Let’s talk about the bearded ladies of Winnipeg…cheering in the press box and on the anchor desk…Box Car Willie on Sportsnet…trading Auston Matthews…Tiger’s still a saint on CBS/ESPN…garbage in the outfield…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a heaping, helping of media stuff right off the hop, because someone should keep their tootsies to the toaster oven…

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab has done the math, and he tells us that the Winnipeg Jets have more wins and points than all Western Conference outfits since the puck was dropped to start the 2017-18 National Hockey League season.

“Remind me why we seemingly can’t go a week or two around here without hearing calls from some quarters to fire the coach, axe the general manager, bench this lousy player and trade that bum,” he writes.

Geez, I don’t know Mad Mike, ya think it might have something to do with the Jets’ first-round ouster in 2019 and their failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament last summer? I mean, you can lead the first 199 laps at the Indy 500, but the driver leading lap 200 gets the checkered flag, the bottle of milk and a kiss from a pretty girl.

Truly bizarre headline on that Mad Mike column: “Ladies and gentlemen…Start your playoff beards.” Seriously? Bearded ladies? Little wonder Good Ol’ Hometown is at the top of most no-trade lists for young NHL players.

Ken Reid

Did anchor Ken Reid actually say he and his fellow talking heads at Sportsnet don’t cheer for any specific team? Yup, sure did. That is to laugh. The company that signs his paycheque, Rogers Communications, owns the Toronto Blue Jays and, in partnership with Bell Canada, holds a 75 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC and Argos. So, make no mistake, the squawk boxes on both Sportsnet Central and TSN ‘s signature SportsCentre are full of sis-boom-bah and rah, rah, rah for Team(s) Tranna. I mean, they couldn’t contain their glee during the Tranna Jurassics run to the NBA title a couple of years back, and they positively choked on their pom-poms when their hoops heroes were ushered from the playoffs last year. A funereal, long-faced Lindsay Hamilton began SportsCentre by saying, “This one stings,” and, over at Sports Central, reporter Michael Grange blew his cover when he said, “As Raptors fans, we…” That’s right, he confessed to being one of the fawning flock. That’s never a good look.

Box Car Elliotte

Can someone, anyone, at Sportsnet explain why they continue to permit Elliotte Friedman to appear on camera looking like the back end of a nasty all-nighter? His Box Car Willie shtick is disgraceful and, again, it’s a blatant double standard because none of the female talking heads would be allowed on air looking like a bridge troll.

Damien Cox continues to astound and amaze on Twitter. Last Thursday, the Toronto Star columnist took a moment to give himself an enthusiastic on the back by tweeting, “From the beginning said Matthews would be the best player the Leafs ever drafted.” That doesn’t exactly make him Nostradamus, and it’s positively belly-laughingly hilarious when you consider this tweet he sent out in November 2018: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and (William) Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore.” There are no words.

Cox didn’t stop there. In his latest alphabet phart in the Star, he wrote this: “More than 95 per cent of senior positions in the NHL remain reserved for white men. In sports, only golf is more dominated by white culture than hockey.” Apparently he’s never seen a NASCAR race.

So tell us, Phil Mushnick, what say you about the talking heads on CBS/ESPN for their continued hero worship of Tiger Woods, absent from The Masters golf tournament after driving into a ditch and almost killing himself in February? “Even those who wouldn’t recognize a con if it were sold with multiple, fill-in-the-blanks certificates of authenticity, now know that this 25-year anointment of Tiger Woods as a saint on earth was a media con,” the New York Post columnist writes. “Again, it wasn’t enough that he was the world’s best golfer, he additionally had to be the best son, best husband, best father and finest human being. But if that had been you instead of Woods, the one who, unimpeded at almost double the speed limit, rolled his SUV off the road, you’d have been charged with a pile of negligent driving charges—even while hospitalized and before your blood results returned. For him to still be sainted on the national telecast of a major as a gift from above was designed to be swallowed by the tiny fraction of fools still available to be fooled. That’s supposed to be all of us. Again. And it’s nauseating. Again.” Harsh. But I don’t disagree.

Bryson DeChambeau

I kept waiting for one of the CBS gab guys, or Dottie Pepper, to call out Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday, not for his wonky game but for his arrogance. You might recall that golf’s incredible bulk basically pooh-poohed Augusta National as nothing more than a pitch-and-putt course prior to the 2020 Masters last November, boasting, “I’m looking at it as par-67 for me.” So, here’s his scorecard at the par-72 course since then: 70, 74, 69, 73, 76, 67, 75. He goes into today’s final round sitting 38th among the 54 guys who teed it up on the weekend. Yet there wasn’t so much as a peep about DeChambeau’s disrespect for one of the most challenging and treasured golf courses on the planet, because that’s not how it’s done during coverage of The Masters. You don’t dare ruffle the azaleas or disturb the piped-in bird chirping and the soothing piano music. So they gave him a pass. Sigh. If only Johnny Miller was still sitting behind a mic.

Best line I read or heard about The Masters was delivered by longtime, now-retired sports scribe Cam Cole. After noted cheater Patrick Reed had swatted a ball into the azaleas, Cam tweeted: “Breaking: Patrick Reed has hit into the flowers behind 13 green. Rules officials are racing to the spot.” That’s funny.

Todd Kabel

Talk about a day late and a dollar short. It took the Drab Slab two weeks to acknowledge the death of Todd Kabel, a kid from McCreary who got his break riding the ponies at Assiniboia Downs for five seasons then made it big at Woodbine in the Republic of Tranna. Todd’s death on March 27 had been reported hither and yon, but somehow escaped the notice of the Winnipeg Free Press sports desk. Not good. That’s a major whiff. George Williams has a real nice piece on the seven-time Sovereign Award-winning jockey that you might want to check out in the Saturday’s edition, not that it excuses the negligence.

I’d say the Winnipeg Sun missed the boat on Kabel, too, except the suits at Postmedia in The ROT don’t allow Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck to fill their two or three pages with anything other than the Jets, Blue Bombers and curling.

One more note on the Drab Slab: They often run a full-page, poster pic on the Sunday sports front, and that seems like a colossal waste of space to me. Why not a quality feature or something light and bright? Plopping a large pic in that premium space shows zero initiative or imagination. It’s just lazy.

