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 of 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.

Let’s talk about Jacob Trouba and Kurt Overhardt…playing a game of chicken with Chevy and the Winnipeg Jets…the sticker price for a bottom-six forward…Mum’s the word for Mitch…swapping clunkers in Alberta…faux football a tough sell…going to beat ’60…working the CFL beat…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and while munching on cold pizza and watching the Open Championship, I wondered if I could break 200 playing Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland…

To all those among the rabble who told us that Jacob Trouba was the class dunce for listening to the wrong people (read: Kurt Overhardt), what say you now?

Still think he’s stupid? Misguided? Gullible? Easily duped?

Jacob Trouba

You’ll recall, I’m sure, that those were among the words used to describe the young Winnipeg Jets defender when he a) asked for a ticket on the first stage out of Dodge, b) refused to report to training camp, c) stayed home the first two months of one season, d) signed a bridge deal instead of a long-term contract, e) took the club to arbitration.

Here are more less-than-flattering insults hurled Trouba’s way: Immature. Greedy. Big loser. Idiot. Petulant. Fool. Malcontent. Problem child. Liar.

One of his teammates, Mathieu Perreault, joined the braying chorus and called Trouba “selfish.”

And, of course, there were those with quill-and-notebook and/or microphone, their critical essays and rants ranging from a benign tsk-tsking to thunderous accusations, with gusts up to poisonous. Former Drab Slab columnist Paul Wiecek, in particular, conducted a shameful, bitter crusade to discredit the top-pairing rearguard.

“Trouba, for one, has a long track record of doing what’s right for Trouba, even when it’s been what’s wrong for Trouba,” Wiecek wrote, apparently mistaking himself for Dr. Phil. “Trouba is a problem again.”

Kurt Overhardt

So, basically, it was the opinion of the masses that Trouba and Homer Simpson shared a brain, because he blindly allowed his greedy, no-goodnik agent Overhardt to lead him down the garden path (“Look at all the money that douchebag is costing the kid! Oh, the humanity!”)

Well, agent Overhardt led Trouba down the garden path, all right—to Madison Square Garden in Gotham and a $56 million windfall.

The New York Rangers have agreed to compensate Trouba to the merry tune of $8M (average) for the next seven National Hockey League seasons, and $22M of that comes in signing bonuses to be collected in the first three years. So, if there’s a soundtrack to Trouba’s life, it goes something like this: Ka-ching! Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

We should all be so stupid, misguided, gullible and easily duped.

Go ahead and pooh-pooh the Rangers for an overpay the size of Manhattan if you like, but the fact is Overhardt/Trouba played chicken with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for three years, and they won. Trouba wanted a zip code instead of a postal code. He got it. He wanted more coin than the $4 million the Jets offered in arbitration a year ago. He’ll get double that on Broadway. And what did the Jets get? Neal Pionk.

Andrew Copp

You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade. Josh Morrissey, about to enter the second year of his bridge deal, might be doing that very thing. Kyle Connor could do the same. Ditto Andrew Copp, who has the aforementioned Kurt Overhardt whispering sweet nothings in his ear as they begin a stroll down the garden path. Overhardt/Copp say they’ll be happy with $2.9 million per season. Chipman/Chevy have countered with $1.5M per for two years. Barring an 11th-hour agreement, an arbitrator will decide. Do the Jets really want or need to engage in another game of chicken they can’t win?

Bobby Hull and clan.

The first guy to wear sweater No. 9 with les Jets, Robert Marvin Hull, came at a cost of $1.75 million spread over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus. Total sticker price for the Golden Jet: $2.75 million. The guy now wearing sweater No. 9, Copp, reckons he’s worth $2.9 million. Or at least his agent believes that’s the going rate for a bottom-six forward. I agree, it’s absurd, if not flat-out insane. But what if we convert the dollars? Hull’s $2.75M in 1972 is worth $16,851,513.16 in today’s U.S. coin, which would make him the most handsomely compensated player on Planet Puckhead, just as he was when Benny Hatskin and his renegade pals in the World Hockey Association lured the Golden Jet away from the Chicago Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Copp’s $2.9M today would be $473,420.16 in 1972 pay. Guaranteed no bottom-sixer with les Jets was pulling down more than $400K in ’72. So, in either era, that’s an overpay.

Worst new cliché: “He’s betting on himself.” That’s quickly become most tiresome and scribes and natterbugs should lose it faster than their per diem on a road trip to Las Vegas. Look, pro athletes bet on themselves every time they step into the arena. Cripes, man, we all bet on ourselves every morning when we decide to crawl out of the sack. Like, I’m betting I’ll annoy someone with this essay, if I haven’t already.

Mitch Marner

Got a kick out of the Sportsnet website front page in the small hours of Friday morning, after various news snoops had attempted to pry nuggets of insight from Tranna Maple Leafs restricted free agent Mitch Marner:

“Marner mum on contract talks with Maple Leafs at charity event.”
“Marner’s contract talks with Leafs a roller-coaster of anticipation.”
“Maple Leafs’ Marner talks contract, charity on Tim and Sid.”
“Marner wants to be in Maple Leafs uniform at camp, won’t go without deal.”

Hmmm. Four stories. Apparently, Marner had a helluva lot to say for a guy who was “mum.”

