on air went off on the kid. According to my scorecard, Ted Wyman, Jason Bell, Tim & Sid, Noodles McLennon and Jeff O’Dog all had a go at Puck Finn and, to sum up their deep, penetrating analysis, Laine “isn’t moving his feet.” Tough to move your feet when you’re sitting on the bench.

I’m not saying coach Paul Maurice was wrong to plop Puck Finn on the plank vs. the Bruins, but there’s more at play here than the moving of feet. I say Laine’s issues are at the opposite end of his lanky body—between the ears.

If you’re looking for a good read, check out Mike McIntyre’s piece on former U.S. Navy SEAL James Hatch in the Drab Slab. Hatch is in town as part of a dumb bet he made against les Jets last year, and Mike M. hits it out of the park with his yarn. Also worth a look is Ted Wyman’s feature on former Jets forward and all-round good guy Randy Gilhen in the Winnipeg Sun. Good stuff.

And, finally, I have personal links to two of the main players in the old WCHL. Pistol Dorohoy is the only coach who ever cut me, and I played for Gerry Brisson. So, ya, I feel the warm and fuzzies for Junior shinny and I hope it works for Fettes and Cockell.

About the great escape of CFL stars to the NFL…Mexico, Commish Randy and Martha Stewart…chasing Mr. Reilly…lady power in the NFL playoffs…backup goalies and backup QBs…and so long to Jim Taylor

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I wonder how many Corona CFL execs sucked back during their dog-and-pony show in Mexico…

Will the last all-star to leave the Canadian Football League please turn out the lights.

Already among the dearly departed are Alex Singleton, Bryant Mitchell, Duke Williams, Marken Michel, Diontae Spencer, Jameer Thurman, James Vaughters and Samuel Eguavoen. Most oustanding player Bo Levi Mitchell soon may follow.

I swear, we haven’t seen this many good men flee since the disciples abandoned Christ.

At least those guys had a legit excuse. It was either leave Christ to fend for himself or become a starving lion’s lunch. That’s kind of a no-brainer.

This southbound exodus of quality CFL talent is another matter. The large lads are skipping town because they want to compete with the best of the best, plus they’re tired of bashing their brains for chump change. And collecting it in Canadian coin. Up here, signing bonuses are paid in Canuck Tire money and wages in Monopoly money. At least that’s how the American import might see it.

Randy Ambrosie

But, hey, make a National Football League roster and he collects Dead Presidents and Founding Fathers. Scads of them.

A practice squad shlep, for example, earns $7,600 per week in four-down football. That’s $129,200 per season. For doing squat. Minimum wage for an NFL freshman in 2019 will be $495,000. A two-year guy can’t earn less than $645,000, even if he does nothing more than spend an entire Sunday afternoon standing on the sideline staring at a Microsoft tablet.

In comparison, the CFL minimum last season was $54,000. That isn’t a typo. Do not add a zero. And it’s only $40,559.40 on the U.S. exchange. That makes staying home in Alabama to offer Big Macs and large fries to drive-thru customers a viable option. Especially if it means you don’t have to leave a bride and kids behind.

Bo Levi Mitchell, MOP.

We won’t know the 2019 CFL salary structure until the league and the Players Association agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but we do know the bottom feeders won’t see more than five figures on their pay stubs.

So, ya, head south young man.

What puzzles me is that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is cool with the high volume of defectors.

“The NFL thing is just evidence of how fundamentally close the talent level in our league is to the talent level in the NFL,” he told news snoops last week at the winter meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “That’s been a long and important story as it relates to our football. Our guys are world-class athletes and I’m always happy for them when they get a chance to take a shot at the NFL.”

Dave Dickenson

Oh, sure, let’s all paste on our happy faces like Commish Randy. Losing quality people to the NFL is a meh issue. Why, we can replace all those lost all-stars with any scrawny Mexican who can crawl under, climb over, or run around Donald Trump’s wall and make his way to Canada. So not to worry.

“Wonderful, young players,” Commish Randy said of Mexican talent while laying out his global scheme during a fireside chat with Dave Naylor of TSN. “It’s a brand new world, a brave new world out there.”

