Let’s talk about the non-bubble girls and boys on the NHL beat…the Puck Pontiff’s silence…baseball’s COVID-19 problem…anti-gay bile in boxing…and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s first pitch

A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s 3 a.m. and I’m tired, so I think I’ll try to get some shuteye…

The other day I mentioned how ironic it is that numerous jock essayists have been giving the National Hockey League a stern tsk-tsking for its brazen, unapologetic bid to control the message.

Scribes hither and yon have been beating that drum like John Bonham gone bonkers and, officially, there are now more noses out of joint on press row than you’ll see at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. Or any other boxing gym for that matter.

The scribes’ squawk can be summed up in eight words: Commissioner Gary Bettman is a dirty, rotten scoundrel.

Gary Bettman

Emperor Gary, you see, has decreed that only house organs (read: scribes on NHL or member team payrolls) shall be permitted inside the Edmonton and Republic of Tranna player bubbles during the Stanley Cup runoff. All others, sorry, but they won’t get any closer to an actual hockey player than heaven is to hell. They’ll have to be satisfied with pressing their noses against a window and squinting in.

Oh, sure, the girls and boys on the beat are allowed to attend matches and perch themselves in the press box, located way up there where noses begin to bleed, but that doesn’t cut it. They want more. They asked for more, but Emperor Gary turned them down in less time than it takes to stick a swab up their nose.

As a consequence, the mainstream media mob insists the playing surface isn’t level. NHL-approved news snoops will be privy to activity and conversation that isn’t available to them. And that, in turn, will result in “sanitized” coverage of the 24-team tournament because, as many have emphasized in their critiques, the various house organs aren’t allowed to mention things like concussions or fisticuffs in their copy.

“If anything unusual, untoward, troublesome, or remotely negative happens in the bubble, will we ever hear about it?” asks Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “Likely not. That’s a shame.”

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab provides the backup vocals, writing: “If a star goes down in a heap during a drill and has to be carried off the ice, there’s a good chance you won’t hear about it beyond the coach eventually identifying them as being ‘unfit to play’ when they’re not on the ice at puck drop. If teammates get into a dust-up during practice—remember when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler and Ben Chiarot dropped the gloves a couple of years ago?—you can bet you won’t hear a peep.”

Doesn’t say much for their reporting skills if they need to see it to know about it, does it? Whatever became of inside contacts?

Look, I totally get it. Mainstream jock journos want equal access so they can deliver unfettered, unpolished dispatches during the risky business of conducting a major sporting event while the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to kill people and send others to the infirmary. That’s a fair ask. But when they trot out the “control the message” argument, as Mad Mike did (the NHL will be “drunk with power in this situation”), they lose me.

I mean, there’s the irony I wrote about the other day. They’re bellyaching because the NHL insists on controlling the message, yet that’s exactly what newspapers do 24/7, 365 days of the year (minus holidays).

When was the last time anyone from either the Winnipeg Sun or Drab Slab asked you what you wanted to see on the sports front? Or the front page, for that matter? When was the last time either Wyman or Mad Mike asked you for a column idea, then wrote it? When was the last time someone at Postmedia asked if you want all that copy from the Republic of Tranna in the Winnipeg Sun sports section? When was the last time you were invited to a daily newsroom meeting? When was the last time an editor-in-chief asked you what slant to put on a story?

They don’t ask because they don’t want you controlling their message. You might say, they’re drunk with power.

Interesting that both Wyman and Mad Mike concede that the rabble likely view their gripe as “whining.” There’s a reason for that: It is whining.

Mad Mike’s essay was approximately 1,000 words, most of it condemning the NHL, but here’s how he sums up: “Here in Edmonton, it will be business as usual for me, even if the situation itself is anything but usual. It’s not ideal, but it won’t hamper my ability to bring you compelling daily stories, features and columns from the hub and document an event we’re all going to remember for the rest of our lives. And I will happily do it from outside the bubble.” If that’s the case, why the 1,000-word whinge about the horrors of not being in the bubble? I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.

Similarly, but not as dense, Wyman writes this: “As a member of the independent media, representing readers who want original stories, columns and features that are not league presentations, I say what the NHL is doing is wrong.” But here’s the deal: No one is preventing him from scribbling those original stories, columns and features. And therein lies the challenge. He must come up with something that Mad Mike and the in-house scribes aren’t doing. He has to be creative. Inventive. He has to offer his readers something we can only find in the Sun. I’m sure he’s up to the task.

Would I think differently were I still in mainstream media? No. You deal with what’s in front of you.

The Puck Pontiff

There was one interesting nugget of information in Mad Mike’s piece: He hasn’t had a chin-wag with the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, in his four years on the beat. He’s asked for an audience, but the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll or one of his minions has repeatedly declined. “Frankly, I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” Mad Mike scribbles. Nor should he.

I’d like to hear from the Puck Pontiff more often. I wouldn’t want him to be a Eugene Melnyk or a Humpty Harold Ballard type of owner, but an annual state-of-the-union would be nice, especially this year with the quirky Stanley Cup tournament that’s about to commence. I’d also really like to know if he’d consider operating a franchise in the National Women’s Hockey League.

The Miami Marlins have been shut down by COVID-19. The Philadelphia Phillies have been shut down. So how totally dumb does the Ontario government and its health authority look today? They were prepared to welcome the Marlins and other Major League Baseball outfits to the Republic of Tranna this summer, where they could wander about willy-nilly and spread their germs. Trudeau the Younger wouldn’t have any of it, though, and he instructed the Blue Jays to find another playground. Finally, something the PM doesn’t have to apologize for.

Just wondering how many COVID-19 positives it will take to shut down the NHL’s reboot.

A British boxer, James Hawley, has been dropped by his management team for spewing anti-gay/anti-transgender bile. But, hey, he can’t possibly be homophobic or transphobic. After all, he’s okay with lesbian sex and, more important, he has “friends who are gay and I have a cousin who is gay.” Sigh. And people wonder why most gay male athletes are stuck in the closet.

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

And, finally, if you saw Dr. Anthony Fauci’s ceremonial first pitch last week in Washington, you’ll know it was grim. But there’s a reason. Seems the good doctor over-prepped for his moment in the sports spotlight, and he “completely miscalculated the distance from the mound.” According to the New York Times, Dr. Fauci had gone to a local school for a toss-around to get the feel of hurling a baseball again. “I pitched and pitched,” he said. “I threw my arm out. I hadn’t thrown a baseball literally in decades. After I practiced, my arm was hanging around my feet.” He also mis-measured. A Major League Baseball pitching rubber is 60 feet, six inches from home plate, but Dr. Fauci mistakenly hurled his practice pitches from 40 feet. Catcher Sean Doolittle “looked to me like he was like 500 feet away.” So now you know the rest of the story.

Let’s talk about “hub bubble hockey” and jock journos…Elvis and his Jailhouse Jock…John Fogerty plays centrefield…sticking to sports, or not…the race and gender scorecard…snack time for Iron Mike…Commish Randy’s naked bootleg…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored, and it’s mostly quick hits this morning because my attention span is like the golf season in Good Ol’ Hometown—short…

Okay, as far as I can determine, this is the National Hockey League road map to a reboot and the coronation of a 2020 Stanley Cup champion:

Summon the boys from hither and yon, put 24 teams in a “bubble” in a couple of “hub” cities, stick swabs up hundreds of noses every morning, noon and nighttime for three months, and play summer-stretched-into-winter shinny until either Alexander Ovechkin or Brett Hull is too drunk to stand during the post-playoff celebration.

Ya, sure, works for me.

Except I’m not on the beat.

NHL bubble hockey.

There’s no sports editor instructing me to pack my bags and take enough clothes for a 90-day stay in one of those two “hub bubbles,” and it seems to me that news snoops are the forgotten, or ignored, element in the NHL’s quest to stem its financial blood-letting and, at the same time, determine a pandemic puck champion.

We know the rabble won’t be invited inside the “hub bubbles,” but what about sports scribes and natterbugs? Are they also persona non grata? Will those assigned to report on the goings-on in the “hub bubbles” be granted access to players, coaches, managers, etc.? If not (which is the most likely scenario), why bother going? If so, how many news snoops are willing to put their health, if not their lives, at risk?

I mean, people with medical diplomas on their office walls tell us that we can expect a surge of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, so do you really want to be in proximity to a bunch of guys who’ve been spitting and sweating on each other all day? That might be a tough sell on the home front.

A similar thought process would apply if the Canadian Football League sorts out its mess and establishes “hub bubbles” in two-to-four Prairie locales, for an abbreviated season that would commence in September and conclude in December.

I’ve long held that the toy departments of newspapers must discover fresh ways of doing business, given the immediacy of Internet news, the personal disclosures of athletes on social media forums, and the near-maniacal obsession of pro sports teams/organizations to control the message, so it could be that the COVID-19 pandemic will give sports editors no choice but to remake their sections in a significant way.

Same old, same old is done. Probably forever. Creativity must rule the day, and that will be a good thing.

Let’s say you’re a news snoop on the Winnipeg Jets beat and you’re told to tag along with the team to a locale in the United States sometime late this summer/early autumn, when the NHL reboots. Maybe our Yankee Doodle neighbors will have a handle on the coronavirus by then. Maybe not. Maybe the streets of America will no longer be flooded with clashing rioters and storm-troopers after another rogue cop executes another Black man, seemingly for sport. Maybe they will be. So do you go?

Good work by a clever headline writer at the Drab Slab re the proposed Stanley Cup tournament cooked up by the mad scientists in NHL Commish Gary Bettman’s lab: “The Franken-playoffs.” It’ll certainly be different, if only because the lads will be playing in echo chambers dressed up as hockey rinks.

Whichever outfit wins the Stanley Cup, it’ll be the first time in history that no one from the winning outfit will shout, “We couldn’t have done this without our fans!”

My favorite tweet last week was delivered by Shannon Szabados, our longtime women’s national team goaltender: “Happy the NHL will be back, but without fans how do we expect players to know when to shoot the puck? How will opposing goalies know they suck?” That’s my kind of humor.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos (Peter Norman on left).