The Edsel

Interesting goings-on in Wild Rose Country, where the Oilers and Flames swapped an Edsel for a Gremlin. And it spawned more silliness on Sportsnet, this time from Eric Francis, who delivered this analysis of the transaction that sent seven-goal scorer James Neal wheeling up Highway 402 from Calgary to Edmonton and six-goal scorer Milan Lucic boogying south from Edmonton to Calgary:

“Few would disagree that Lucic is the toughest guy in the NHL.”
“Lucic’s speed is still much better than many would think and his fitness levels are beyond repute.”
“Lucic provides something few players left in the league can. In fact, he may still be the very best at what he’s being brought in to do.”
“Although Lucic has fought very little in the last couple, few players dared to mess with Connor McDavid during Lucic’s watch.”

Good grief. Is it too late to reopen the legalize marijuana debate? Seriously, Eric, take another toke. Looch has the urgency of a filibuster. Only an income tax return moves slower. As for his work as a guard dog, if Looch did such a boffo job why did McDavid become Connor McMugged last season?

Dear friend Judy Owen of The Canadian Press reports that ticket sales to the Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders dress rehearsal at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry next month aren’t exactly brisk. Matter of fact, they’re slower than a sports writer reaching for a bar tab. Should we be surprised? Not really. Asking a Winnipegger to pay upwards of $400 to watch faux football is like asking Chris Walby to pass on second helpings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Pegtowners are penny-pinchers. After all, I’m one of them and it’s not by coincidence that I do all my shopping at thrift stores. But I believe the Ojibway words for Portage and Main are “Cheap and Chintzy.” We only pay asking price if you toss in a free Slurpee.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s Chevy’s problem. He keeps trying to buy his hockey players wholesale.

So, after their 31-1 curb-stomping of the Bytown RedBlacks on Friday night, our Winnipeg Blue Bombers are 5-nada. First time since 1960. Would you call me a Debbie Downer if I pointed out that the 5-0 outfit in ’60 did a playoff faceplant? Yup. Didn’t even get to the big dance. Lost to the E-Town Eskimos in a best-of-three Western final, dropping the deciding game 4-2. It was the only season from 1958 to 1962 that our football heroes failed to bring the Grey Cup home to River City. Thus, the less we talk about 1960 the better.

Some folks aren’t convinced that the Bombers are the real deal and point to namby-pamby foes—E-Town, Bytown, Tranna Argos, B.C. Lions—and their combined record of 6-15 as evidence of phony superiority. Sorry, but I’m not buying what those people are selling. Who is Winnipeg FC supposed to play? The New England Patriots? The Bombers can only follow the dictates of the Canadian Football League schedule-maker, and if that means whacking 98-pound weaklings, so be it.

Kirk Penton

More good CFL stuff from Kirk Penton in The Athletic, including these nuggets in his insiders segment that features unvarnished comments from team management, coaches and executives:

“The Simoni (Lawrence) decision was more than fair. Probably one of the dirtiest plays I’ve seen in the CFL. The fact he lies about not doing it deliberately makes it worse. At least Kyries Hebert took his medicine for his dirty plays and didn’t bullshit saying it was accidental.”

“When Joe Mack was our GM we could have traded for Ricky Ray. He said we didn’t need him. Same year we drafted Tyson Pencer in the first round. But when (the team was) struggling, he fired (Paul LaPolice) in August. Look, I’ve heard both sides of the Ray debate. Great player who couldn’t stay healthy, but at that point, Buck’s (Pierce) injury history was worse.”

What are the odds of Mike Reilly finishing this CFL season in one piece? He’s not a quarterback, he’s a pinata. Reilly was basically wearing D-lineman Charleston Hughes on Saturday night in Regina, and that’s never anyone’s idea of a good time. If Leos GM Ed Hervey doesn’t get Reilly some protection, it isn’t going to end well for the CFL’s best QB.

Matty

And, finally, when I started in the rag trade, the Bombers were the big dog in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The Jets and the World Hockey Association weren’t even a talking point at that time, so great swaths of forest were felled to provide enough newsprint for coverage of our CFL outfit in both the Winnipeg Tribune and Drab Slab

The boys on the beat were the great Jack Matheson and Don Blanchard, and they worked the Bombers every which way but loose, establishing what I considered the standard to which other football scribes should strive. The measuring stick, if you will.

So how are the boys on the beat doing today? I’d say the torch is in reliable hands with Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman.

Ted Wyman

It’s been that way for quite some time, actually, and I could make an argument that no sheet in the country has done a better job at chronicling a CFL outfit than the two River City rags. Young Eddie Tait was the best in the biz before going over the wall, and I’d say the aforementioned Kirk Penton was right there with him, scoop for scoop and feature for feature. Ashley Prest, Judy Owen, Big Jim Bender, Dave Supleve, Granny Granger and others did wonderful work, and it helped that they truly cared about the football club.

Matty and Blanch would be pleased.

Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

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

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

Anybody remember the heady days of women’s hockey?

Of course you do.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

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

Then there was this:

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

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

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

Yup, those were the days.

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

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

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

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

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

Sami Jo Small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puck Finn

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

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

Paul Azinger

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

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

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

Felix Auger-Aliassime

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

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

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

Kenta Nilsson

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

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

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

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

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

Jaws dropped. Eyebrows arched upwards. Gobs were smacked.

Kendall Coyne Schofield

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

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

Or would they?

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

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

Let’s start with the head counts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.

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

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

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

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

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vic, Cheryl and Hurry Hard.

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