Sure is. But if Bo Levi Mitchell bolts to the NFL, I doubt John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson of the Calgary Stampeders will be “brave” enough to replace their starting quarterback with Juan Valdez.

Sorry, but the CFL climbing into bed with Liga de Futbol Ay Chihuahua isn’t the feel-good story Commish Randy makes it out to be. Not when we’re witnessing the football equivalent of a jail break by our premier performers.

Seems to me his time would be better spent working on a CBA that doesn’t pay in Canuck Tire money.

Martha Stewart

In another fireside chat at the CFL winter meetings, Commish Randy channeled his inner Betty Crocker and advised Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that he wants to “build the mother of all pies. We want to build a big pie.” Terrific. Martha Stewart can succeed him as commissioner when his world vision falls flatter than a sad soufflé.

Commish Randy began building his pie at Estadio Azul in Mexico City on Sunday, with cooks and bottle washers from the nine CFL teams assembling for the inaugural Look Under Every Rock Talent Tour. After observing 50 aspirants run, jump, pass, catch and kick, the consensus seemed to be there were a “couple of guys” who “wouldn’t embarrass themselves” at a training camp. I say we let the Tranna Argonauts have all 50 players. If they fail to make the team, maybe they’ll stay and buy season tickets. That would double attendance at BMO Field from last season.

According to Commish Randy and others, this Mexico’s Got Talent dog-and-pony show is all about growing the game globally. How about growing the game in the Republic of Tranna, Montreal and B.C. first.

Sarah Thomas

The CFL prides itself on diversity, but the NFL one-upped our league this weekend when Sarah Thomas and Terri Valenti worked playoff matches. Thomas became the first woman to officiate a post-season game, serving as the down judge in the American Football Conference division skirmish between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Brady-Belichicks, while Valenti was the replay official for the Kansas City Chiefs-Indianapolis Colts joust. Awesome.

Moving to a more seasonal topic, I don’t understand why so many people are saying and writing that Rink Rat Scheifele is the engine that drives the Winnipeg Jets. Seems to me that it’s captain Blake Wheeler. Still.

In my next life I want to be a backup goalie or a backup quarterback. They’re always the most popular player with the rabble. A case in point would be Laurent Brossoit, currently Connor Hellebuyck’s caddie with les Jets. Listening to the faithful, Brossoit is boffo and Hellebuyck sucks. And the numbers suggest that. But, no, you don’t want to turn the blue paint over to Brossoit. It’s that old nugget about not fixing what ain’t broke. The Jets sit atop the National Hockey League Central Division leaderboard. They ain’t broke.

Jim Taylor

The West Coast said goodbye to one of Canada’s jock journo legends when Jim Taylor cashed out at age 82 last week on Vancouver Island. There was much to admire about Skull’s scribblings, but what I liked most was his approach to writing sports: Taylor recognized that the games people play aren’t really all that important in the grand scheme of things—hence the term ‘toy department’—so he went about it with a wink and a nod. Taylor used wit and sarcasm, irreverence and cheek to deliver his message of the day to Vancouver Sun and Province readers for 30 years. Sometimes he did it with the bite of a bulldog, other times the purr of a kitten. The main ingredient, however, was humor. He was a funny guy who poked fun and had fun. If there were any sacred cows in his world, no one noticed it in his writing. That’s why he was among my favorites.

Taylor had a quirk: He would run his one-liners by you before he’d ship his copy off to his editors. It was his idea of a test drive. He didn’t have to do that, though. They were all funny and made you laugh. Out loud. And you’d laugh again the next morning when you saw the same line in print.

Taylor’s passing provided pause for ponder on the state of sports writing in our vast nation. There are some fine wordsmiths, people who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase, but I don’t find much cheekiness and humor in most scribblings. The scribes all seem to take themselves so bloody seriously, and I often wonder what some of them are so angry about. It’s probably why I rag on guys like Steve Simmons and Damien Cox so much. They just don’t appear to be having any fun with the gig.

And, finally, is the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press ever going to hire a sports columnist? It’s been more than three months since the last guy left the building. Get on with it already.