I’ve never subscribed to the “stick to sports” mantra as it relates to jock journos, because societal issues and sports have been intersecting since David took out his slingshot and coldcocked Goliath. Think heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and his white wives. Think Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson and whites-only baseball. Think Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War. Think Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexico Olympics. Think Colin Kaepernick on one knee. Think Billie Jean King being outed as a lesbian. Think racist team names, like Washington’s Redskins, and team logos, like Cleveland’s clownish Chief Wahoo. Think Johnny Manziel, Ray Rice, Bobby Hull and numerous other male athletes and domestic violence. So good on Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for straying beyond the accepted boundaries of sports scribbling to serve up a column on the current ugliness and nastiness south of the great Canada-U.S. divide. Paul had a natter with former Winnipeg Blue Bombers DB Jovon Johnson, many times a victim of racist acts and language, and he wonders why white people aren’t raising their voices against systemic racism while Minneapolis-St. Paul and other U.S. burgs burn and protesters are trampled by the hooves of cops’ horses. It’s a boffo read.

Why don’t more sports scribes/sections tackle societal issues like racism, gender equality, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence? Because most of them can’t relate to the marginalized among us. Consider these numbers from the most recent Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card (2018, a study of 75 newspapers/websites in Canada and the U.S.):
90 per cent of sports editors were male;
85 per cent of sports editors were white;
88.5 per cent of reporters were male;
83.4 per cent of columnists were male;
82.1 per cent of reporters were white;
80.3 per cent of columnists were white;
44 women were columnists at ‘A’ level newspapers/websites, and 38 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN female columnist were removed, the percentage of female columnists would drop to 2.9 per cent.

Birmingham, circa 1960s.

Curious tweet re U.S. rioting from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “No I wasn’t endorsing police firing rubber bullets at members of the media. I just can’t comprehend the racism that’s behind all of this. It got Trump elected. And isn’t this where I came in back in the 60s? Forget the cops. I’d bring in the fire department and turn on the hoses.” I’m not sure what to make of that, but, as a product of the 1950s and ’60s, I know I don’t like the optics.

There’s talk about a third fist fight between former heavyweight boxing champs Iron Mike Tyson and Evander (The Real Meal) Holyfield. Or, as Tyson likes to call it, “Leftovers.”

Hey, look who’s blah-blah-blahing about the CFL—Johnny Manziel. That’s right, TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback went on something called Golf’s Subpar podcast the other day, and he informed listeners that he “loved Canada,” even if the business side of Rouge Football is “a little bit ticky-tacky.” Well, if anyone knows “tacky,” it’s Johnny Rotten. The former Montreal Larks/Hamilton Tabbies QB also confirmed his fondness for females and nightclubs, and added, “I got a good heart, I’m a good dude. I treat people the right way for the most part. Deep down, I truly am a good person.” Ya, except for beating up and threatening to kill women, he’s a swell guy.

Speaking of complete dinks, if any of you girls out there are looking to get that special man in your life something unique, how about Elvis Presley’s old jockstrap? Straight goods. The very garment that once holstered the King’s jewels in the 1970s is up for auction by Paul Fraser Collectibles, and this is no ordinary jockstrap. It’s rhinestone-studded, “sexually potent” and, according to auction rep Daniel Wade, “the new owner won’t be able to resist wearing it out on a Saturday night—the Elvis magic will work wonders.” Oh, for sure, that’s what every woman is hoping to discover about her man on a first date—his underwear is half a century old.

Seriously, why was Elvis the Pelvis even wearing a jockstrap? Was there a chance his boys were going to pop out of his jumpsuit?

Oh, one final thing about Elvis’ jockstrap: It’s a size Medium, so maybe the King wasn’t really the king after all, if you catch my meaning. (Thank you, thank you very much.)

Commish Randy

CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to panhandle on Parliament Hill, asking the feds for welfare payments from $30 million to $150 million. PM Trudeau the Younger can just send the cheque to Rouge Football headquarters at the new mailing address: c/o 2020 Skid Road.

The adult website Stripchat, which boasts of 60 million monthly visitors for its live webcam sex shows, is offering $15 million for naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, home of the National Football League Saints. Hearing that, CFL Commish Randy immediately contacted the porn masters at Stripchat and said, “Give us $15 million and we’ll put your live sex shows on our Jumbotrons during TV timeouts. Hell, for an extra $15 million, we’ll have our guys play naked, except the O-lineman, of course. Nobody wants to go there.” We can just call it Commish Randy’s naked bootleg.

John Fogerty and the kids.

Coolest thing I’ve seen in a long, long time was John Fogerty celebrating his 75th birthday by singing Centrefield in centrefield at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. He was joined by his kids Shane, Kelsy and Tyler, with Fogerty playing a custom-made Louisville Slugger guitar. Centrefield is only the best baseball song. Ever. And how cool it must be to have a 75-year-old dad that cool.

I’m not big on all the retro stuff that we’ve been force-fed during the pandemic, but Taylor Allen has a good read on Laurie Boschman in the Drab Slab. Bosch was one of the genuinely good guys to ever wear Jets linen.

Also good to see is a new feature in the Winnipeg Sun, Ted’s Talk, which debuted on Saturday. Ted Wyman takes a wordy walkabout through the sports neighborhood, touching on a variety of issues, and I have to say it’s bloody well time. I don’t know how sassy, cheeky or irreverent Teddy Football plans to be with his new toy, but I hope he has fun with it. And takes no prisoners.

In late April, Postmedia slashed 80 jobs and shut down 15 papers. Last week, it was revealed that there’ll be another 40 “permanent” reductions across the chain. Again, I wonder if Postmedia will be printing two papers in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver by the time the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course.

And, finally, a lot of us can use a little good news these days, and watching the SpaceX rocket leave the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center and roar off into the wild, blue yonder on Saturday was quite an emotional moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in my house. God speed to the two astronauts.

Let’s talk about the best of the best Winnipeg Jets…CFL indifference in Eastern Canada…bye-bye Leos?…bad boys chewing the ‘fat’ about women…Iron Mike back in the ring…Eddie Munster’s long-lost bro on TSN…and Little Richard has left the building

Plenty to unpack this morning, kids, so let’s get right down to business…

Well, the boys at TSN almost got it right, the operative word being “almost.”

I mean, they pieced together their all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and they’re trying to tell us that The Shoe, Larks-Erik Sjoberg, is not—repeat, is not—one of the top six blueliners to wear the local shinny side’s livery? Instead, they name him the “foundational” player?

Good gawd. That’s like giving Jesus Christ a participation badge for showing up at the Last Supper.

Speaking of Christians…it’s about Dave Christian. Fabulous guy. Part of the Miracle On Ice. Saw him score his first goal, seven seconds into his first shift in his first National Hockey League game. Crowd at the Old Barn On Maroons Road went bonkers. Led the team in scoring one winter. But no. He isn’t an all-timer.

And on what planet known to man is Rink Rat Scheifele superior to Alexei Zhamnov? Only Planet TSN.

Andrew freaking Ladd? Talk about losing the plot. Freddy Olausson? Great kid, scattershot game. Paul Maurice? Are they spoofing us now?

Look, I realize this exercise by TSN was meant to generate chatter at a time when there isn’t a whole lot of sports to chatter about and, on that score, I suppose it’s mission accomplished. And, as mentioned, they struck most of the right notes. But their gaffes were as big as Ondrej Pavelec’s five-hole.

Start with The Shoe.

I don’t know the makeup of the TSN selection panel, but apparently none of them saw Sjoberg play. Here’s how I described him in a recent essay: “Squat like a fire hydrant, The Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.”

And this from Ron Chipperfield of the Edmonton Oilers: “I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the (World Hockey Association) five years.”

Here are some of Sjoberg’s bona fides: Team captain in both the WHA and NHL; three WHA titles; most outstanding defenceman in WHA (1977-78); first team all-star (’77-78); member of WHA Hall of Fame; member of Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame; member of Jets Hall of Fame.

Apparently all that escaped the notice of the boys at TSN, who slotted Olausson into the starting six instead. Hey, Freddy was a treat. Always quick with a smile. But if he was a better defenceman than The Shoe, then a bowl of Cheerios is a cure for COVID-19. We won’t see the day when Freddy’s name and number are raised to the rafters at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie beside The Shoe’s banner.

Now let’s move on to Scheifele v. Zhamnov. No comparison.

Zhamnov was slick, inventive, clever and did things with the puck that Rink Rat can only pull off with a PlayStation or Xbox joystick in his hand. The Russian finished third in NHL scoring one season, behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros, and he averaged 1.14 points per game with the Jets. Scheifele’s PPG is .855. Zhamnov also knew his way around the defensive end of the freeze, something that is too often a concept foreign to Scheifele.

Meanwhile, it’s about Paul Maurice.

That’s coach Bobby Kromm on the right, with Ben Hatskin, Bob Graham and The Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

Coach Potty Mouth is TSN’s choice as bench puppeteer, even though he’s accomplished squat. They trumpet his longevity and a .579 win/loss percentage, but ignore the reality that his Jets had their noses pressed to the window looking in at the Stanley Cup tournament three times in his first six crusades. When they did qualify for the spring runoff, his win/loss percentage is .407. That’s beyond lame.

Bobby Kromm should be the coach. Regular season record: .621; playoff record, .697; WHA titles, 1.

Finally, part of the TSN all-time team criteria was a checking unit. So, you remove Ladd and Christian from their lineup and insert Bill Lesuk, and Willy Lindstrom, who flank Thomas Steen.

Case closed.

Kent Nilsson

The most talented of all Jets was Kent Nilsson, but the Swedish maestro wasn’t eligible due to a lack of games played. Kenta wore Jets linen for just two seasons before being taken hostage by the Atlanta Flames, and they were memorable. Both ended in WHA championships, he produced 107 points in each, and he was a two-time award winner (top rookie, most gentlemanly player).

Some might be surprised that I included Lesuk on my all-time team. Don’t be. When it came to dogging opposing forwards, no Jet did it better than the Tractor. He was like an extra layer of skin on foes, and also one of the nicest men in hockey.

Quick sidebar on Lesuk: After a particularly harsh critique in which I suggested the Jets had been wearing Pampers in a lopsided loss, the Tractor pulled me aside for a quiet chat the following day. “I don’t mind you being critical when we deserve it, but is it really necessary to write that we’re wearing diapers? I’m sure you can do better than that.” No screaming, no ranting, no confrontation. Just a reasoned comment. I’d never received such a polite dressing down. And, of course, he was correct.

By the way, I’m not alone in my rejection of TSN’s all-time Jets team. Old friend and longtime broadcaster Joe Pascucci and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun took to Twitter to provide their choices. I’ll let you decide if they’re flawed. (Hint: They are.)