The Beatles and Yoko

Three months in, I still really don’t know what to make of this NHL season, except to submit that it’s kind of like the breakup of the Beatles. Instead of one genius rock band, we were left with three solid solo artists and Ringo Starr. That’s what the NHL is today, a quartet of separate house leagues, although I haven’t decided which of the four is Ringo. I am, mind you, leaning toward the Central Division because, once you get past Tampa, Carolina and Florida, you’re left with nothing but a band of bland clubs and a guy named Torts who, come to think of it, is a lot like Yoko Ono. You know, a dark, foreboding presence determined to ruin a good thing (for evidence see: Laine, Patrik).

Torts

If nothing else, this NHL crusade is a study in the distortion of facts. Media pundits insist on taking numbers and pro-rating them over an 82-game crusade, as if delivering a weighty message, but in truth it’s delusional, like imagining Patrik Laine and John Tortorella sitting by the campfire and singing Kumbaya. Consider the Jets. They’d be on pace for a 106-point season, which would be their second best since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, but it’s false currency. We wouldn’t be looking at similar numbers if they were required to play the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche 9/10 times each instead of the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks. But, hey, I’m not here to piddle on your Corn Flakes. Enjoy it, Jets fans. Much like the Edsel, this kind of season won’t happen again.

All power to the Edmonton Oilers for getting the brooms out and sweeping the Senators, 9-nada, on the season, but, I’m sorry, that should never happen in any big-league sport.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl ate the Senators’ lunch to the tune of 21 points each in those nine games, so if they got to play Ottawa 82 times they’d finish with 191 points. That would still leave them 24 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s best year.

Hey, check out the Los Angeles Dodgers 2020 World Series championship rings. They’re as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. I swear, they won’t be able to take those things to a jeweler for cleaning. They’ll need a car wash. But they’re 11-karat, 232-diamond, 53-sapphire beauties. Much nicer than the Houston Astros 2017 WS rings, which featured diamonds set into a replica trash can lid.

Speaking of garbage, Anaheim fans tossed trash cans onto the field when the Astros were in town last week. We haven’t seen that much garbage in the outfield since the 1962 Mets.

By the way, if you’re looking for something special for that special Dodgers fan in your life, limited-edition replica World Series rings are available to the faithful. Cost: $35,000US. Let me just say this about that, though: If you have a spare $35K kicking around to spend on finger decoration, I have the number of a food bank that would love to hear from you.

Bo (Oops) Bichette

The Chicago Cubs plan to erect a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Ferguson Jenkins outside Wrigley Field, and the New York Mets will unveil a pigeon perch of pitching legend Tom Seaver outside Citi Field in July. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to wonder if they’d be better off with a statue at shortstop rather than Bo (Oops) Bichette.

Brendan Bottcher and his group from Wild Rose Country came up empty at the men’s world curling championship in Calgary. Someone please alert the six people outside the Prairie provinces who actually give a damn.

And, finally, I have never engaged in a chin-wag about “TV’s most-talked-about show,” mainly because I’ve never watched “TV’s most-talked-about show.” I have never overheard a conversation about “TV’s most-talked-about show.” What show am I not talking about? Well, if you don’t know, then perhaps it isn’t “TV’s most-talked-about show” after all.

Let’s talk about chess with Swamp Dog…bravo Jennifer Jones…flush go the Habs…TSN’s flawed ‘Toba Top 10…Shaq’s name game…Ali vs. Tiger…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, sadly, one of the old gang from the Trib, Swamp Dog Rauw, has left us…

The thing I remember most fondly about Murray Rauw is playing chess in the small hours of the morning, after we’d put the sports section to bed at the Winnipeg Tribune.

Swamp Dog and I would unwind from the grind by retreating to my modest dwelling on Leighton Avenue in East Kildonan, whereupon I would crack open the brown pops while he cracked open one of my many chess sets.

There’d be Beatles music playing in the background—on the down low since all others in the house were in slumber—and I would quietly sing along with the Fab Four while Swamp Dog contemplated a next misguided move that surely would lead to checkmate or stalemate. I sometimes wondered if my singing disturbed his thought process, but he never offered so much as a mumble in protest.

Swamp Dog

Swamp Dog seldom complained, although a small flap of fuss is how he earned his delightful nickname.

I was in the cockpit one night, laying out the Trib sports pages, while others wrote their stories, edited copy, wrote headlines, handled the phones and did rewrites. Swamp Dog, still reasonably new to staff, had two or three things on the go.

“Murray,” I said at one point, interrupting his work, “I need you to do something.”

“Me?” he yelped. “Me? I’m swamped!”

“You’re swamped?” I responded, snickering. “Let me tell you something about being swamped.”

I informed him how it worked in the Trib sports department. We were all multi-taskers, often expected to handle more than one beat on the same day. It was not uncommon for a select few of us to cover an event in the morning or afternoon, write our article, then design a six- or seven-page sports section that night. It made for long shifts, but it was an accepted part of the gig. Besides, most of us were young, full of P and V and eager to earn a “damn good stuff” from our sports editor, Jack Matheson.

“That’s okay,” I told Swamp Dog. “You just do what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the rest, because you’re swamped! You’re our Swamp Dog.”

Swamp Dog became a fabulous multi-tasker, skillfully covering everything from badminton to boxing to backing up Matty on the Blue Bombers beat, until Southam had the bad manners to stop the Trib presses for the final time in August 1980.

And now Swamp’s ticker has stopped.

Swamp Dog died last Sunday in Calgary, after a lengthy illness, and I spent much of the past week sifting through recollections of him and our cast of kooky characters at the Trib. (We would have made for a boffo sitcom.)

An unpretentious, fun guy, I can’t think of a former colleague who harbored a greater, more genuine appreciation for landing a sports writing gig than Swamp Dog. He was like a kid who sneaked in and out of the ice cream parlor every night without getting caught, and he never tried to hide his appreciation for his good fortune.

Swamp Dog made me laugh without trying. His eyeglasses, for example, were a trip. Back in the 1970s, they would sit at a 45-degree angle on the bridge of his nose, the large lenses plastered with very visible fingerprints from his constant but failed attempts to make the specs fit his face. His mustache drooped and would go months without a much-needed pruning. Then there was the day I learned he had tagged the lovely lady who would become his bride, Maureen, with the most unflattering of nicknames: Mush.

“Geez, Swamp, I don’t know many women who’d fancy being called Mush,” I said. “Doesn’t it bother Maureen?”

“Why would it?” he answered as if I had asked a very dumb question. “She’s my Mush.”

Once the Trib folded, both Swamp Dog and I found our way to Calgary, first him at the Herald and then myself at the Sun a couple years later. I didn’t know a soul, other than Swamp Dog, Maureen and the two people who had hired me. Swamp Dog promptly set me up to play slo-pitch on one of the city’s elite outfits, and he dragged me to his raquetball club. After our always-enjoyable matches, we’d sometimes retire to his home and Maureen would be kind enough to feed us.