About the Calgary Stampeders’ psyche…a Blue Bombers-RedBlacks Grey Cup game…brutal blunder by Postmedia…a tough crowd at the Little Hockey House Of Horrors…Puck Finn the underachiever?…a dingbat in the Tranna media…unbreakable records…and voting “no” in Cowtown

Another Sunday smorgas-bored and another couch potato day with pizza and three-down football on the menu…

No beating around the bush, kids. I’m going to come right out and say it: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers can make plans for an all-expenses-paid trip to E-Town. Call the travel agent. Now. No need to wait.

Yup, Winnipeg FC shall conquer the Calgary Stampeders.

It’s no small chore, of course, because the Stampeders are a more imposing outfit than the recently vanquished Saskatchewan Roughriders, who try to beat you with one arm tied behind their backs (read: no quarterback). Not so with the Cowtowners. They’ve got Bo Levi Mitchell and his gun-slinging right arm to fling the football.

This Bo knows winning. He does it more than any Canadian Football League QB between mid-June and the final Sunday in November. Ditto the chronically complaining sideline steward, Dave Dickenson.

From a distance, they come across as a rather snooty tandem. But, real or perceived, it is an earned arrogance.

Dave Dickenson

The firm of Mitchell & Dickenson arrived first at the West Division finish line in each of their past three regular-season crusades, stacking up 41 victories against just 11 stumbles and a pair of stalemates, and there were two successive trips to the title skirmish. It is only in the championship match that the Stamps have received a comeuppance, two years ago due to some truly dumb coaching and last year when the football literally took an Argo bounce.

So here they are in the West Division final again, rested from a bye week and only the pesky Bombers left to disturb their march to another Grey Cup game.

Adam Bighill

What makes me think Winnipeg FC is up to the task of toppling the Calgary juggernaut? Running back Andrew Harris for one. Linebacker Beastmo Bighill for another. And QB Joe Ordinary has kicked the giveaway habit that brought him to his knees in early September.

There’s also the Stampeders’ psyche. I’m thinking it’s as fragile as sports scribe’s ego.

Oh, sure, the large lads in red still have plenty of swagger, but what happens if their universe isn’t unfolding as it should on Crowchild Trail this afternoon? If the Bombers bully the bully, do insecure thoughts begin to prey on the Stamps? Do the mishaps of recent Novembers begin to haunt them? Rattle them? Could happen.

It’s different for Winnipeg FC. The Blue-and-Gold expect to win, but they aren’t supposed to win. No reason to be antsy.

So I’ve sifted through the tea leaves, and here’s how it’s going to shake down: This game will be decided on a failed two-point convert. Bombers win and advance to the Grey Cup frolic on Nov. 25 in Edmonton.

Just wondering: Do you think anyone in the Republic of Tranna knows there’ll be two CFL games played today?

Jeremiah Masoli

It’s about the East Division final between the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats: I really like the Tabbies, even without rassler Ric Flair stirring up the rabble. Mind you, I’d like them a lot more if Speedy B was available to play catch with Jeremiah Masoli. My initial instinct is to suggest it’ll be a good, old-fashioned shootout. But no. I’m afraid the RedBlacks possess too many offensive weapons. Bytown by two TDs. (Brief aside: One of my Gridiron Girls gazed into her crystal ball last June and saw a Grey Cup game featuring Hamilton and Winnipeg. I hate to go against her, but I must.)

The CFL will add an eighth on-field flag-thrower for each of today’s division skirmishes. It’s official then: CFL games now have more zebras than the Serengeti.

D’oh! D’oh! D’oh! Let’s just call the Winnipeg Sun sports front on Friday the greatest gaffe—ever.

If you missed it, some totally inept Postmedia editor has Andrew Harris and the Bombers playing the Tiger-Cats in the East Division final this afternoon. That isn’t just a minor typo. It’s Bill Buckner letting that ground ball dribble through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. It’s Jean van de Velde taking seven swings to score a triple bogey on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open and squander a three-shot lead.

We ought not be surprised, though. Colossal blunders like this occur when a newspaper’s page layout, design and editing is farmed out to someone in a distant locale. Someone who wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty. Someone who wouldn’t know Bud Grant from Bud Light.

But, hey, it’s not like quality matters to Postmedia. If it did, they wouldn’t have punted/bought out hundreds of quality journalists in the past few years.