Randy Ambrosie

Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie made his pitch for great gobs of cash ($30 million-$150 million) to the feds the other day, and he leaned heavily on syrupy sentiment, telling members of Parliament that private owners in our three-downs game aren’t in it for fame and certainly not fortune. “Sports philanthropists,” is how he described people like David Braley in B.C. and Bob Young in the Hammer, while Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment purchased the Tranna Argos out of “love,” don’t you know. There was also the predictable mention of “Canadian culture” and how much the CFL means to the masses. Except, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, the rabble doesn’t appear to be all-in on our quirky game. Asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled, here are the numbers:
Manitoba:            63 per cent
Saskatchewan:     61 per cent
Alberta:               45 per cent
B.C.:                    34 per cent
Quebec:               31 per cent
Ontario:               28 per cent
Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
As you can see, a huge majority of folks in Eastern Canada really don’t give a damn about the CFL and, in fact, they’ll be more disappointed if the National Football League season is trashed.

No COVID-19 vaccine, no herd immunity, no large gatherings in B.C. Which means no pro football. “The B.C. Lions need to have bums in the seats. I don’t see that happening,” Premier John Horgan said last week. So it won’t happen. The Leos’ bankroll, David Braley, isn’t going to pay his players to perform in front of empty pews at B.C. Place Stadium without cash flowing his way. Which begs the question: Will the Lions ever return, given the indifference that already exists on the Left Flank?

Just a thought: If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers don’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic, how long will it take for David Asper to hop on a white steed and rescue the franchise?

Brendan Leipsic

Now that Brendan Leipsic has been used as a pinata the past three days (justified) and the Washington Capitals have washed their hands of the fringe forward (also justified) for his dreadful, callous comments about women, let me just say this about that: I hope he enjoys hockey in Russia. The KHL, of course, is a haven for those with a sordid past. For evidence, see: Voynov, Slava. See: Peters, Bill. Hey, perhaps the Peters-coached Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg can provide a soft landing for Leipsic. Mind you, can there be anything “soft” about a place called Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast. Sounds like 200 square miles of hard labor.

Not all young, testosterone-fueled hockey players think of women as nothing more than meat on the hoof, but no one should be surprised that Leipsic and buddies harbor a mindset that belongs in another century. Their vulgar, body-shaming natter simply underscores the reality that misogyny and sexism in male sports remains as commonplace as chin whiskers at playoff time. And don’t run off with the notion that it’s limited to the locker room. It exists in the pews, or have you forgotten about the “Sedin sisters” and “Cindy” Crosby?

Brett Hull, right.

Former player Brett Hull has weighed in on Leipsic and pals, offering these thoughts: “We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught. We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.” Yes, hockey was so much more fun when the lads could spend their down time on the QT, hooting and hollering at a woman while she peeled off her clothing. Sigh.

Although the intimate details re locale and principals are sketchy, I recall standing on the fringe of a circle of Winnipeg Jets one winter, all of us loitering in an airport boarding area while awaiting a connecting flight. The topic du jour was trash talk. Although not a lengthy natter, it produced one nugget of insight: Players can rag on each other about anything—“Except wives, girlfriends and kids; they’re off limits.” I’m thinking it was Peter Sullivan who said it, but, as stated, my memory is iffy. It might have been Lyle Moffat or Kim Clackson. Doesn’t matter. Leipsic called Vancouver Canuck forward Tanner Pearson’s bride Meaghan “fat,” and that’s breaking an unwritten code.

My favorite tweet re L’Affaire Leipsic was delivered by Melissa Martin of the Drab Slab: “To be honest, I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports. So I wrote about some awesome women instead.” Melissa’s column is top drawer, and hers is one of the few mainstream media female voices heard in the discussion. Which is most unfortunate. Only women can speak to the very heart of this issue, given that they’ve spent a lifetime listening to such bile, so we need more of them in jock journalism. Not just on the print side, understand. On air, too. As it is, it was left for Jeff O’Dog, Jamie McLennan, Ray Ferraro and Bryan Hayes to do the blah, blah, blah thing on TSN Overdrive. And what did they discuss? Leipsic not being welcomed back into the Capitals locker room and privacy issues/social media. There was very little mention of misogyny. Hayes feels “horrible for Tanner Pearson and his wife,” but he and the others expressed scant concern for the other woman trashed by Leipsic and fellow cads.

Worst take had to be a Twitter exchange between Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and a reader/follower. The latter called the former “a fat looking nerd” and the former responded by calling the latter “a garbage human being.” Good grief. Are we back in Grade 5, boys?

There’s talk of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson returning to the ring at age 53 to fight Kiwi boxer-turned-rugby star Sonny Bill Williams. But apparently Williams began to have second thoughts when Tyson looked at him and said, “My, what big ears you have.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else look at TSN’s UFC guy Robin Black and see an aging Eddie Munster? I swear, Eddie and Robin were separated at birth, and Herman and Lily Munster probably don’t even know about it.

And, finally, how big a star was Little Richard, who died on Saturday? Well, the Beatles and Rolling Stones once were his opening acts. Yup, that big. My favorite Little Richard tune is Long Tall Sally, and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get much better than the Beatles’ version. Paul McCartney really gets after it on vocals and Ringo gives his Ludwig drum kit a fearsome thrashing. The lads recorded Long Tall Sally in one take, and it’s the last song they ever performed on tour.

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

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

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

Jennifer Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard, Briane Meilleur

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea Carey

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

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

That’s tough sledding for Jones.

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

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

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

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

It’s about Super Bowl LIV: Good game.

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

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

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

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

Ron MacLean

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

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

Patrik Laine

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

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

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and a rout…the Sun ragdolls the Drab Slab…helmet to helmet…Kap’s dog-and-pony and clown show…Grapes really has left the building…Alpo barks back…Planet Puckhead has non-hockey regions?…Ponytail Puck…ugly Americans…and Rafa calls a news snoop on his B.S

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s grey, cloudy and wet where I live, a good day to stay inside and watch three-down football…

Bombers by 17.

There. I said it. Not going to change it.

A few hours from now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have booked themselves a trip to Calgary for the Grey Cup skirmish on Nov. 24, and it won’t be close, not even if Corn Dog Cody Fajardo makes a side trip to Lourdes between now and this afternoon’s kickoff at Mosaic Stadium on the Flattest of Lands.

And, no, this isn’t the rambling of a Jenny-come-lately swayed by the Bombers paddywhacking of the Calgary Stampeders a week ago

Zach Collaros

I’ll remind you that I’ve been telling anyone willing to listen for more than a month that Winnipeg FC wasn’t a fool’s bet to be grabbing grass at McMahon Stadium in the final frolic of Rouge Football 2019. Just to refresh:

Oct. 9 (before the Bombers brought Zach Collaros on board): “Go ahead and accuse me of typing with rose-tinted glasses, and maybe I am, but I believe the CFL West Division remains a crap shoot and the Bombers aren’t completely out of the discussion.”

Oct. 27: “Playing on the final Sunday in November is doable.”

Nov. 3: “After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.”

So now here we are, Winnipeg v. Saskatchewan Roughriders for bragging rights of the West Division and Prairie pigskin, and when I hear Gang Green plans to use everyone from Corn Dog Cody to Premier Scott Moe at quarterback this afternoon, well, that seals the deal for me.

Corn Dog Cody

They tell us that Fajardo is good to go, but the guy’s nursing an upper-body owie that prevents him from airing it out, which means sideline steward Craig Dickenson will also trot out wet-eared Isaac Harker and Winnipeg FC washout Bryan Bennett, and maybe Scott Moe in a pinch. Well, QB by committee seldom works, and it certainly won’t get the job done against that nasty Bombers defensive dozen.

Add to that the iffy fettle of praise-worthy pass-catcher Shaq Evans, and the Flatlanders enter the fray with one hand tied behind their back and one foot in the gridiron grave.

I could be wrong, of course. Been there, done that. But I just don’t see the Bombers D surrendering anything but three-point scores, and it will take at least seven of them to make this an interesting disagreement. That ain’t going to happen.

So, make the final: Winnipeg 29, Saskatchewan 12.

Speaking of routs, the boys at the Winnipeg Sun—Paul Friesen, Teddy Football and friends in the Postmedia chain—gave the Drab Slab a thorough and proper ragdolling in local newspaper wars the past two playoff Sundays. Today, the Sun delivered an 8 1/2-page package on the Bombers-Riders, with 11 articles and stats. A week ago it was eight pages, eight stories and stats for Bombers-Stamps. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, gave us one Jeff Hamilton story and one Mad Mike McIntyre column today, and that’s actually a step up compared to a week ago when the broadsheet didn’t consider the West Division semifinal significant enough to dispatch Mad Mike to Cowtown. Hamilton wrote one piece on the weather, and they also ran wire copy (also on the weather). So, if you’re keeping score at home (and I know you aren’t), the final tally is: Sun, 16½ pages, 19 articles; Drab Slab, 4 pages, 4 articles. We haven’t seen that big a rout since Tiger Woods’ divorce settlement.

I don’t know if anyone at the Drab Slab is embarrassed by the paddywhacking they’ve taken on Bombers coverage, but the tall foreheads there have always been an arrogant, smug bunch, so I doubt it.

Moving back to reading tea leaves, the Hamilton Tabbies aren’t about to waste the best season in franchise history by coughing up a hairball v. the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Division final at Timbits Field in the Hammer today. They’ll tip a canoe, though, with five lead changes. Tabbies 36, Eskimos 34.

Does this make sense to anyone? Rip the helmet off a foe’s head and cocabonk him with it in the National Football League and you’re slapped with an indefinite suspension, minimum six games. Do the same thing in the CFL (hello, Vernon Adams Jr.) and it earns you a one-game slap on the wrist. Is there some sort of U.S.-Canada exchange rate on criminal activity that I’m unaware of? Or is Commish Randy Ambrosie too busy making nice with Mexico and Europe to give a damn about CFL player safety.

What do you get when a dog-and-pony show is missing the dog and pony? Just the clown (hello, Colin Kaepernick). Seriously. What was that Kaepernick-NFL showcase all about on Saturday? His 1970s hair style?

Ron MacLean

Is it true? Has Don Cherry really left the building? Of course he has. Coach’s Corner is Coachless Corner after close to four decades on Hockey Night in Canada. But, hey, not to worry. Grapes’ former straight man, Ron MacLean, still managed to work in two token Bobby Orr references during four minutes, 44 seconds worth of groveling on Saturday night. He just did it without insulting Francophones, Russians, Europeans, pinkos, women, immigrants and men who prefer to play hockey rather than fight.