Oddly enough, Swamp Dog and I never played another game of chess. I guess that was our Winnipeg thing. But we’d get together for some giggles, or he’d get serious on occasion and discuss his MS. He’d unfailingly inquire about my Uncle Dennis, who’d been confined to a wheelchair due to MS since I was a sprig.

After I left Calgary and returned to Good Ol’ Hometown, we seldom saw each other, basically when road assignments would take us to the Grey Cup, the Brier or Stanley Cup playoffs. The Canadian Football League and curling were his main beats, and he was among the best at both.

Foremost for me, though, are the personal recollections, and I smile at the memory of us shifting chess pieces across the board, his knight taking my rook or my bishop taking his queen. Eventually, one of us would notice the morning sun peeking through my living room drapes, and he’d take his leave.

Now Swamp Dog is gone permanently, but I’d say his sun is still shining—through Maureen and the kids, Josh and Cayley, and granddaughter Charlotte.

Rest easy, old friend.

The Grim Reaper has now fetched Matty, Swamp Dog, Gus Collins Uncle Vince Leah, and freelancers Harold Loster and Ronnie Meyers from our 1970s toy department at the Trib. And that’s not to forget photog Jon Thordarson, whom I always considered one of us. Those of us still drawing oxygen are in our 60s and 70s, or older, so Dave Komosky and I often wonder who’ll be next. My kidneys are suggesting it might be moi. If that’s how it shakes down, in lieu of flowers send laughter.

Jennifer Jones

Big tip of the bonnet to Jennifer Jones, who’s now won more games at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts (159) than any curler. Ever. By the time she’s finished, Jen’s collection of Ws might be unbeatable, although I suppose Rachel Homan will have something to say about that. For now, though, Jen is the standard, and I say it’s only fitting and proper that someone from Winnipeg stands atop the heap. After all, Good Ol’ Hometown is the curling capital of the world, no matter what some folks in Alberta might want you to believe.

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the impression that the women at the Scotties have a whole lot more fun than the men at the Brier? Just saying.

Some people haven’t been impressed with the quality of play at the Scotties in Calgary. Too many flubbed shots. Iffy strategy. Well, what did you expect? I mean, they’d been away from the pebble for a year, and I’m guessing we’ll see a similar number of hairballs coughed up when the boys gather for the Brier at the end of this week.

Apparently it’s been so quiet at the fan-free Scotties that Saskatchewan skip Sherry Anderson says she “heard the toilet flush” while on the pebble the other day. But, hey, let’s not talk about the Montreal Canadiens.

I’m not saying the Habs’ hope for a successful crusade is down the toilet. If they can get rid of the imposter wearing Carey Price’s jersey, they might yet qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Then again, maybe O.J. will find the real killers.

Paul Stastny poached a goal from Twig Ehlers to give the Winnipeg Jets their 2-1 OT win over the Habs on Saturday night. You just don’t do that. It’s chintzy.

Patrik Laine

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Patrik Laine wanted first-line minutes skating alongside Rink Rat Scheifele, but Jets head coach Paul Maurice would have none of it. So they shipped him to Columbus. Now Pierre-Luc Dubois, the guy the Jets received in barter for Puck Finn, is getting first-line minutes skating alongside Scheifele. What am I missing here?

Dumb headline in the Winnipeg Sun: “Coach, teammates like new Jet Dubois.” Well, duh. What does anyone expect them to say? That he’s a sloth? Bring Patty back? Now that would be a story. The fact the Jets have warm-and-fuzzy feelings for the new kid in town isn’t newsworthy.

Good stuff from Mad Mike McIntyre in the Drab Slab on local Black shinny players who found their way to the upper levels of professional hockey. Among those he chatted with are Bill Riley and Ray Neufeld, one of the nicest men to wear Jets linen. It’s worth a look.

So why is it that I don’t believe Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie when he tells us there’ll be Rouge Football this year, but I believe Winnipeg Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller when he says the same thing? Maybe it’s because Wade transformed Winnipeg FC from a laughing stock into a Grey Cup champion, whereas Commish Randy couldn’t sell a spare tire to a guy with a flat.

Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke (right)

Nice touch by TSN to serve up a Top 10 moments for Manitoba athletes last week. Except they should have consulted someone from the Keystone Province before revealing the list. There was no Clara Hughes collecting medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympics. There was no Donny Lalonde knocking Sugar Ray Leonard to the canvas. There was no George Knudson winning on the PGA Tour. There was no Bobby Clarke, the first captain of a National Hockey League expansion outfit to hoist the Stanley Cup. There was no Reggie Leach, scorer of 80 goals in the 1975-76 NHL season/playoffs. There was no Don Duguid going unbeaten to win consecutive world curling titles. No Jeff Stoughton. No University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen hoops team winning 88 consecutive matches. But Anthony Coombs made the grade with a catch in a meaningless game for the Toronto Argos. Skeleton guy Jon Montgomery was featured drinking beer and pretending to be an auctioneer. Corey Koskie cracked the list for catching a foul ball in a game no one remembers. And Andrew Harris was featured running the ball for the B.C. Lions in a game no one remembers. Totally lame.

Shaq

Shaquille O’Neal has taken some heat for his work as a TV analyst. It seems Shaq is unfamiliar with the first names of numerous National Basketball Association players, including Pascal Siakam of the Tranna Jurassics. “Oh, I never knew his first name,” Shaq confessed in a panel natter with Ernie Johnson in a recent NBA on TNT broadcast. I guess that makes Siakam the ultimate player to be named later.

Tim and Sid are no more. Well, okay Tim is still Micaleff and Sid is still Seixeiro, but they’re no longer Tim & Sid, after 17 years together on Sportsnet. Sid’s next gig is Breakfast Television in the Republic of Tranna and, given his penchant for goofing around, the show might become known as Dog’s Breakfast Television. Tim & Sid was sometimes-see TV for me, never must-see TV, but you don’t last that long without doing something right. Having said that, Tim drew a parallel between he and Sid breaking up and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David parting ways. Uh, no. You don’t want to go there, man.

James Duthie

I’ve long admired James Duthie’s work on TSN. Who hasn’t? He’s witty, clever, knowledgeable and doesn’t take himself seriously. And he’s done it all without perfect hair and perfect teeth.

But when he waxed on about Tiger Woods last week…well, let’s just say he was showing his age.

“There’s not another…he’s the most famous athlete of our lives,” Duthie said of Woods in a squawk with Rod Smith. “Maybe you can make an argument Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, but there has been no more fascinating, complex character in sport in our lives.”