I feel bad for the Sun’s three sports scribes—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe—because they’ll have to wear a stupid mistake made by someone sitting at a news desk in another part of the country.

Strangest headline of the week was delivered by the Winnipeg Free Press: “Bombers staying disciplined.” You simply do not write that header the same week three Bombers—Jackson Jeffcoat, Sukh Chungh, Pat Neufeld—are slapped with fines for goon tactics.

I’ve been calling it the Little Hockey House On The Prairie ever since the Winnipeg Jets set up shop in their Portage Avenue ice palace in 2011, but it turns out that the local freeze is also a Little Hockey House of Horrors for National Hockey League foes.

“It seems like you’re skating up ice the whole time,” Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche says of the Jets home. “It just seems tilted in their favor, and obviously the fans are a big part of that and the way they play as a team.”

According to a poll of 61 players, only one NHL rink is more difficult to play in—the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where visitors to the Twang Town barn can be expected to dodge catfish.

So the local rabble can take a bow. They don’t toss catfish on the ice, but they toss some serious shade on the enemy.

Auston Matthews and AWOL Willy

Question 1 for Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists: Les Leafs are 14-6-0 without William Nylander. They’re 7-3-0 sans Auston Matthews. If AWOL Willy’s bargaining leverage for a new contract is weakened because les Leafs continue to win while he’s home in Sweden counting missed paycheques, does the same theory apply to Matthews, who’s been in the repair shop due to a wonky shoulder since Oct. 27?

Question 2 for Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists: Matthews missed 20 games last season and he’s already been in the repair shop for nine this crusade. When his entry level contract expires next spring, do they pay him John Tavares coin if he continues to be damaged goods?

Puck Finn

When I examined the NHL scoring leaderboard this a.m., 41 players had more goals than Patrik Laine. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Puck Finn is supposed to have more snipes than anyone not named Ovie. Yet there he sits, with just eight red lamps in 18 assignments. However, before anyone runs off with the notion that he’s underachieving, keep in mind les Jets have yet to arrive at the quarter-pole of their crusade. Another goal or two by the 20-game mark and we’re looking at a second successive 40-snipe season. Before he’s legal drinking age in the U.S. If that’s underachieving, I’m Melania Trump.

Edith and Archie

Speaking of the wives of loose cannons, what was it that Archie Bunker called his bride Edith? Oh, that’s right, Dingbat. Well, Edith was a regular Einstein compared to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. In an exercise of blatant click baitism, Cox sent out this tweet about the Maple Leafs last week: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore?” Not a crazy idea? The airplane wasn’t a crazy idea. The light bulb wasn’t a crazy idea. Eating what comes out of a chicken’s butt for breakfast wasn’t a crazy idea. But les Leafs trading Matthews for a “pile of goodies?” Totally crazy.

Mr. Goalie

Old friend Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweets this: “I double dog dare ya to present to me a sports record that is more unbreakable than Billy Mosienko’s 3 goals in 21 seconds.” I’ll accept that challenge, Troy. Try Glenn Hall’s consecutive-game streak. Mr. Goalie started, and finished, 502 consecutive matches from Day 1 of the 1955-56 NHL season through the first 12 games of 1962-63. And the Detroit Red Wings/Chicago Blackhawks keeper did it all with his bare face hanging out. Yup, no mask. In order to break that record, a goaltender today would be required to start and finish every game for six-plus seasons. Never going to happen, kids.

And, finally, in a 53-47 per cent vote, the good people of Calgary have said “no” to the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in their city. In a non-related vote, 100 per cent of Calgary Flames fans said “no” to Mike Smith playing another game in goal.

About three Sundays in November…the CFL playoff format…the Prairie Football League…news snoops snubbing Mike Reilly…the Gott Guzzle…the Golden Boy and Sugar Ray…the high price of Looch’s one goal…passing on $300 million…and bravo to Paul Edmonds

The usual Sunday smorgas-bored…with an extra-large helping of three-down football…

Okay, right off the top, let’s read the tea leaves and see how it’s all going to shake down when the large lads grab grass and growl in today’s two Canadian Football League playoff skirmishes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders: Gang Green will require at least two touchdowns from its defence and/or return teams, plus five field goals to have any hope of beating Winnipeg FC. That isn’t going to happen. The rout is on. Blue Bombers by 17 (or more).