I keep hearing that Brian Burke is the curmudgeon-in-waiting at HNIC, but that’s too same old, same old for me. I like much of Burke’s work since he joined Sportsnet, but, even though 21 years younger than the 85-year-old Cherry, he preaches from the same horse-and-buggy hockey bible. That is, he’s still a fists first, finesse second advocate, and that’s not the way the game is played today. For evidence, see Milan Lucic and his three points in 20 games.

Alpo Suhonen

The most biting snarl directed toward the now-defrocked Grapes came from Alpo Suhonen, long-time Finnish coach and a former Winnipeg Jets assistant once mocked by Cherry for having a name that sounded like “some kind of dog food.” Following Cherry’s ouster from HNIC, Suhonen launched this missile in an interview with Postmedia: “I found him to be a nationalistic, chauvinistic, narcissistic, toxic man…I know a lot of Canadians love his style, but his opinions about Europeans and their hockey, and the style he’s speaking, I find it very narrow-minded.” Ouch..

Jacques Cartier

In the fallout since the Don Cherry dismissal on Remembrance Day, the most curious comment was delivered by Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. “If America has blue states and red states, Canada has hockey regions and non-hockey regions,” he wrote. Say what? I’ve been drawing breath for 69 years (99.9 per cent of it “good Canadian” oxygen), I’ve spent time in burgs coast to coast, and I’ve yet to discover any of these “non-hockey regions” that Kelly scribbles about. Where are these mysterious locales? Are they lost civilizations? If not hockey, what goes on there? And how did John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, Jacques Cartier, James Cook and George Vancouver all miss these “non-hockey regions?” Inquiring minds need to know.

Before the puck was dropped in October, I had the Winnipeg Jets pegged for a bubble team, with a wild card playoff spot their best-case scenario. But here they are today, running with the big dogs in the National Hockey League Central Division, just four points out of top spot. Trouble is, they’re also only three points away from falling out of the post-season picture. Yup, sounds like a bubble team to me. But they’re a good-news story one-quarter of the way through this crusade, and I’d say both Connor Hellebuyck and Laurent Brossoit are making Paul Maurice look like a darned good coach.

Frank Seravalli

TSN squawk box/scribe Frank Seravalli is cruising out of his lane again. It wasn’t enough that he once made the laughable and totally fraudulent suggestion that Daniel and Henrik Sedin were “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century,” this American born, American raised, American schooled, American resident is now sticking his star-spangled snoot into our global puck affairs. “Hayley Wickenheiser has been called the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey,” he writes. “It would be fitting then to bestow an honour on her that has only been given to Gretzky at the NHL level: Wickenheiser’s No. 22 should never be worn again by a Canadian woman on the international stage. It’s time for Hockey Canada to officially make that the case.” Well, excuse us all to hell, Frankie boy, but if you promise not to tell us how to dress our female hockey players, we’ll promise not to tell your female soccer players how to behave in a 13-0 rout.

Megan Rapinoe

On second thought, forget that. We’ll mention ugly Americans and Megan Rapinoe’s big mouth every chance we get. But Seravalli still has no business telling us how to dress our Ponytail Pucksters.

I note that the National Women’s Hockey League has had an infusion of funding and there’s talk of expansion to the Republic of Tranna next autumn, which means the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association crusade to put Commish Dani Rylan and her operation out of business is failing. The PWHPA boycotters can continue to stage glorified scrimmages and photo-ops with Billie Jean King, but Ponytail Puck won’t move forward until they sit down and have a chat with Rylan. I’m not sure what part of that they don’t understand.

Rafael Nadal and his bride, Xisca.

Got a kick out of Rafael Nadal’s reaction to the dumbest of dumb comments the other day at the ATP tennis event in London. The world No. 1 had just been beaten by Alexander Zverev, and Italian news snoop Ubaldo Scanagatta wondered aloud if Rafa’s stumble was due, in part, to his recent exchange of “I do’s” with longtime squeeze Xisca Perello.

“I’d like to know, for many people to get married is a very important distracted thing,” said Scanagatta. “Before the marriage, during the marriage, after the marriage. Your concentration on tennis life has been bit different even if you were going out with the same girl for many, many years.”

“Honestly, are you asking me this?” Rafa responded. “Is this a serious question or a joke? Is it serious? Ya?”

Nadal then engaged in a bit of a to-and-fro before finally saying, “Okay, we move to Spanish, because that’s bull shit.”

And, finally, on the matter of bull leavings, it has come to my attention that this is post No. 500 for the River City Renegade blog. All I can say is that’s a whole lot of BS. Probably way too much, in fact.

Let’s talk about Chevy-speak and Buffcapades…what fans “deserve” from the Winnipeg Jets…Looch=goon…snark from Finland…faulty football tea leaves…Simoni and Zach against one another in the Grey Cup game?…calling out the boss…Bianca bugs out…a pub punch-up…and facts as an option

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we can turn our clocks back, but we can’t turn back time…

It’s never a surprise when Kevin Cheveldayoff stands before a gaggle of news snoops, flaps his gums, then slays them with Chevy-speak.

The man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets long ago mastered the art of gasbagging his interrogators, filling their notebooks and recording devices with such a high level of hollow blah, blah, blah that you’d swear he’s auditioning for a job on Parliament Hill.

So, of course, that’s what Chevy did the other day in San Jose when he poked his head out of the True North traveling gopher hole to address the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien, the reluctant blueliner.

Chevy

To say Chevy said nothing insightful or informative about Big Buff’s retreat from the fray is to say Rudy Giuliani has loose lips. Like, thanks Captain Obvious. The GM used up six minutes, 17 seconds worth of oxygen to deliver his empty message, and he repeated his nothingness so often that he used the word “again” 17 times. Mind you, I might have missed an “again” or two.

But, again (there’s that word again), why would any of us expect anything different?

That’s the way it’s been since 2011, and that’s the way it’s going to be as long as Chevy is Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s official mouthpiece. Mum’s the word. Always. You’ll get more out of a street mime. I mean, compared to True North, the people at Area 51 in Nevada are a bunch of blabbermouths.

Elliotte Friedman

The thing is, according to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada, this time Chevy had a reason for keeping his lips zipped: He’s under a National Hockey League gag order.

“The Jets have been told they can’t say anything, which is why Kevin Cheveldayoff has been so guarded in his comments,” reported Friedman, who went on to explain that Byfuglien’s unexpected, pre-season withdrawal was due to the wonky ankle he injured last winter.

Friedman also described a brewing standoff between Winnipeg HC and Big Buff’s camp as “emotional, heated” and “likely going to arbitration.”

So let’s recap the Buffcapades saga:

Big Buff

Big Buff arrived in Good Ol’ Hometown on the eve of the Jets training exercises, but he was a no-show at medicals. He was granted a leave of absence for reasons that were hush-hush, although speculators suggested the large lad was gazing at his navel, which is to say contemplating retirement at age 34. Suspended without pay, some among the rabble spied him in watering holes about town, then he disappeared Stateside, where medics took a scalpel to his wonky ankle last week, and it’s reported that he won’t be available until early 2020. If, that is, he’s of a mind to make himself available, or if the Jets still want him on their blueline.

There will, of course, be additional twists and turns to this clandestine caper, which head coach Paul Maurice initially wrote off as “nothing sinister.” I’m uncertain what Coach Potty Mouth’s definition of “sinister” is, but this all sounds quite sinister to me and, an NHL gag order notwithstanding, Chevy’s verbal stickhandling hasn’t been a good look for the Jets.

I’d tell you what he told news snoops the other day, except he didn’t tell them anything worth noting, so I’ll just paraphrase the essence of his six-plus minutes of gum flapping: “Again, you guys asked me to come out and speak, so here I am speaking, except, again, it’s complicated and I’m not saying anything, so, again, you know, I guess I’m not really speaking about something that, again, I can’t speak about.”

Pure, unvarnished gobbledygook, and the suggestion has been made by many among the rabble, also some news snoops, that they “deserve” better from Chevy and True North.

Well, okay, let’s take a look at that. What exactly does True North owe the faithful?

A winning team? Sorry, it’s strictly buyer beware. The only sure thing in sports is that TSN and Sportsnet will talk about Auston Matthews more than the Pope talks about Jesus. So icing a successful side is a hope, not mandatory.

Honesty? Everyone in hockey lies, and to expect the Jets to be an exception is pure Pollyanna.

Transparency? That would be nice but, frankly kids, True North isn’t obligated to tell us anything, even as they pig out at the public trough and make no apology for subsidies and tax breaks that help keep the bottom line in black, not red, ink.

I agree, it’s irksome, with gusts up to infuriating, and listening to Chevy prattle on like a Sunday preacher with nowhere to go makes my ears bleed the same way a Barry Manilow song does.

Here’s the bottom line, though: Again, revealing what goes on behind closed doors at True North isn’t part of Chevy’s mandate. That might not be what the frustrated flock wants or likes to hear, but it’s the reality of the situation.

While watching and listening to Chevy babble on the other day, it occurred to me that not answering questions he isn’t allowed to answer likely isn’t at the top of his to-do list. He had a root-canal vibe going. I’d like to say I felt sorry for him, but I didn’t.

One final thought on this matter: Isn’t it wonderful to have an NHL team to bitch about?

The Looch

Seriously, why is Milan Lucic still in the NHL? The Looch is a cheap imitation of a 1970s Broad Street Bully, and there shouldn’t be any room in the game for slow, plodding thugs whose sole purpose is to beat up people. His assault on Kole Sherwood of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday was a throwback to the disgraceful goon days of Schultz, Saleski and Hound Dog, and I hope the league hurls the book at him.

Chances are you’re unfamiliar with a chap named Pekka Jalonen, so be advised he’s a Finnish sports scribe with some rather harsh, point-blank opinions on Winnipeg HC. For example, after the Jets had dispatched young defender Ville Heinola to their American Hockey League farm, Jalonen sent out this tweet: “It’s good for Heinola to get away from all that mess in Winnipeg and Jets awful defence. All he can learn there is how NOT to play.” The Iltalehta jock journo also found time to take a broadside at Bryan Little without actually naming him. “Patrik Laine is sentenced to a ‘Donut line’ (there is a hole in the middle).” Well, that Donut Boy in the middle scored a winning goal and helped set up another in two of the Jets’ last three Ws. But, I must say, I like Jalonen’s snark.