Good grief. Tom Brady is about as complex as Grade 1 arithmetic. He throws a football, wins the Super Bowl, then paints the town bland. The most fascinating thing he’s ever done is get drunk and hurl the Lombardi Trophy from one boat to another. Jordan? Best hoops player ever. Full stop.

Duthie wants fascinating and complex? Let me introduce him to Muhammad Ali, the boxer once known as Cassius Clay.

There were more layers to Ali than an onion. Let’s start with the name change, the Nation of Islam and the shift to Sunni Islam. Let’s talk about political activism and civil rights. Let’s talk about the U.S. government taking away his livelihood and untold millions of dollars for 3½ years because he refused to travel across the world to kill people in Vietnam. Let’s talk about his willingness to go behind bars rather than spray bullets. Let’s talk about the anger and hostility, then the warm admiration, of a nation. Let’s talk about a unanimous victory in the Supreme Court. Let’s talk about the Grammy nominations. Let’s talk about the movies and the Broadway musical. Let’s talk about whimsy, doggerel and rapping before rap was a thing. Let’s talk about the campus speaking tours. Let’s talk about the battle with Parkinson’s. Let’s talk about winning the world heavyweight title three times when it actually meant something. Let’s talk about the Rumble in the Jungle and the Thrilla in Manila. Let’s talk about media savvy. Let’s talk about showmanship and the oversized personality. Let’s talk about the multiple marriages and infidelities. Let’s talk about the irony of being meaner and more cruel to Black boxers than white fist-fighters.

Duthie is 54, which means he missed the opening act of the theatre that was Ali. He can’t relate to the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement of the 1960s, just as those who weren’t there when John Paul, George and Ringo invaded America can’t truly understand and appreciate Beatlemania.

But when he speaks of “our lives,” I have to assume that includes myself and those of my vintage.

Tiger Woods is arguably the finest to ever strike a dimpled ball. We marveled at his wizardry, how he would make the best in the game wither before they even teed it up on a Thursday. He was fascinating to watch. Gobsmackingly so. But whereas Ali allowed us inside his world, Woods tried to keep most everyone out. Except his many mistresses.

Other than his genius at golf, we knew nothing of Woods the person until caught with his trousers down and the tabloids exposed him as a raging philanderer. And, of course, he’s made headlines for getting behind the wheel of a luxury vehicle when it wasn’t wise. But cheating on your spouse and reckless driving hardly makes one fascinating or complex. It makes him one of a million guys.

So let’s put it this way: Given one word to describe Tiger Woods, it would be “golf.” Given one word to describe Muhammad Ali, it would be…sorry, can’t do it in one word. He was too fascinating and complex.

And, finally, looks like this will be a pizza-and-pebble day, because I’m hitting the couch and won’t budge until either Jen Jones or Kerri Einarson has (hopefully) won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts this evening.

Let’s talk about Rob the Rube and the Exalted Guardians of the Lou Marsh Trophy…LP records and bubble gum card regrets…the $405 million Winnipeg Jets…the Drama in Bahama…hits and misses in the rag trade…mum’s the word for Kyrie…and Johnny Rotten’s on his way back

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and something tells me that Sarah Fuller’s 15 minutes of fame is about to end now that she’s kicked two converts…

There are a couple of things you need to know about the Lou Marsh Trophy.

Lou Marsh Trophy

First, it’s a Toronto Star in-house trinket, named after a former sports editor at One Yonge Street in the Republic of Tranna and voted on by a cadre of news snoops mostly living and working within spitting distance of the CN Tower.

Second, here’s what those big-city Tranna folk think of us out here in the colonies—hee haw!

That’s right, country bumpkins.

We’re the red-haired, freckle-faced, adopted daughters and sons of Confederation, all spread out in the wide-open sprawl of an oft-frozen tundra and hunkered down in a bunch of itty-bitty, backwater burgs named after animals and their body parts. Moose Jaw. Elkhorn. Pelican Narrows. Porcupine Plain.

Basically, they see us as Mayberry. You know, Andy, Barney, Goober, Floyd the Barber and Aunt Bee. Except we wear toques.

They think our idea of a high time is the Saturday night barn dance. Right after the big tractor pull. (That’s only partially true. Sometimes we save the tractor pull until Sunday afternoon, right after we’ve collected all the eggs and milked the cows.)

They also know they’ve got the tall, imposing CN Tower and powerful Bay Street, while we have grain silos and Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump.

Alphonso Davies

Little wonder, therefore, that the Exalted Guardians of the Marsh trinket limited the number of colonials in last week’s discussion/vote to determine the finest athlete in our vast land during the past 12 months. Wouldn’t want to give too many of the western rubes too loud a voice, right? Why, you get a whole passel of those hayseeds together and they’re apt to organize a Western Bloc vote and choose Troy Dorchester, or some little, ol’ gal who raised herself a prize-winning heifer at the Oxbow County Fair.

Next thing you know, One Yonge Street would be trying to explain to the world how a chuckwagon racer out of Westerose, Alta., came to be Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. Or—eeks!—a pig-tailed 4H-clubber with a cow. Can’t have that, now can we?

So the Exalted Guardians, headed by Damien Cox of the Star, played a game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe and plucked a fortunate four from the entire pool of jock journos who live and work west of Falcon Lake, which is just a hoot and a holler down the road from the Manitoba-Ontario divide.

“There’s more rep from the West now than for the first 60 years of the award,” Cox boasted in a tweet, as if he’d brought peace to the Middle East.

Oh my, what a dear, magnanimous man, permitting four among the great unwashed wretches of Western Canadian jock journalism to share his oxygen, albeit virtually. Alert the Vatican. Surely sainthood must be the reward for such unprecedented charity.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif

The thing is, the overwhelming majority of voices at last week’s virtual point-and-counterpoint—37 in number—belonged to news snoops who wouldn’t know a silo from a swather, and the final head count was East 33, West 4.

But, hey, can we really blame the Exalted Guardians for putting a quota on country bumpkins?

I mean, they really pushed the envelop by giving four western rubes a voice and a vote. It was high risk, like letting Mike Tyson loose in a sorority house. And, sure enough, just look at what Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post did. He brought a banjo to the symphony.

Eighteen news snoops voted for Alphonso Davies and 18 voted for Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. But not our boy Rob. He delivered his shoutout to breakout basketball star Jamal Murray. (By gosh, that means he must have watched some hoops. On TV. Who knew they had electricity on the Flattest of Lands? Must have got it the same day as the indoor plumbing.)