B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The better quarterback wins, and that’s Jeremiah Masoli, even if he won’t be playing catch with Speedy B. Travis Lulay will start for the Leos, but he won’t finish. Tabbies by 14.

Is there anything more compelling in Canadian sports than three-down football’s fall frolic? I think not. Fifteen days, five sudden-death games. It doesn’t get any better than what the CFL delivers for three successive Sundays in November.

As if on cue, Messrs. Hue & Cry have been in full voice since the close of the CFL’s regular-season business, demanding a dismantling of the current playoff format in favor of something more equitable.

They note, correctly, that the 8-10 Tiger-Cats have been rewarded with a home game at Timbits Field in the Hammer, even though the Lions were 9-9. The Edmonton Eskimos, meanwhile, also finished the regular session with a 9-9 record, yet there they are with their noses pressed against the window, peeking in at all the fun that’s about to begin in the runoff to the Grey Cup.

They’re right. It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the pundits, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun, suggests the CFL toss the West-East division structure onto the scrap heap. Lump all nine outfits into one group, top six advance to the playoffs. Well, okay, let’s do that. Here’s how it looked at the finish of the 2018 season:

Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Ottawa 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
B.C. 9-9
Edmonton 9-9

So, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders would earn first-round byes, leaving these two games: Edmonton vs. Ottawa; B.C. vs. Winnipeg.

Let’s take it one step further and say the Eskimos were to eliminate the Bytown RedBlacks. That would leave Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Welcome to the Prairie Football League.

You think anyone in the Republic of Tranna would be watching? Anyone in Bytown or Steeltown? Anyone in Quebec? Anyone east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary?

Alienation of Eastern Canada, most notably the large Southern Ontario TV market, is the risk the CFL takes if it eliminates its traditional geographic makeup. Two consecutive November Sundays of football played only on the frozen tundra of the Prairies would be a ratings doomsday.

If the game isn’t already dead in The ROT, that would surely kill it.

The CFL has featured two all-Prairie Grey Cup games in the past 17 years—Winnipeg and Calgary in 2001, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in 2007. Where do those two matches rank for TV ratings this century? You guessed it—at the bottom of the heap. Here are the gory details.

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average (English and French TV)
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M
2001 Calgary-Winnipeg 2.7M

(Note: The 2012 game had a 5.5 million average audience on TSN, making it the most-watched Grey Cup ever on English TV.)

The most-compelling argument against a revision of the playoff format is, of course, the end result. Supposedly inferior outfits from the East Division have won the large game the past two Novembers, so let’s not talk about it until a western club actually proves it’s best when it really matters.

Mike Reilly

Question in Double Jeopardy: In whose universe does the guy with the best numbers not rate as the most outstanding player in the CFL? Answer: What is the Football Reporters of Canada, Alex?

Oh, yes, the boys and girls on the beat snubbed Mike Reilly, instead giving the West-East MOP nominations to quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of the Stampeders and Jeremiah Masoli of the Ticats. That despite the fact the most basic of stats indicate the news snoops are misguided.

Head-to-head-to-head, here’s how the three QBs stack up:

If you were to base that on a 3-2-1 point system, the final scorecard would read: Reilly 16, Mitchell 11, Masoli 10.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the news snoops have some explaining to do.

So, O-lineman Jon Gott of the Bytown RedBlacks turned a football game into a tailgate party by chug-a-lugging a tall can of beer after a touchdown, and now the CFL has banned booze from TD celebrations. The new get-tough, anti-debauchery policy also includes drugs. Players are not permitted to light up a joint and pass it around in the end zone. Apparently that would be one toke over the line.

Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy

Has it really been 30 years since Donny Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard exchanged haymakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Yup. Sugar Ray scored a ninth-round KO over Winnipeg’s Golden Boy on Nov. 7, 1988, but our guy got in some good licks before biting canvas. Lalonde floored Leonard in the fourth round and was actually ahead on one judge’s scorecard when they got off their stools to begin the ninth. I covered that tiff for the Winnipeg Sun alongside my favorite boxing scribe, Tom Brennan, and my most vivid recollection is of Sylvester Stallone’s annoying voice rising above 13,000 others. “First Vinnie! First Vinnie!” was his ringside plea/instruction to Vinny Pazienza every time Roger Mayweather boxed one of his ears in a bout on the undercard. Alas, Rocky Balboa’s pleas went unrewarded. His guy Vinny lost on a decision. Bob Dylan was also on site, but I never heard or saw him. I sometimes wonder if he saw me.

Just wondering: When are the New York Islanders supposed to start missing John Tavares? Do they even notice that he’s gone?

The Looch

Also wondering how that Milan Lucic thing is working out for the Edmonton McDavids. Isn’t $6 million a season supposed to buy you more than one goal and four points in 16 games? The lumbering Looch’s contract is by far the worst in the National Hockey League.

So this is the world we now live in: A guy who plays a kid’s game for a living feels comfortable turning down $300 million and no one bats an eyelash. I don’t know what’s worse, Bryce Harper snubbing his nose at the $300 million the Washington Nationals had put on the table, or the fact another Major League Baseball outfit will offer him more money.

Good guy Paul Edmonds

And, finally, a big tip of the bonnet to good guy Paul Edmonds, among the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. The radio play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290, Paul earned his chops by trudging across the tundra with baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes for 19 years. That’s a lot of lonely hours on the lonely road. Now he flies hither and yon with les Jets. So, yes, he’s definitely earned his wings.

About therapy for the Tranna Maple Leafs jugger-not…the price ain’t right for Willy…boneheaded coaching in the CFL…Johnny’s still rotten and having a hissy fit…CFL power rankings down the stretch…Johnny Miller pulling the plug…Johnny Mo bidding adios…RiRi keeping her clothes on…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

The bloom is off the petunia in the Republic of Tranna.

We know this to be so because it finally has occurred to easily swayed news snoops in The ROT that Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr don’t actually skate with the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews

Turns out it was a case of mistaken identity. Auston Matthews is actually Auston Matthews, not No. 99. Morgan Rielly is actually Morgan Rielly, not No. 4. Les Leafs are actually a work in progress, not the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Pond hockey is fun to watch but not actually sustainable. The juggernaut is actually a jugger-not! Who knew?

Certainly not the scribes and natterbugs in The ROT who’d been howling hosannas about Matthews and Rielly at a deafening and, yes, annoying volume. It was as if the two youthful Leafs had invented vulcanized rubber, the Zamboni and Coach’s Corner.

Alas, troubled times have arrived.

Les Leafs seemingly became National Hockey League d’oh! boys overnight. There were zero goals in a stumble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was one score in a faceplant vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Mike Babcock

In an attempt to dig to the root of these missteps, les Leafs, normally off duty on the Sabbath, were summoned and assembled yesterday. Not for a practice, though. This was what multi-millionaire head coach Mike Babcock described as a “reality therapy meeting.”

No word if Dr. Phil was brought in as a guest coach, or if Oprah was on standby with her couch.

So when les Leafs arrive at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie for their Wednesday night skirmish with the Winnipeg Jets, be gentle with them, kids. They’re in therapy, don’t you know.

Les Leafs, of course, come to town sans gifted forward William Nylander, who remains back home in Europe awaiting a contract offer he can’t refuse. I hope he isn’t holding his breath. I mean, let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that reports of the unsigned restricted free agent’s asking price are accurate. Hmmm, $8.5 million. That’s Leon Draisaitl money. Well, just because the Edmonton Oilers are stupid doesn’t mean the Maple Leafs have to be.