Okay, after watching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Flatlanders struggle mightily against inferior foes in the final thrusts of the Canadian Football League regular season on Saturday, who’s prepared to write off the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the chase for the Grey Cup? I’m not. Ya, sure, they’ll have to win twice on foreign soil to get the job done, but there isn’t anything about either team that should keep the Bombers awake at night. My pre-season prediction was a Winnipeg-Hamilton Tabbies Grey Cup game, and I’m sticking with that.

On the subject of reading tea leaves, I have just one word for my CFL forecast last June—D’oh! I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d told you Donald Trump is a Democrat. I had the large lads finishing in this order: West Division—Winnipeg, B.C., Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan. East Division—Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal. But, hey, how was I to know every starting quarterback in the league would land in the repair shop, and that the Montreal Larks would fire everybody before the opening kickoff?

Simoni Lawrence took out Zach Collaros.

Let’s play the ‘what if’ game. What if the Bombers knock off the Stampeders in the opening salvo of the Grey Cup frolic next Sunday? And what if they go on to beat the Flatlanders to earn a berth in the championship skirmish? And what if they become rulers of all they survey in Rouge Football for the first time in 29 years? And what if Zach Collaros is the winning quarterback and Grey Cup MVP? Who, then, gets the credit? Why, it’s Simoni Lawrence, of course.

Follow the bouncing ball and think about it:

  • Simoni set off an unpredictable chain of events when he had the bad manners to lay Collaros low with a nasty, illegal hit to the noggin on the third play of the season.

  • That thuggery sent Zach to the repair shop, whereupon Corn Dog Cody Fajardo emerged as a legitimate starting QB and the Flatlanders no longer had any use for Collaros.

  • The Flatlanders then conned the Tranna Scullers into taking the head case off their hands, but they really had no use for Collaros either, so they had him stand on the sidelines and count empty seats at BMO Field.

  • Bombers GM Kyle Walters noticed Zach counting all those empty seats and, with his season falling off the rails, placed an 11th-hour, Hail Mary phone call to the Scullers’ freshly minted GM, Pinball Clemons, asking for Collaros. The answer was, “Yes, take our broken quarterback, please.”

  • Shortly thereafter, the Calgary Stampeders beat Chris Streveler like a rented mule, putting him in the repair shop and Collaros behind centre.

All that, simply because Simoni Lawrence is a dirty football player.

Makes for a great Grey Cup storyline, don’t you think? Be even better if Collaros gets there and Simoni and the Hamilton Tabbies are across the line of scrimmage.

Paul Friesen

Sifting through a collection of commentary on the Andrew Harris snub in CFL year-end awards voting, the most interesting came from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun. “I din’t get a vote for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ most outstanding player nominees, but if I had received a ballot one of the names on it would have been Andrew Harris. In fact, No. 33 would have been on my ballot twice. Harris has been both the Bombers’ top player this season and their top Canadian. Slam-dunk. Nobody in their right mind would argue against that. While I defend their right to express their opinion through their ballots, I say they blew it.” Strong stuff, considering Friesen was calling out his boss, Sun sports editor Ted Wyman. Teddy Football was one of three voters who supposedly “blew it” by snubbing Harris due to his PED-related suspension this season, but I happen to think he made the correct call. So maybe I’m not in my right mind, either.

Bianca’s adios at the WTA finals in China.

Such a shame that our Bianca Andreescu had to bug out of the WTA finals in China because of a wounded left knee. Bianca delivered a dream season, winning three tournaments—Indian Wells, the Rogers Cup, the U.S. Open—and we can only hope some much-deserved down time can fix a body that has too often betrayed her. In the meantime, a coronation as Canada’s athlete of the year awaits.

Red Auerbach

Some truly strange stuff from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna this week. He notes that Scotty Bowman coached nine NHL championship squads and “no one in history is close” to that number. Say what? I’m no Einstein, but I believe eight is as close to nine as damn is to cussing, and that’s how many Stanley Cup rings Toe Blake earned as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, Simmons maintains that Bowman accomplished something that “no one has done before in any professional sport.” Except Red Auerbach took home nine National Basketball Association titles with the Boston Celtics, including eight in a row, before Bowman had even stood behind an NHL bench. Mind you, Red and Toe were doing their thing while Steve was still in diapers, so I guess that doesn’t count.

There’s also the matter of Phil Jackson, who coached his ninth NBA championship squad the same year Scotty reached No. 9 in the NHL. Jackson then added two more. Apparently facts are optional for some sports columnists.

I note the most vulgar man in sports, Conor McGregor, stood before a judge in Dublin District Court last week and received a 1,000-euros ($1,120) fine for his unprovoked attack on an elderly chap in an Irish pub. “I assure you nothing of this nature will happen again,” vowed McGregor. Right. He’ll limit his criminal activity to throwing dollies through bus windows in the U.S. instead of punching out pub patrons in Ireland.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to Kirk Penton, inducted into the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour on Saturday night. Kirk’s part of a long line of superb CFL beat writers in Winnipeg, and we won’t hold it against him that he left Good Ol’ Hometown for the kinder climes of Kelowna and a gig with The Athletic.

Let’s talk about the Unholy Trinity’s snub of Andrew Harris…no crying after this World Series…and the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien

A farewell to October smorgas-bored…and be kind to the little kiddies tonight…

I agree, news snoops shouldn’t be part of the story.

It’s just that sometimes it’s unavoidable.

It happens, for example, every time Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens or Mark McGwire fail to win a ticket to a tiny burg in central New York State. By the numbers, all three certainly belong in Cooperstown, but they’re known needle-pushers and the jock journos who hold sway in these matters tend to frown on drug cheats.

They have decided that sticking needles in your butt and fixing games are the most egregious crimes in the rounders game. You can choke a woman or thump out a disabled fan, as Ty Cobb did; you can start a barroom brawl, as Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle and other 1957 New York Yankees did; you can spit at the paying customers and call them “buffoons,” as Ted Williams did; and they’ll make room for you in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. But any player guilty of using performance-enhancing drugs or betting on ball games need not apply for residency.

Perhaps one day, but not now.

Which makes news snoops part of the story each year they take a pass on Messrs. Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and others from baseball’s steroid era.

Andrew Harris

And so it is with Andrew Harris and the Football Reporters of Canada.

When it came time to vote for regional Canadian Football League year-end trinket nominees, the boys on the beat—Ted Wyman, Jeff Hamilton, Darrin Bauming and Knuckles Irving—had their say and the ayes outnumbered the nays in judgement of Harris, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ tainted tailback exiled for two games mid-season on a drug rap.

It doesn’t matter that Harris has lugged the rock farther than any other ball carrier in Rouge Football this season. Squints in white lab coats discovered something iffy in his pee, and that was enough for Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming to bypass No. 33 in the most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian categories.

Here it is in their own words:

Bauming, TSN 1290: “I thought long and hard on this. It weighed on my conscious quite heavily and, at the end of the day, I have to be comfortable with myself to make a decision I feel is best and just. I’m not comfortable with the precedent that it would set.”

Ted Wyman

Wyman, Winnipeg Sun: “As a voter for the local nominations, I chose not to vote for Harris because of his positive drug test. How would it be fair to all the other players in the CFL who did not test positive if I cast a vote for Harris? What would it say to athletes around the country if a player who is known to have tested positive for a performance enhancer during the season wins one or two major awards? I’m certainly not trying to be high and mighty here and I did not take this decision at all lightly. It comes after months of thought, discussion, and research and in the end, I simply could not see casting my vote in any other way.”

Hamilton, Winnipeg Free Press: “Though I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit agonizing over this decision, the truth is, the choice was an easy one. Simply put, my personal feelings towards Harris, someone who I have great respect for and have enjoyed my professional relationship with, doesn’t outweigh my journalistic integrity. Voting for him would be sending the wrong message, while also setting a new precedent in professional sports: it doesn’t matter if you test positive for a performance-enhancing drug, so long as your stats are good enough.”

Harris, of course, has repeatedly denied using PEDs, but don’t all the culprits once caught? Yes, they do. Still, Knuckles Irving of CJOB and the longtime play-by-play voice of Winnipeg FC is of a mind that Harris has already paid the piper.

Knuckles Irving

“To set the record straight, SOME Winnipeg voters, not all, decided that Andrew Harris should be further punished for his positive drug test,” he tweeted. “I believe that a 2-game suspension, 2 missed game cheques and public embarrassment in July was punishment enough—I proudly voted for him.”

It must be pointed out that a fifth vote was cast, and we can assume that Mike O’Shea wrote the name Andrew Harris on his ballot, since the Bombers head coach declared his tainted tailback “absolutely innocent” when the dude’s world began to fall apart in July and August.

So Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller are the Winnipeg FC nominees in the MOP and MOC categories, and the snub of Harris makes news snoops a large part of the story.

That isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, but that’s the way it is.

Not surprisingly, many among the rabble consider Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming an Unholy Trinity for a couple of reasons: 1) The fawning faithful believe Harris to be innocent; 2) they believe news snoops to be a bunch of wonks. Well, Harris isn’t innocent. Squints found an illegal somethingorother in his piddle, both the A and B samples. As for jock journos, some of them are wonks, but I don’t think these three guys got it wrong. You can’t have a player who’s been banished on a drug rap propped up as the grandest performer in three-down football.

Why does Irving have to keep reminding people that he works for CJOB, not the Bombers? He voted for Harris because he believes the guy’s been punished enough and he’s been Winnipeg FC’s best performer. That doesn’t make Knuckles a PR flack for the team. Got it?

You know who’s delighted that the Unholy Trinity snubbed Harris? Football reporters across the land. Had Harris made it through the initial stage of the voting process, he’d have fallen into their laps, and I’m not sure many of them would have had the stomach for it. The dean of football scribes, Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town, probably put it best with this tweet: “Whoa. There you have it. Winnipeg media saves national voters a headache by not nominating Andrew Harris for CFL Awards after his failed drug test.”

Gotta agree with Ol’ Lefty, Troy Westwood of TSN 1290, when he and others suggest Harris’ suspension should have rendered him ineligible for any individual trinket. “The CFL shouldn’t leave it in the hands of the media to decide if someone qualifies for the player awards,” Westwood tweeted. “The league would do itself a favor to attach to a positive PED test that you no longer qualify for the CFL player awards. End the debate and project best to the public.” Your move, commish Randy Ambrosie.

Donald Trump

So here are my two takeaways from this year’s World Series: 1) There’s no crying in baseball and, even if there was, I can’t imagine anyone outside of Houston is weeping over the Astros Game 7 loss. The Astros, from the head down, are cads. 2) Will the champion Washington Nationals go to Washington to visit the Trumps at the White House?