Those who know him say Rob is an all-timer on the roll call of good guys, but he had some serious ‘splaining to do. The Twitter hounds demanded answers. How could this sodbuster not possibly see what everyone else saw in Davies and Duvernay-Tardif?

Rob Vanstone

“My rationale: Murray had two 50-point games in the 2020 NBA playoffs, during which he helped the Denver Nuggets rally from 3-1 series deficits against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers (see ya, Kawhi Leonard),” he wrote. “In 19 post-season games, the 6-foot-4 Murray averaged 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds. That was after posting averages of 17.7 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds during the regular season. Murray, from Kitchener, Ont., elevated his already impressive play when the games were most meaningful.”

Rob also tweeted something about it being “a coin flip” between Murray and Davies, but he didn’t really have to explain himself. In reality, he did everyone a favor. His vote meant joint top jocks, rather than one.

Atta boy, Rob the Rube. You’ve got a boffo story to tell at the next Saturday night barn dance. Hee Haw!

I have no quibble with Davies and Duvernay-Tardif sharing the Lou Marsh Trophy. For all I care, they can slice the thing in half or melt it down and make baubles, bangles and buckshot out of it. If not, I’m guessing it would make for a fabulous door stop or a paper weight. No matter, because this isn’t about footy phenom Phonsie or the good doctor, who chose to save lives this year rather than protect Patrick Mahomes’ backside in the Kansas City Chiefs’ bid to repeat as rulers of the National Football League. They’re champions and worthy winners, both of them, even if Phonsie did his thing on footy pitches on the other side of the world and Duvernay-Tardif did his thing in long-term care homes after collecting a Super Bowl ring. My issue is with the process. Is it truly a national award if half the country isn’t given a voice? Hell no, it ain’t. It’s total BS. Until the Exalted Guardians allow everyone to play, it’s a sham.

Something to ponder: For all the success we’ve had in Ponytail Puck, no female hockey player has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all the success our Pebble People have had, no curler has ever won the Lou Marsh trinket. For all her accomplishments on the LPGA Tour, Brooke Henderson has never won the Lou Marsh trinket. Just saying.

A Wayne Gretzky rookie card fetched $1.29 million at auction last week. Every time I read a story like that, I cringe. How so? Because there was a bubble gum card in the back wheel of the Raleigh bike I sold to Dougie Cox for $10 while in high school in the 1960s. I don’t recall whose pic was on that tiny piece of cardboard, but it might have been Bobby Orr, and one of No. 4’s rookie cards sold for $204,000 last year. What did I do with the 10 bucks Dougie gave me for my bike? Bought the newest Beatles album, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have the LP and bubble gum card regrets. I doubt Dougie has the bike.

Please don’t tell me you’re surprised that the Winnipeg Jets have been given preferential treatment from provincial politicos and Manitoba’s top docs in their quest to play hockey during a pandemic. You should know by now that there’s one rule book for the regular rabble and another for the filthy rich and fabulous.

Let me go on record and say any member of our national women’s hockey/soccer teams can call dibs and jump ahead of me in the vaccine queue if they feel so inclined. But the millionaire hockey players? Wait your turn, boys.

The Puck Pontiff

On the subject of wealth, the money crunchers at Forbes tell us the value of the Jets has dipped from US$420 million a year ago to $405M today. Put in perspective, the sticker price was $170M when co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson purchased the National Hockey League franchise in 2011. Still, there’s cause for concern. Assuming the NHL drops the puck next month, an empty Little Hockey House On The Prairie means no game-day revenue and staggering losses for Winnipeg HC and all NHL outfits. We know no one in the country has deeper pockets than Thomson, and there’ll be no tag days for the Puck Pontiff, but hearing the New York Islanders dropped $39M in 2020 makes me a bit skittish.

Here’s the Forbes breakdown on valuation for the NHL’s Canadian-based franchises (year-over-year change in parenthesis):
2. Toronto Maple Leafs-$1.5 billion (0%)
3. Montreal $1.34B (0%)
10. Vancouver $725 million (-2%)
14. Edmonton $550M (-4%)
20. Calgary $480M (-4%)
26. Ottawa $430M (-3%)
27. Winnipeg $405M (-4%)

Interesting that Bill Foley of the Vegas Golden Knights felt obliged to snuff out trade talk involving forward Max Pacioretty. “We’re not shopping Patches,” the Knights bankroll told news snoops. “We do have cap issues, and so some of those things have to be resolved as we go forward, we started getting into the season. But he definitely is not being shopped.” Is it just me, or does anyone else think that’s exactly the kind of language we should be hearing from the Puck Pontiff re Patrik Laine?

Trevor Berbick and Muhammad Ali.

Thirty-nine years ago Friday, I sat ringside and watched Trevor Berbick box Muhammad Ali’s ears for 10 rounds on a parched patch of earth on Paradise Island in The Bahamas. The great Ali was pathetic and Berbick, a Canadian by way of Jamaica, wasn’t much better. It was a sordid affair that involved criminals, con men and the many human barnacles and leeches who clung to Ali, still convinced there was a buck to be made off the aging and bloated man. I didn’t enjoy what I witnessed and heard that night, and thought it disturbing that Ali’s fist-fighting career should end in such an undignified manner. It was like watching royalty carted off in a compost cart. The Drama in Bahama never should have happened but, oddly enough, I’m glad I was there for Ali’s final bout.

It’s official: Donald Trump and his wackadoo legal team headed by Rudy Giuliani has now suffered more losses than the Washington Generals. The Generals, of course, were the longtime patsy and loser of more than 17,000 games to the Harlem Globetrotters.

Jeff Hamilton

Hit and Misses in the local rag trade…

Hit: Call off the search party. Bring back the bloodhounds. The Drab Slab’s fine, young scribe Jeff Hamilton is safe and scribbling again. We haven’t seen Jeff’s byline much this year, in large part due to the Canadian Football League falling off the grid, but he’s back with a six-part epic on Graham James, the sexual predator former hockey coach. Do we need to read more about creepy James and his criminal acts? Probably not. But if his victims are talking, they deserve to be heard. Some of Part 1 is painful to read, because what James did to teenage boys was horrific and the coverup was unforgivable, but it’s fabulous journalism from Jeff. Parts 2-6 in the series run online Monday-Friday and in print Tuesday-Saturday.