Mike Sherman

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Montreal Alouettes were down to their final play on Saturday afternoon, scrimmaging on the Tranna Argonauts’ 48-yard stripe, thus it was Hail Mary time in a 26-22 game. And what does Larks head coach Mike Sherman do? He yanks his starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel, and inserts a cold Antonio Pipkin behind centre because he had “fresh legs.” What exactly did Sherman expect Pipkin to do? Toss the football with his feet? Unless Johnny Rotten is incapable of flinging a football 50 yards, Sherman’s reasoning makes no sense at all. It was boneheaded coaching.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel showed us what he’s all about when he dashed away in a huff the moment Pipkin’s fresh legs failed to avoid the Argos’ pass rush and he was sacked on the final play in the Larks’ loss. No mingling with the boys on the field after the fact. No hand shakes or job-well-done words for his mates and foes. Just sprint and pout (his legs look real “fresh” as he ran away). Hey, I don’t blame the guy for being PO’d, but scurrying off in a hissy fit is a bad, spoiled-brat optic. And it confirms that Johnny Rotten is all about Johnny Rotten.

An unidentified Canadian Football league coach or GM delivered this gem to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “Manziel’s better than you think. No quarterback can win with that group of offensive linemen Montreal is putting out there.” Not true. Pipkin won two of four starts with the O-lineman that the Alouettes are “putting out there.” It’s just the 0-6 Johnny Rotten who can’t win with them.

Why is the CFL keeping the head count for the Als-Argos skirmish at BMO Field a secret? I mean, so what if you see more people at Chris Walby’s backyard BBQ? Give us the attendance figure already.

This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-4): Still the team to beat.
2. Saskatchewan (11-6): Where did that offence come from?
3. Winnipeg (9-7): Back to work this week.
4. B.C. (9-7): Winning for Wally.
5. Ottawa (9-7): A playoff bye for Bytown?
6. Hamilton (8-8): Losing Speedy B is huge.
7. Edmonton (8-9): Wholesale changes are a-coming.
8. Toronto (4-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-13): Yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you’re a parent with a child playing football, you might want to take a peek at the latest issue of The Manitoba Teacher, where you’ll find an excellent feature by one of my favorite people and former colleague Judy Owen. She gets into the safety measures local leagues are taking in an attempt to curb injuries, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers greats Chris Walby and Troy Westwood offer input. It’s good stuff.

Still no freshly minted sports columnist to replace the departed Paul Wiecek at the Winnipeg Free Press. I thought they’d have had someone in place the moment Wiecek walked out the door, because a sports section without a columnist is like a church without prayer. A pub without pints. Sinatra without a song. As good as the Drab Slab’s foot soldiers are in the toy department—and they are good—the section needs a lead voice. Someone to arouse the rabble. And I need someone to critique.

Johnny Miller

So, Johnny Miller plans to pull the plug on his golf analyst gig with NBC Sports after the Phoenix Open in early February next year. Shame. Although pompous, Miller is blunt and goes directly to the point. He’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers. He and tennis great John McEnroe are the two most honest game analysts/color commentators on sports TV. Apparently Paul Azinger will move into Miller’s seat at NBC. He’s good, but he’s going to hear a lot of “He’s no Johnny Miller” when he cushions his comments.

Johnny Mo

John Morris tells Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that his hurry-hard days in men’s curling are done, and he’ll now focus on mixed doubles. That’s one of those good news, bad news things. It’s good that Johnny Mo will continue to curl, because he’s a colorful guy who knows how to fill news snoops’ notebooks and deliver quality sound bites. But, since mixed doubles is still in its infancy and sits on the periphery of the game, he won’t be as visible. So file that part of his decision under not so good.

The low-key, subdued farewell is among the quirks of world-class curling. Johnny Mo steps away from the men’s game and there’s no fanfare, even though he is among the most-decorated Pebble People of all time. Intense (sometimes to a fault) and combative, Johnny Mo did it all on the pebble. This is a hall of fame curler. His resumé includes multiple Olympic, world and Canadian championships and, of course, he collaborated with Kaitlyn Lawes to reach the top step of the podium in the inaugural mixed doubles event at the Winter Games in South Korea last February. But there will be no teary-eyed press gathering like we see when a hockey, football, baseball or hoops great bids adios. Legends like Morris, Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Elisabet Gustafson, Colleen Jones, Dugie et al go quietly into the night. Or to the broadcast booth. It’s the curler’s way.

And, finally, Rihanna apparently rejected an offer to headline the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl, so we’re stuck with Adam Levine and Maroon 5. Personally, I’m not into either performer’s music, but I know whose wardrobe I’d like to see malfunction.