And, finally, the curious case of Dustin Byfuglien just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it? I mean, Big Buff arrives in Good Ol’ Hometown but doesn’t show up for Winnipeg Jets training exercises. Then we’re told he’s gone away for some navel gazing, to determine his future in life and the National Hockey League. Now we find out that he’s had ankle surgery, without input from the club, and he won’t be available until early 2020. Unless, of course, he retires, which remains a possibility. I recall head coach Paul Maurice saying “there’s nothing sinister to this” when Buff took a powder, but I’d say it’s become totally messed up. I’m inclined to suggest Byfuglien is playing the Jets for a bunch of mooks.

Let’s talk about Connor Hellebuyck’s puck allergy…the Oilers and pond hockey…a good read from Teddy Football…drama queens at the Drab Slab…Burkie hops on his fighting soap box…old whisky and Grapes speaking in tongues…slobber-knocking football and Chris Streveler…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and here’s a turkey a week before Thanksgiving Day…

There aren’t a whole lot of goaltenders who’ll stand up and tell the world “my stuff don’t stink” after surrendering five goals.

I don’t care what level of shinny you’re talking about. Beer league, big league…doesn’t matter. A keeper whose net looks like a coal bin at the end of the night generally accepts and acknowledges that he wasn’t quite up to snuff, and maybe the team’s loss is on him.

“My bad. I owe the boys one,” he might say.

Connor Hellebuyck

Not Connor Hellebuyck, though. No sir. The Winnipeg Jets ‘tender falls in a manure pile and he believes he smells like a rose garden.

“I liked a lot of my game,” he says.

“I felt like I earned better,” he says.

“I felt like I played a lot better than five goals against,” he says.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like the puck was always in the wrong spot for me,” he says.

Ya, you could say the biscuit was in the wrong spot—the back of the freaking net.

I don’t know if Hellebuyck is ballsy, arrogant or just flat-out ignorant, but he’s definitely delusional if he believes the puck-stopping he delivered in a 6-4 loss the other night in Gotham will serve the Jets well in the grand scheme of things. Thirty-one shots, five goals.

You know how often Winnipeg HC won last season when surrendering a five-spot? Once. Doesn’t sound like a recipe for success to me.

Paul Maurice

But, sure, let’s play some good, old-fashioned pond hockey. I’m all for it. It’s a hoot, and I don’t really care if it turns Paul Maurice into a doddering old man before his time. It certainly worked for the Edmonton Oilers circa 1980s, didn’t it? Unfortunately, Blake Wheeler, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Puck Finn Laine and Josh Morrissey ain’t Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey. And Hellebuyck definitely is no Grant Fuhr.

As boffo as these Jets are on the attack, I think it’s asking too much of them to score five times every night to negate Hellebuyck’s marginal to stink-out-the-joint goaltending. You know, the kind that he “liked” v. the New York Rangers.

“Five is unacceptable,” Hellebuyck conceded after losing to the Blueshirts at Madison Square Garden.

Terrific. He’s nailed down that part of the plot. Alas, upon further review, he submitted, “I probably won’t do a whole lot different” in his next start.

Oh joy. We can expect more of the same.

The guy not only needs to up his game, he needs a mental reboot. Calling Dr. Phil! Calling Dr. Phil!

Marc-Andre Fleury, Connor Hellebuyck

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Hellebuyck showed us this particular strain of arrogance and delusion when the Jets reached the high-water mark of their National Hockey League existence, advancing to the Western Conference final in spring 2018. Although outperformed by a considerable margin by the remarkable Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights, he was having none of it. Hellebuyck wrote it off as the product of four-leaf clovers and horse shoes, saying things like “I like my game. I like it a lot more (than Fleury’s).”And: “I think it’s bad luck. The stars are aligning for them.” And: “Maybe it was just the luck. They got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

He was wrong then, he’s wrong now.

Apparently it hasn’t registered with Hellebuyck that he’s playing behind a patchwork defence cobbled together out of necessity, not by design, and it figures that he’ll be caught in the middle of a fire drill a lot of nights. Thus, Vezina Trophy-calibre goaltending is necessary to keep this boat afloat over the long haul, not some guy who has an apparent allergy to frozen rubber.

Unless, of course, these Jets really are the second coming of the 1980s Oilers. In that case, next goal wins.

To remind you of the Oilers pond hockey style, consider the 1983-84 crusade: The Gretzkys finished with a goal differential of +132. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your computer screen. They had five or more snipes in 53 of their 80 skirmishes, and surrendered five or more in 23 games (13-8-2). Their 446 total still stands as an NHL record. They won games by ridiculous scores like 12-8, 10-5, 10-7, 8-6, 7-5, etc., and the average score was 5.5-3.9. Oh, one more thing: They won the Stanley Cup. If the Jets can duplicate that, there’ll be no more bitching about Hellebuyck’s allergy to pucks.

Ted Wyman, the guy I like to call Teddy Football, left the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat to dog the Jets on their lid-lifting eastern swing, and I’m glad he did because his piece on best buds and now on-ice foes Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba is boffo. Or, as they say in his trade, it’s damn good stuff.

Big Buff

I seem to recall Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff saying something last spring about giving the Winnipeg HC leadership group a makeover, which led the fiction writers at the Drab Slab to read between all sorts of lines and see all sorts of boogeymen in the dressing room. So here’s your makeover: Wheeler still has the ‘C’, Rink Rat Scheifele still has his ‘A’, and Josh Morrissey has the ‘A’ Dustin Byfuglien left behind when he departed to stare at his belly button. Clearly, then, Wheeler and Rink Rat weren’t the “problem,” which means…yup, Big Buff must have been the rotten apple in that barrel. I’m sure the fiction writers will eventually tell us all about it. As if.

The Drab Slab’s other resident drama queens, sports editor Steve Lyons and once-upon-a-time columnist Paul Wiecek, are aghast—aghast, I say!—that Big Buff removed himself from the fray without their okie-dokie. Why, they’re taking his retreat as if he kicked one of their dogs. “To walk away and sell out his team at this point demands some kind of explanation from either the man or the team.” harrumphed Wiecek. He also described True North’s tight-lips posture as “a joke” and the way the Jets treat the rabble is “disgraceful. If I was a season-ticket holder right now, I’d be on the phone to the Jets offices every day, demanding either an explanation or my money back.” Well, isn’t that a special little hissy fit. I hope he didn’t hurt himself while stamping his feet and holding his breath. Look, Big Buff’s leave of absence is a curious bit of business, to be sure. And, yes, the timing sucks. But he’s under no obligation to give us the skinny. If Buff retires, I’m guessing he’ll have something to say, but we shouldn’t expect the Gettysburg Address, which was only 272 words. If he returns to the Jets blueline, he’ll probably have even less to say. Meantime, the Jets are keeping it on the QT because there’s nothing to say, other than they’ll respect Buff’s privacy. I’m good with that.

Brian Burke

Speaking of boys in grumpy pants, nice to see Brian Burke is already in mid-season form. Not! They hadn’t even begun to play for keeps in this new NHL crusade when Burkie went into dinosaur mode on Sportsnet, scolding linesman Kiel Murchison for having the bad manners to prevent an exchange of bare knuckles between Evander Kane and Derek Engelland. “Where in the rule book does it say fighting is prohibited?” he belched. “What it says is fighting is assessed a five-minute penalty. So let them fight.” Yes, by all means, let the boys throw down. And, while we’re at it, perhaps we can go back to using Eaton’s catalogs for shin pads.

No surprise, therefore, that Burke would applaud Sidney Crosby for getting into a scuffle on Saturday night. “I thought it was great,” he said on Hockey Night in Canada. “I thought it was great, and they got a lift out of it. They scored a couple goals right after the fight.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather watch Crosby play hockey than sit in the penalty box icing his bruised knuckles.

Bob McKenzie

Bob McKenzie has signed a five-year extension to be TSN’s main blah, blah, blah guy on Planet Puckhead, and I’m sure that suits his 1.6 million Twitter followers just fine. Details of the contract were not released, but it’s believed it does not include an eight-figure signing bonus, prompting Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas to gasp, “Huh? You mean you don’t have to pay everybody $15 million up front?”

J.P. Wiser’s is producing an Alumni Whisky Series that features former NHL notables like Mark Messier (“Bold & tenacious. Aged for 11 years.”), Dave Keon (“Well-rounded. Aged for 14 years.”), and Yvan Cournoyer “Smooth & complex. Aged for 12 years.”). Apparently, the people at Wiser’s also had plans for a Don Cherry whisky (“Loud, curmudgeonly & obnoxious.”), but they discovered his best-before date expired sometime last century.

Andrew Ference and his finger.

Cherry, of course, was back in his HNIC bully pulpit on Saturday night, doing his usual shtick that’s part fashion show, part fight promoter, and a complete butchering of the language. My favorite segment arrived at the end, when Grapes went off topic and chastised Orlando Arcia of the Milwaukee Brewers for sticking his tongue out at Washington Nationals fans during a Major League Baseball playoff skirmish.

“Other sports, they might do stuff like that,” he growled in a sermon for the benefit of the kids. “In football, hockey, you can go on, the whole thing…in hockey we do not do that.”

Cherry’s right. Hockey players don’t stick their tongues out at the customers—they scale the glass and beat the hell out of them in the stands (hello, Boston Bruins, circa 1979). Or they punch them out at the bench (hello, Rob Ray). Or they fight them in the penalty box (hello, Tie Domi). Or they give them the finger (hello, Andrew Ference). But, ya, they keep their tongues to themselves. Except Brad Marchand, of course. He uses his to lick other players.

In the case of the 1979 Bruins, 18 of them piled into the stands at Madison Square Garden one December night, with tough guy Terry O’Reilly leading the charge. Even the normally docile Peter McNab waded into the fracas and roughed up a patron (“I was quite proud of him,” said Cherry), but the highlight was defenceman Mike Milbury yanking a shoe off one fan, then whacking him with it. All 18 Bruins were fined and three received suspensions. But, hey, not one of them stuck out his tongue, so everything was cool. (For the record, goaltender Gerry Cheevers was the only Boston player not involved. He was in the dressing room drinking post-game beer.)

I note with interest that the St. Louis Blues have locked down Brayden Schenn for the next eight years. Hmmm. That’s three max-length contracts signed in the past month. Perhaps Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and Dave Poulin of TSN can tell us one more time how we won’t see NHL players signing for eight years anymore.