Miss: The Drab Slab couldn’t find room on its sports pages for this year’s list of inductees to the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame—Rhonda Orr, 1967 junior men’s interprovincial team champions Steve Bannatyne, Dave Hill, Ken Redfern, Dwight Parkinson, Manfred Broavac, and builders Brian Gilhuly and Tom Kinsman—but there was ample space for articles on Northern Ontario canceling its curling championships, breakdancing becoming an Olympic sport, COVID-19 and the Tranna Jurassics, new co-GMs for the B.C. Lions, the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, and two NFL game stories. That’s just wrong.

Miss: The Winnipeg Sun ran a brief on the golf hall-of-famers, but it should have been on the sports front rather than another bland, boring article on the Tranna Blue Jays written by a Tranna scribe. Seriously, what happened to putting local copy first and foremost?

Hit: Ted Wyman’s two-parter on the state of curling in Canada and the changes Pebble People would like to see at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.

Kyrie Irving

So, Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets says he won’t be talking to news snoops (he calls them “pawns”) before, during or after the National Basketball Association season. Give me a quarter and I’ll call someone who might actually give a damn.

The NBA has fined Irving $25,000 for his cone of silence. Ya, like that’s going to unzip his lips. The guy’s due to collect $33 million for bouncing a ball in 2020-21.

And finally, according to TMZ, Johnny Manziel is about to sign a contract with the Zappers in something called Fan Controlled Football. Isn’t there a vaccine to make him go away permanently?

Let’s talk about the Jets and Canucks…craziness with the Yotes…another reason for Chris Streveler to celebrate…Ducky makes a kid’s day…sinking ships…a new kid on the MJHL block…the Joker goes wild at U.S. Open…Journalism 101…and other things on my mind

A bonus, Labor Day smorgas-bored…and it’s mostly short snappers because there’s tennis to watch and maybe some golf if Dustin Johnson hasn’t lapped the field…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before from two noted hockey observers:

“There’s a lot to be excited about.”

“This team is going to be a force for awhile in the West. Great young players.”

Sounds like they’re talking about the Winnipeg Jets, circa spring 2018, doesn’t it?

Brian Burke

But, no. Brian Burke and John Shannon were directing their hosannas toward the Vancouver Canucks, who recently vacated the National Hockey League bubble in Edmonton after coming up one shot/save short in a Stanley Cup skirmish v. the Dallas Stars.

And, sure enough, there’s reason for the jar-half-full gushing. The Canucks look to be an outfit on a favorable trajectory. You know, just like two years ago when the local hockey heroes went deep, advancing to the Western Conference final before receiving a paddywhacking from the upstart Vegas Golden Knights. The Jets haven’t been the same since, in large part due to the mismanagement of assets and a cap crunch that squeezed general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff into a corner.

Chevy lost half his blueline (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Dustin Byfuglien) in one foul swoop, and only the retreat of Big Buff was not of his own authorship. He also couldn’t or wouldn’t keep rent-a-centres Paul Stastny or Kevin Hayes, either of whom would have been more than adequate playing second fiddle to Mark Scheifele.

Jim Benning

So that’s the cautionary tale for GM Jim Benning in Lotus Land. It can unravel very rapidly.

Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson and Alex Edler will be looking for new deals whenever the next NHL crusade ends and, as Burke emphasized on Hockey Night in Canada, “they’re gonna need a math professor from Harvard to figure this out.”

Chevy hasn’t been able to figure it out in Good Ol’ Hometown. The hope on the Left Flank has to be that Benning has better bean counters.

Pierre McGuire

I’ve long wondered what it would take to pry Jets 1.0 out of the Arizona desert, and anointing Pierre McGuire GM of the Coyotes just might be the thing to do it. If we’re to believe Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, Yotes ownership has been pitching woo to Pierre as a replacement for defrocked GM John Chayka, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Pierre has spent the past 20 years rinkside or in the studio for TSN and NBC, and I can’t see how sucking up to players and mansplaining the game to Kendall Coyne Schofield makes him GM worthy.

So, another year without a Stanley Cup champion for the True North, and did you know that’s “humiliating?” That, at least, is Cathal Kelly’s take on Canada’s drought, which dates back to the spring of 1993. “The hockey of Canadian hockey? That is not working out so well,” he writes in the Globe and Mail. “It’s beginning to seem as though the building of an NHL winner is planting it somewhere in the United States where no one cares. Then you have happy employees and the luxury of a free hand to shuffle them around.” Ya, that’s worked out soooo well for the Winnipeg Jets-cum-Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.

Chris Streveler

Speaking of Arizona, I note that Chris Streveler has survived final cuts with the Arizona Cardinals. The former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy is listed third on the depth chart, so Lord help them if they win the Super Bowl. There won’t be enough beer in the entire state to handle that celebration.

Just wondering: What was the first thing Alain Vigneault read or watched after his Philly Flyers were ushered out of the NHL bubble in the Republic of Tranna? Do you think he knows that Black Lives Matter yet?

Randy Ambrosie

Did you know that it takes eight to 10 hours to deep clean each hotel room once they’ve been vacated in the Edmonton and ROT bubbles? Hmmm. Wonder how long it will take Randy Ambrosie to clean up the mess he’s made.

The Montreal Canadiens now have $15 million tied up in two goaltenders, Carey Price and Jake Allen. Hmmm. That would pay for half a Canadian Football League shortened-season.

Enjoyed this tweet from Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town: “If I ever own a race horse I might name him ‘Pink Fred’. That’s what Hugh Campbell called Pink Floyd when he announced a change in the Edmonton EE schedule to accommodate the then very hot act.”

Coolest recent tweet was delivered by Rob Vanstone of Postmedia Flatlands: “How amazing was Dale Hawerchuk? I wrote to him c/o Winnipeg Jets in 1982, requesting an autograph. Yes, I got the autograph—and so much more! He must have been deluged with fan mail, but he still made time to go above and beyond.” What made the tweet so special was the pic that Rob attached. It helps explain why there were so many long faces the day Ducky died.

Rob’s tweet brought to mind my first experience as an autograph seeker. I was a sprig of no more than 10 years, living on Melbourne Avenue in Good Ol’ Hometown. One day I took pic of broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt from a hockey magazine and mailed it to his radio station in the Repblic of Tranna, asking for a signature. Two weeks later, a brown envelope arrive in the mail box, and there it was…Foster Hewitt’s autograph. He called me “a real hockey fan.” I don’t know what became of that autographed pic, but Foster’s gesture made me want to get into sports journalism.

Mark Spector

Mark Spector of Sportsnet E-Town is confused: “It’s official: the term ‘learning lesson’ has replaced ‘irregardless’ as my pet peeve,” he tweets. “Can someone define a ‘lesson’ from which the recipient did NOT ‘learn?’ Are their ‘non-learning lessons’ out there?” Yo! Mark! As the venerable Zen master Dalai Jocklama tells us, “A lesson taught is not always a lesson learned.” As my mom was wont to say, I hope you’ve learned your lesson.

