Let’s talk about Manitoba’s 21st century curling scoreboard: Buffalo Girls 8, Buffalo Boys 1

Top o’ the morning to you, Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson.

Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur, Scotties champs in 2020 and 2021.

I’m guessing you boys noticed that Kerri Einarson and her gal pals won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday night.

Yup. Took out Rachel Homan in the final, and I’d say they’re starting to make a habit of it.

That’s two straight national curling titles for the Gimli Gals and a personal three-peat for second Shannon Birchard, who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Scotties. She’s been there three times and she’s collected three gold medals, twice with Einarson and once with Jennifer Jones.

Hopefully you took note of all that, fellas, because you’ll soon be off on your own curling bubble adventure at the Brier in Calgary, and I trust you both realize that you’ve been letting the side down.

It’s not just you two, mind you. It’s all the Buffalo Boys.

Manitoba outfits used to win the Brier as often as McDonald’s sold a Big Mac. Now you win as often as…well, that’s the beef. You don’t win.

Mike McEwen

You’ve had five cracks at a national men’s curling crown, Mike, and you’re 0-fer. The best you’ve managed is to return home with a bronze trinket. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to devalue your parting gift from the 2017 Brier in St. John’s. You were magnificent. Hopes were high. And a favorable rub here or a fortuitous tick there might have turned that bronze into silver or gold.

But no.

Jason Gunnlaughson

As for you, Jason, you were a Brier neophyte a year ago and put a good foot forward until the games mattered most, which is to say in the championship pool. You went 0-fer.

I suppose that might have been the product of inexperience, or perhaps jitters on the big stage, or maybe the considerable burden of expectation carried by any curler wearing the buffalo on his back.

That weight might not be fair, fellas, but you can blame it on guys like Gordie Hudson and Howie Wood and Ken Watson and Ab Gowanlock and Billy Walsh and Bronco and the Snake and Dugie and the Big O and Mike Riley and Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters and a couple others. They spoiled us.

Twenty-seven times the Tankard has been hoisted by Buffalo Boys, but here’s the glitch: 26 of those victory laps came in the 20th century.

Jeff Stoughton with the Tankard Trophy.

That’s right, we’re 1-for-the-21st century. One. As in Jeff Stoughton, circa 2011.

Burtnyk, Mark Lukowich, John Bubbs, Brent Scales, Randy Dutiaume, Rob Fowler and Reid Carruthers all went as skips, but did not conquer.

That will never do, not when Alberta teams have been padding their stats with 12 Brier championships since Y2K.

I don’t know about you, boys, but I’m tired of hearing those uppity mooks in Wild Rose Country telling us that Alberta is the epicenter of Planet Pebble. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, boys, but it bugs the bejeebers out of me, and I have zero appetite for calling up the Edmonton Sun and reading a fresh serving of smug blah, blah, blah in a Terry Jones column.

Frankly, I’m shocked that Jonesy hasn’t already penned a piece to remind us that Einarson third Val Sweeting lives and works in Edmonton. I expected him to somehow twist the plot into a made-in-Alberta storyline.

At any rate, this isn’t about Jonesy and his delusions, boys.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

My point is this: You can’t continue to let the ladies do all the heavy lifting, which is exactly what they’ve been doing since Y2K. There have been eight Scotties titles between Jen Jones and Kerri Einarson, and it doesn’t matter that three times they were cloaked in the colors of Canada. A ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team.

There are certain things Manitobans have come to expect, boys: High water in the spring, large skeeters in the summer, good grub at the Sal’s, and our curlers winning.

The Buffalo Girls have showed you the way, boys. Again. So it would be nice if you held up your half of the bargain.

No pressure. Just get ‘er done.

Let’s talk about L’Affaire Laine…Winnipeg the armpit…a Jumbo fossil in the ROT…Chelsea’s the best free agent available…Jennifer Jones and the ‘Notables’ of Manitoba’s Pebble People…’ear ye, ‘ear ye, Mike Tyson is trying to speak…the Dodgers’ two K men…a Bird named Sue…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…

So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:

1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.

2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.

Chevy and Puck Finn in happier times.

Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.

As for point No. 2, good luck with that.

It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.

Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:

“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.

“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.

Pierre LeBrun

“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.

“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.

“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”

Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.

I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.

I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) 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.”

So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.

Evander Kane

Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.

We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.

Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”

But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.

Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull

Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.” That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.

When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.

Jumbo Joe

And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.

Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”

I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn McEwen.

On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.

Mike Tyson

Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.

So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.

Clayton Kershaw, Sandy Koufax

Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.

Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.

When the National Women’s Hockey League restructured its business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.

Sue Bird

Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.

And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?