Chris Streveler

My oh my. That was some kind of slobber-knocking football the large lads in pads showed us Saturday on the Flattest of Lands. Nasty, nasty. There was much to like about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, even if they were on the short end of a 21-6 score, but the work of neophyte quarterback Chris Streveler wasn’t included in the good-vibe mix. He tossed one pass to the wrong guys in the end zone. He tossed another pass to the wrong guys at the goal line. He spilled and lost the ball in the score zone. And his offence put just half a dozen points on the board against a very stingy Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive dozen. What if it had been much-maligned QB Matt Nichols screwing up like that? What would the reaction be? That’s right. Pitchforks and torches. So hands up anyone who still believes the Bombers have a better chance of winning with Streveler at QB. Hmmm. I don’t see any hands.

Streveler after soiling the sheets: “I’ve got to be better.” Connor Hellebuyck after soiling the sheets: “I liked a lot of my game.” Discuss among yourselves.

Corn Dog Cody Fajardo

This has been the year of the backup QB in the Canadian Football League, with all but the B.C. Lions being forced to turn to their No. 2 gunslinger. So where does Streveler fit into the mix? Here’s how I would rank the backups-turned-starters:
1) Corn Dog Cody Fajardo
2) Dane Evans
3) Vernon Adams Jr.
4) Nick Arbuckle
5) McLeod Bethel-Thompson
6) Chris Streveler
7/8) Logan Kilgore/Jonathon Jennings.

And, finally, that was a serious paddywhacking the New Zealand All Blacks delivered to our gnarly Canadian lads at the Rugby World Cup. I mean, 63-0. Winnipeg Jets fans have decided that it’s Connor Hellebuyck’s fault.

Let’s talk about the Chevy/Puck Pontiff voodoo vibe…Drab Slab still flogging their fake news…Zen Master PoMo and the true meaning of ruffled feathers…Blake Wheeler calls out fake news and fake news snoops…Puck Finn on Swiss time…Rink Rat Rags…the Winnironto Sun…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I hope no black cats crossed your path while you were walking under a ladder on Friday the 13th

So here’s what I’m thinking: Kevin Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have a voodoo vibe going.

No kidding.

The Puck Pontiff and Chevy.

They get a player and his agent in a spooky, candle-lit, incense-filled room cluttered with occultish nick-nacks, and Chevy starts chanting and dancing and shaking chicken bones while the Puck Pontiff feeds them a mysterious concoction that looks like Red Rose tea but is actually a blend of special ingredients from the Cheech & Chong Collection of brain-bending herbs.

The player’s mind turns to mush and he suddenly believes Winnipeg is Shangri-la. Or, better yet, Woodstock. Soon he’s on his feet, chanting and dancing and singing In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida with Chevy, while his agent slumps in a smoky corner, spaced out and giggling like the town fool as he fiddles with love beads hanging from his neck. He becomes most agreeable.

“Like, man, you can’t ever leave this place,” the agent tells the player in a dreamy voice. “Like, look at all those beautiful palm trees and those white, sandy beaches and the ocean and all those topless girls with flowers in their hair.”

“Like, I see them too, man,” the player replies. “Like, where’d Portage and Main go, man?”

The agent then looks at the Puck Pontiff and asks, “Where do we sign, Cheech?”

That voodoo pitch worked on Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Connor Hellebuyck, Blake Wheeler, Big Buff, Bryan Little and now Josh Morrissey, who’s agreed to spend the next nine winters in Good Ol’ Hometown, tall snow banks, square tires, frozen car batteries and all.

Cheech & Chong

Only Evander Kane and Jacob Trouba have been strong-minded enough to ward off the Cheech and Chong approach to contract negotiations, and I suspect Patrik Laine will continue to be a hard sell.

But we can probably expect an announcement any day now that Kyle Connor has fallen under the Chevy/Puck Pontiff spell, and he’ll be scoring his 30 goals in Winnipeg Jets livery for the next six National Hockey League seasons.

Chances are they’ll also get Connor at a wholesale price, just like Morrissey, because it’s Winnipeg and that’s what we do.

And, yes, $50 million with an AAV of $6.25M is wholesale in the hockey market for a defender of Morrissey’s level, especially given that he likely hasn’t arrived at peak performance. It would be for Connor, too, because you don’t find 30-goal men at the bottom of a Crackjack box and Kyle’s already made a habit of it.

Having said that, it’s hard to imagine Connor accepting a nickel less than the $7.15 AAV the Arizona Coyotes have agreed to pay their 14-goal man, Clayton Keller. But, hey, Kyle and his agent have yet to sample the chanting, dancing and funny tea in the Chevy/Puck Pontiff voodoo den.

The Morrissey signing tells us a number of things, including this: All that noise we’ve been hearing about the Jets changing room being as toxic as a buffalo’s breath? Ya, the air in there is so rancid that young Josh will only put up with it for another 3,285 days.

No surprise that the boys at the Drab Slab, Mad Mike McIntyre and Jason Bell, continue to flail away with their “rotten to the core” and “fractured locker room” narrative.

“(Head coach Paul) Maurice raised some eyebrows last spring in his exit meeting with the media when he mentioned there were some ‘ruffled feathers’ within the room that will need to be smoothed out going forward,” they wrote in a training camp preview. “Couple that with a late-season collapse, closed-door players’-only meeting a week before the playoffs and a quick first-round exit and it’s clear all was not right in Jetsville. These were teammates that needed a break from each other.”

Really? Here’s what Mad Mike had to say just three days before les Jets’ playoff ouster vs. the St. Louis Blues: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: He told us the Jets felt incredible warm and fuzzies for each other, on and off the freeze, like never before on April 17 but they couldn’t stand the sight of each other on April 20. Apparently Mad Mike doesn’t realize how stupid that sounds.

Pterodactyl

Welcome to Camp Grasshopper, where today you shall discover the inner meaning of “ruffled feathers” from venerable Zen Master PoMo, who arrives with bird in hand. “I’m picturing this bird with a couple little feathers out, and you just kinda slide your hand and they’re gone,” Zen Master PoMo says. “You seemed to be thinking more pterodactyl where I was thinking more sparrow at the time. It wasn’t that big a deal. Bad analogy, I guess. When you lose, when you think that ya got a chance—not that you should win, because I don’t think that happens in the NHL; when you get to the playoffs, all these teams are good—when you think you got a chance and you lose, there’s a lot of emotion that goes into that, right? A lot of anger and frustration. So, ya, you want some pissed off guys at the end of the year. You’re grumpy. That’s a really intense environment, right? Lose the last game, walk in ‘Boy, that was fun.’ That didn’t happen. Ya…all the sparrows are fine.” It is with the sound of two hands clapping that the lesson ends.

Here’s what I found myself wondering after listening to Maurice go all zen master in translating, once again, his original “ruffled feathers” comment for news snoops: How many of the scribes had to dig out their dictionary and look up the correct spelling of p-t-e-r-o-d-a-c-t-y-l? I’m guessing 100 per cent of them.

I once played on a club with a kid named Sparrow in goal, but I don’t recall being teammates with anyone named Pterodactyl.

The Drab Slab’s two ace sleuths, Mad Mike and Bell, have had 5½ months to gather and produce evidence of infighting among the Jets, and what have they unearthed? Nada. Squat. Diddly. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson they ain’t. And no, a players-only meeting outside earshot of news snoops doesn’t cut it as verification. Athletes muttering and barking at one another behind closed doors is as commonplace as jock rash, and an absence of proof makes it fiction, the kind of stuff Mad Mike wouldn’t have been allowed to write while on the cops-and-robbers beat. Question is, why does jock boss Steve Lyons let him get away with it in the toy department?

Blake Wheeler

Perhaps Jets captain Blake Wheeler was talking about Lyons when he went off on shoddy journalism during a frank and revealing natter with TSN’s Sara Orlesky last week.

“I think there was just, unfortunately, a lot of incorrect stuff coming out about our team after last year,” he told Sara, who struck all the appropriate notes in her nine-minute probe. “I think the media has a certain accountability that has to be held, and it was lost after last year. There was a lot of stuff written that just simply wasn’t true. You know, I mean, things were written about Scheif after the year about our exit interview…I was in the room, you know, people were upset that he didn’t talk. They asked him one question. So what, is he just gonna stop people and make a statement? So that disappointed me.

Sara Orlesky

“You know, write whatever you want about me, I know what I am, I’m pretty comfortable where I’m at. If you think I’m the problem…I might be. I don’t think I am, but I know that after you fail to meet expectations, you’re gonna write about me, and that’s fine, I know that’s the position I’m in. But at least be accurate, at least, you know, do enough work and be in the room enough to get a sense of what you’re talking about. People are writing stuff that, they’re in the room once or twice a year. I’ve met these guys maybe twice and I’ve been here nine years. So that upset me a little bit. But, like I said, it was just in the sense of you totally missed the boat. Write about how bad we played in Game 6, that would be accurate. We didn’t show up. And if you think that’s because of bad leadership, then maybe that’s a conversation to be had. But you can’t have it both ways. So let’s kinda get back on track a bit.”

I’m not a fan of the way Wheeler sometimes interacts with news snoops. I think he’s a boor. But his remarks are spot on. And that was boffo work by Sara, who got the captain to speak with sledgehammer bluntness.

Lyons and his paid pen pal, retired columnist Paul Wiecek, authored a nasty hit piece on Wheeler in the fallout of the Jets playoff ouster last April with this headline: “Jets problems begin with Wheeler.” Unless I’m mistaken, Lyons and Wiecek saw the inside of the Winnipeg HC boudoir last season about as often as Donald Trump sees the inside of a gym, but Lyons supposedly “asked around” and was advised that Wheeler had “lost the room.” What, he “asked around” by texting Mad Mike and Bell? Oh, wait, Lyons is probably too old for texting. He likely phoned his beat boys. Whatever, from the top of the Drab Slab food chain to the bottom, the reporting has been reckless, irresponsible and totally mockable gossip mongering.

The boys on the beat at the Winnipeg Sun also touched on the matter of team disunity (very briefly), and it went like this:
Ted Wyman: “If they did have some issues last season, they have to make sure that’s resolved.”
Scott Billeck: “The strife in the locker room, we don’t know for sure, for certain. I mean, if that was the case, often times when teams kinda go down people will just start saying things, and there’s been a lot of rumors this summer that are completely unfounded. There’s just no proof to them.”
Correct. So let’s turn to another page in the songbook, shall we Grasshopper?