According to Donald Trump, canned soup is now the weapon of choice for bad guys because bricks are too heavy to throw. I can just hear it next time I’m in my local market: “Clean up on the ammunition aisle! Clean up on the ammunition aisle!”.

They held a Lake Travis Trump Boat Parade off the shore of Auston, Texas, the other day and at least four craft went glub, glub, glub to a watery grave. There’s no truth to the rumor that the Milwaukee Bucks were among the sunken ships, but they have sent out a Mayday signal.

Andy Murray

Cathal Kelly likes to write about tennis, but I’m not sure how much tennis he actually watches. I mean, he claims that our guy Felix Auger-Aliassime put “an end to the whole idea of the Big Four in men’s tennis” when he whupped Andy Murray at the U.S. Open last week. Apparently, Kelly hadn’t noticed that there’s only been a Big Three—Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic—for the past three years. Andy Murray last won a Grand Slam tournament in 2016. He hasn’t been a top-10 player since 2017, when he was world No. 3 in October. He hasn’t been in the top 100 for more than two years. He’s beaten just one top-10 player since 2017. He’s part of a Big Four like Miley Cyrus is one of the Beatles. What part of all that does Kelly not understand? Furthermore, he listed Djokovic as the “reigning champion” at Flushing Meadows. That will come as news to Rafa Nadal.

A wounded lines judge gives Novak Djokovic the stink eye.

Djokovic’s departure from the U.S. Open on Sunday was sudden and deserved. Tennis players can be a right petulant lot, few more so than the Serb. He’s long been prone to bouts of pique, and it caught up to him when, in another hissy fit, he whacked a ball that struck a female line judge in the throat. Automatic ouster. Even if it wasn’t deliberate. Why it took officials 10 minutes to convince Djokovic that he wouldn’t be allowed to play on is a mystery, but I’m sure he’ll put his tin foil hat back on and figure it out in time for the French Open later this month.

ESPN certainly had the perfect guy in the blurt box to talk about poor on-court manners Sunday—John McEnroe. The one-time brat of tennis called Djovik’s hissy fit “bone-headed,” and Johnny Mac ought to know more about that than most.

Hey, there’s a new kid in town. The Manitoba Junior Hockey League has added a second Winnipeg-based franchise for its 2020-21 crusade, and that’s interesting news for those of us who can remember an MJHL that included four outfits in Good Ol’ Hometown. 50 Below Sports + Entertainment is the money behind the freshly minted outfit, to be dubbed the Freeze according to Mike Sawatzky of the Drab Slab, and I can only hope they aren’t hitting parents with a $12,000 tab to have their kids play Junior shinny.

Steve Nash

The appointment of Steve Nash as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets stirred up considerable controversy, given that his experience as a bossman totals zip and, significantly, he’s a White man in the very Black National Basketball Association. “Two words that never, ever, should be attached to Steve Nash: White privilege,” Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna harrumphed in his always-pompous weekly alphabet soup column of odds and ends. “But there they were, the screamers of black and white, somehow insisting that Nash’s surprising hiring as coach of the Brooklyn Nets was yet another example of white privilege in North American professional sports.” What that is, folks, is “another example” of shoddy journalism. Simmons failed to identify the “screamers of black and white,” nor did he tell us what they said or what they’re saying. We’re talking Journalism 101 here, folks: Who, what, when, where and why. Apparently that doesn’t apply to big-shot columnists who refuse to burden themselves with the pesky details.

I have often lamented the lack of lower-level local sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, most notably the Sun, which has been ransacked by Postmedia. To underscore how woeful it has become, I monitored the amount of ink devoted to outfits not named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose, Goldeyes and Valour FC in August. The results are discouraging, but not surprising:
Drab Slab (31 editions)—32 articles, 6 briefs (Assiniboia Downs, amateur hockey, junior hockey, amateur golf, university volleyball, curling, junior football, junior baseball, tennis, sports books).
Winnipeg Sun (30 editions)—1 article (junior football).

At least sports editor Steve Lyons and his boys on the beat at the Drab Slab are trying, but the Sun surrendered to the whims and dictates of Postmedia suits in the Republic of Tranna long ago. I mean, one local story in an entire month? That isn’t just sad, it’s wrong. Amateur Sports Matters, dammit.

And, finally, I’ll conclude this holiday edition of the RCR with a Matty-ism from my first sports editor Jack Matheson: “You don’t have to be strange to live in B.C., but it helps.” Hey, I resemble that remark.

Let’s talk about little green men in River City…greybeard boxing…baseball orphans shuffle off to Buffalo…Jeremy Roenick’s ungay legal gambit…a 1964 prophecy…jock journos whinge and whinge…the Big M was “unfit to practice”…and many other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and today’s post is dedicated to my lovely friend Beverley, who died earlier this month and always appreciated my quirky sense of humor…

According to those who like to track the whereabouts of little green men, UFO sightings were up in Manitoba last year, with folks in Winnipeg observing the third most in the entire country.

Says local Ufology researcher Chris Rutkowski: “People are seeing things for the first time that they may not have noticed before.”

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister dug into his slush fund and came up with $2.5 million in support of Good Ol’ Hometown as the Canadian Football League’s official hub city should there be a 2020 season. Hmmm. That ought to take care of Chris Walby’s bar tab, but it won’t leave much for COVID-19 testing.

Greybeard Mike Tyson

Greybeard boxers Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have signed to go dukes up sometime in September, and they’ve agreed to wear head protection. So let’s see if I’ve got this straight: Two fiftysomething guys with a combined 133 fights behind them think it’s a swell idea to exchange punches for another eight rounds. Seems to me it’s a little too late to be thinking about head protection.

So, the orphaned Tranna Blue Jays have finally found a home for their 2020 Major League Baseball crusade. They had hoped to play in the Republic of Tranna, of course, but when that notion was nixed by Trudeau the Younger, the Tranna Nine sought Pittsburgh as a playground, then Baltimore, before landing in Buffalo. That’s kind of like trying to book John Lennon or Paul McCartney or George Harrison to play your birthday gig, but settling for Ringo.

Big league ball players are kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. Hoops stars are kneeling. Fitba’s best are kneeling. NFL players have vowed to kneel. I feel a Donald Trump Twitter rant coming down in 3, 2, 1.

Seriously. Why are they even playing the national anthem at fan-free sporting events? Come to think of it, why do they play it when patrons are in the pews?