Patrik Laine

Voter turnout in the Manitoba provincial election was a low 50 per cent. The other 50 per cent formed a search party and went looking for Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.

Turns out Puck Finn put away his Fortnite gizmos and has been located in Switzerland, which is as good a place as any to sit out a war. I’ve never met Puck Finn, but he strikes me as a different head of lettuce who listens to the beat of his own drum, and I can see him hooking up with his old pal, Jesse Puljujarvi, and spending the winter in Finland. Just guessing, of course, but he might be the last of the NHL’s bumper crop of unsigned restricted free agents still standing when most of the dust settles.

To be clear, neither Puck Finn or Connor are “holding out” as a Drab Slab headline incorrectly informed us. They aren’t under contract.

Those who know Rink Rat Scheifele tell us he’s the kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Jets centre arranged to outfit teen members of the Winnipeg Ice with new Sunday-go-to-meeting duds for their Western Hockey League crusade. Solid gesture. Solid guy. And I think it would make for a boffo fashion label: Rink Rat Rags.

Good grief. Wednesday’s edition of the Winnipeg Sun looked like the Tranna Sun. Yes, again. The first two pages were devoted to Auston Matthews’ ghastly Cuban lounge lizard mustache, with news on the Jets buried inside. I don’t know if sports editor Teddy Football, columnist Pencil Neck Friesen and Scott Newby are embarrassed by the repeated Torontofication of their product, but I would be and I’d probably raise a stink about the Winnironto Sun.

Headline in the National Post: “Ken Holland’s layer cake is ready for the oven, but will it rise?” Yikes! Who’s working the NatPo sports desk? Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart?

Harry Potter doppelganger Kyle Dubas said he wouldn’t talk about Mitch Marner’s contract until it had become a fait accomplis. “Radio silence,” the Tranna Maple Leafs GM called it. As if anyone still listens to the radio.

And, finally, just wondering: If you could climb into anyone’s head, whose would it be? For me, it’s Bob Dylan. The man’s a lyrics genius, and I’d like to wander around his attic to find out exactly what the hell goes on up there. Speaking of Bob, he supplied the official soundtrack to this post—Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits on Spotify.

Let’s talk about The Big Reveal on Matt Nichols in tweets…Kyle Walters’ ‘smart phone’…the over/under with Chris Streveler at QB…hey, Kyle, what about Aaron Rodgers?…CFL head counts…Puck Finn’s ‘hard feelings’…beef jerky and Mitch Marner…and Bianca’s coming out party

Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and any CFL team that hasn’t lost a starting quarterback isn’t trying hard enough…

This Matt Nichols thing has had chins wagging and thumbs jerking since last Thursday, and I really can’t recall there ever being so much ballyhoo about a right arm in River City.

The Golden Boy tosses a right haymaker at Sugar Ray.

At least not since Golden Boy Donny Lalonde sent a shiver into Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him to the canvas in their 1988 title tiff.

At any rate, after keeping the severity of Nichols’ owie on the QT for three days, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came clean with The Big Reveal on Monday, and I found it interesting how the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown spread the tidings via their twitchy Twitter thumbs.

10:19 a.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Bridge, Willy could figure in Blue Bombers’ plans—update on Matt Nichols later today.”

11:48 (Ted Wyman): “He’s not in a practice jersey but Matt Nichols just walked into Bombers practice. No sling or anything like that on his throwing arm.”

11:53 (Bob Irving): “Matt Nichols is on the field watching practice. Arm hanging loose at his side. Which does not mean the injury is any less serious. O’Shea will share more after practice.”

Matt Nichols as observed by Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

11:55 (Ted Wyman): “Here is Bombers QB Matt Nichols walking to practice field. Was keeping his right arm at his side but have seen him moving it around a bit. Hands on hips etc.”

1:10 p.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Matt Nichols is looking at weeks before he is back playing. Bombers are looking for various options for rehab, with hope of return asap. He’s played through serious injury before but with plenty of season left, and with/team 7-2, want to be sure he’ll be ready down the stretch.”

1:27: (Ted Wyman): “Matt Nichols will go on the 6-game injured list and be evaluated over that period. Mike O’Shea expects him to be ready to play in 4-6 weeks.”

1:28 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks he hopes to see Nichols play.”

1:28 (Ted Wyman): “No surgery necessary for upper body injury for Nichols. Bombers will look to bring in another QB in next couple weeks. Chris Streveler will be starter in Edmonton on Friday and for the foreseeable future.”

1:30 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks before Nichols is re-evaluated. So 6 weeks minimum before he plays.”

Chris Streveler at the controls.

So now that we know the arm “hanging loose at his side” limits Nichols to tasks no more strenuous than putting “hands on hips etc.” until at least the end of September, we direct our attention to Chris Streveler and wonder and speculate what might become of a 7-2 Winnipeg FC outfit that, at present, looks down on all it surveys in the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Streveler is a blood-and-guts QB, built from the I-think-I’m-a-middle-linebacker, Matt Dunigan mold. Only he’s about a foot taller. Matty never saw a brick wall he didn’t want to take on, and I don’t imagine we’ll see Streveler performing with a safety net too often. Even if instructed to do so. He’s already had more head-on collisions than a crash-test dummy and actually seems to enjoy running into immovable objects with arms, legs and a bad attitude.

But, as Doug Brown outlines in an excellent piece in the Drab Slab, Streveler will require more than his hell-bent-for-leather tendencies to keep the Bombers in the first-place discussion. This is, after all, a passing league and he’ll be required to fling the football as often as not. Oh, and stay in one piece while doing it.

I don’t have to remind you that Nichols is the latest starting QB added to a body count that now numbers seven, and if Streveler gets too reckless the next option is greenhorn Sean McGuire.

Mind you, GM Kyle Walters has been working the phone in search of a QB with some savvy.

That’s good to know, but if old friend Drew Willy is the best he can dredge up we’ll know it isn’t a “smart” phone.

Drew Willy and Matt Nichols.

When last seen in River City, Willy had a tendency to bounce the ball to his receivers, which, as it happened, worked out well for Winnipeg FC because it forced head coach Mike O’Shea’s hand. He turned the ball over to Nichols, who went about the business of beating the Eskimos in E-Town in his first whirl behind centre. In a nifty bit of irony, that’s also Streveler’s starting point on Friday night.

So what’s the over/under on Ws with Streveler behind centre in the next 5/6 skirmishes? Three? Sounds about right. Play .500 football while Nichols is in the repair shop and it’s still game on. Anything less and a crossover playoff spot comes into play. I’m all about the glass half full right now, though. As Dunigan might say, I believe Streveler can “get ‘er done, young man.”

Aaron Rodgers: Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play.

Hey, come to think of it, there’ll be a fair country QB in town this week. Maybe GM Walters can convince Aaron Rodgers to stick around after the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders have conducted business at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Now that would be a “smart” phone.

The Pack and Raiders go through the motions on Thursday night, and if the over/under on the head count for the NFL dress rehearsal is 20,000, I’ll take the under. At the prices they’re charging, I really don’t think there are more than 20,000 danged fools in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The boys and Kate Beirness on TSN did some tall talking about “close to a sellout” at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna for last Thursday’s skirmish between the Argos and E-Town Eskimos. Official head count: 16,490. Number of empty seats: 8,510. Only in The ROT (and on TSN) would a nearly half-empty stadium be considered “close to a sellout.”

There is, mind you, glad tidings drifting out of The ROT. As unlikely as it might seem, the Argos are the only CFL outfit showing an increase in attendance over 2018. Go figure.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab just won’t let it go. He insists on beating the Winnipeg Jets’ “fractured changing room” drum, this time as it relates to Patrik Laine. The young winger and restricted free agent recently made some empty remarks about his National Hockey League future, saying, “You never know where you’re going to play next year. I’m just prepared for anything.” Puck Finn added that he’s “got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg” and offered a few more benign tidbits that didn’t total a mole hill of substance. Yet here’s Mad Mike on the matter: “No doubt there’s also some lingering hard feelings over how last season played out, both on the ice and within the dressing room.” My goodness. Instead of reading between the lines, fly to Finland like Chris Johnston of Sportsnet did. Or pick up a phone and dial Laine’s number. Ask him directly if he’s PO’d about anything that went on in the Winnipeg HC boudoir. Then report the facts. Otherwise, shut the hell up about it.

The overrated(?) Mitch Marner.

You’ll have to excuse Mitch Marner if he feels a sudden urge to piddle on Andrew Berkshire’s Corn Flakes. I mean, to hear the numbers nerd talk about the Tranna Maple Leafs winger on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, you’d swear that young Mitch is to hockey what beef jerky is to fine dining. Marner “might be the most overrated player in the NHL.” Marner is “not the guy driving the bus on that line. It’s John Tavares.” And “Is Mitch Marner better than Timo Meier? I think most people in Toronto would say yes but data says no. Meier’s actually significantly more productive.” Well, I haven’t held a slide rule in my hands since struggling mightily with high school math at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, but no amount of nerd-produced numbers from Pie Chart Boy will convince me that a 66-point man (Meier) is “significantly more productive” than a guy (Marner) whose 94 points were bettered by only 10 players last season. Marner had more assists than Meier had points, for cripes sake. Berkshire, whose fancy stats, graphs and pie charts also clutter up the Drab Slab sports pages, can cherry pick all he likes and put greater value on one number over another, but I’ll take 94 over 66 every time. At the rink or in math class at Miles Mac.

I think the most telling comment Pie Chart Boy made re Marner and other unsigned NHL restricted free agents was this: “I don’t know how NHL executives view these guys.” Exactly. He doesn’t know.

Bianca Andreescu at her Indian Wells coming out party.

And, finally, here’s something that’s just stone…cold…stupid: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna writes about our girl Bianca Andreescu’s chances at next week’s U.S. Open in Gotham, suggesting, “This could well be the young Canadian’s coming out party as a professional.” Good grief. What was Indian Wells? What was the Rogers Cup? A couple of meh moments that no one noticed? Look, after you’ve won a tournament that includes the elite 75 female players on the planet (Indian Wells), then re-up with a win at the Rogers Cup in The ROT, there’s no longer any need for introductions. They know who you are. Our teen sensation won’t catch the field, the media, or the rowdies at Flushing Meadows by surprise. Bianca had her coming out party five months ago at Indian Wells, so either Simmons educates himself or he has to stop scribbling about women’s sports.