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

Nice ceremonial first pitch by America’s favorite doc, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the other night at the Washington Nationals-New York Yankees opener in DC. Flame-Thrower Fauci he ain’t. The ball never made it halfway to home plate and dribbled into foul territory on the first base side of the field. It was the worst. You know, like Donald Trump’s COVID strategy.

Former NBC gab guy Jeremy Roenick is suing the Peacock Network for wrongful dismissal, claiming his lewd comments about lusting after a co-worker’s “ass and boobs” and having sex with a male co-worker had nothing to do with his ouster. He was punted because he’s an ungay guy, don’t you know. It’s an interesting gambit. I don’t know if Roenick’s “I’m a straight man” case will ever get to court, but I have a pretty good idea what Judge Judy would tell him to do with it.

Roenick also claims his removal was due, in part, to his support of Donald Trump. Again, more about an ass and a boob.

Fanless, TV-only sports has arrived, which makes the following comment eerily prophetic: “I’m fully prepared to hear not more than 10 years from now that a hockey game, for instance, will be played behind the locked doors of an arena. The only people in the place will be the players, two cameramen, a floor director, a script assistant, a sound technician, a play-by-play man, a color man and two guards on the door. The guards will have a simple duty. They’ll intercept loiterers and old-fashioned hockey fans and put them to flight. The vagrants will be advised they have exactly 15 minutes to get to the nearest television set.” That, girls and boys, is a passage from a column written by the great Jack Matheson for the Winnipeg Tribune on Nov. 14, 1964. Today it’s so very real.

Gary Bettman

Kevin McGran has a gripe. The Toronto Star shinny scribe is miffed because Commish Gary Bettman has ruled mainstream news snoops persona non grata in the National Hockey League’s two playoff hub bubbles, Edmonton and the Republic of Tranna. Only in-house scribes need apply. In a lengthy grumble, McGran grouses that there will be “no colour from inside the room.” Right, we’re all going to miss those emotional renderings from players reminding each other to “keep our feet moving.” McGran closes with this: “Don’t get me wrong. This access isn’t about us. It’s about you. The reader. We do this for our readers. We want to do it the best we can, and now the NHL is not letting. They are shortchanging you, the fans.” If McGran listens closely enough, he’ll hear the sound of readers not giving a damn.

Some of us saw this day coming quite some time ago, it’s just that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened its arrival. This is what I wrote in January 2017: “Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties. What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative. Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing business.” So there.

It’s rather ironic, don’t you think, that news snoops have their boxers in a bunch because the NHL will control the message during its Stanley Cup runoff when, in fact, no enterprise this side of Vlad (The Bad) Putin controls the message more than media?

The Big M

I am an unfamous person, therefore there is no interest in my health chart.

If I catch the sniffles or develop a mild case of fanny fungus, it’s my business. If my kidneys go kaput, you could squeeze the number of people who’d actually give a damn into a phone booth, and there’d still be enough room for a couple of circus clowns.

But pro athletes are not unfamous. Well, okay, some are. But, in general, the faithful like to know everything about their sports heroes, from their fave brand of toothpaste to whether or not they hoarded toilet paper at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The rabble is keen on knowing about owies, too, especially if it impacts their fantasy leagues or office pools. But usually they’re satisfied to learn how long Sidney Crosby or David Pastrnak will be on the shelf.

Jock journos, meanwhile, demand to know the details, as if it’s a birthright.

Crosby and Pastrnak are “unfit to practice?” Sports scribes demand to know if it’s cancer, a canker sore or COVID-19. Except the NHL is shy on health specifics these days, a policy that continues to put so many knickers into so many knots. Numerous news snoops like Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab have flailed at Commish Bettman for his don’t-ask, don’t-tell directive on absenteeism during the attempted reboot of the paused 2020 crusade. Basically, they’d like him to take his hush-hush dictate and shove it where you won’t find any daylight.

The thing is, the NHL and its member clubs are under no obligation to make jock journos, or the rabble, privy to the personal health information of workers. It’s no different today than in the 1960s, when Frank Mahovlich went from the hockey rink to the hospital.

The Big M

The Big M’s disappearance from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ lineup on Nov. 12, 1964, was sudden and mysterious. Officially, he was in sick bay for “constant fatigue,” which, in today’s parlance, translates to “unfit to practice.”

“If you want any information on my condition you will have to talk to Dr. Smythe,” he told news snoops.

So that’s what they did, only to discover that Dr. Hugh Smythe was no more forthcoming when prodded by the pen-and-paper pack.

“Without discussing the diagnosis, I can say there’ll be no embarrassment to Mr. Mahovlich or myself when the nature of it is known,” he explained.

The specifics of what ailed Mahovlich remained shrouded in secrecy by the time he returned to the fray on Dec. 9, yet somehow the media mob managed to file their daily copy. If privy to the particulars, they kept it on the QT.

Similarly, in the small hours of the morning on Nov. 2, 1967, the Big M walked off a sleeper car at Union Station in the Republic of Tranna and went directly to hospital, while his teammates departed for Detroit.

“I realize this is a difficult thing to request, but the less said by the press, radio and TV people about the reason he is in hospital, the better it would be for Frank,” Dr. Smythe informed news snoops.

Turns out Mahovlich had suffered a nervous breakdown, and the boys on the beat were informed that he might be hors de combat for two weeks, two months or for the duration of the season. He was “unfit to practice.” Case closed. Nothing more to see.

Fast forward to the present, and we have had many mysterious disappearances. Or mysterious no-shows. All explained as “unfit to practice.”

Well, that’s all anyone need know until such time as the athlete and/or team choose to come clean. What part of that do news snoops not understand?

Commish Randy

Simmons’ pout on the NHL’s posture re players deemed “unfit to practice” was truly silly, and I had to laugh at Mad Mike’s take. In a 1,000-word whinge, he suggests that the cone of silence is ill-conceived because it leads to “speculation.” Oh, the horror! Stop the presses! Sports scribes forced to speculate! That, my friends, is a wholly bogus take. What does Mad Mike think he and the rest of them have been doing for the past four months? They’ve speculated about hub cities. They’ve speculated about playoff formats. They’ve speculated about life in a bubble. They’ve speculated about a Canadian Football League season. They’ve speculated about Trudeau the Younger tossing CFL Commish Randy Ambrosie some spare change. They’ve speculated about a roost for the orphaned Blue Jays. They’ve speculated about Donald Trump’s head exploding if one more athlete takes a knee. Sports is, if nothing else, speculation, and so is sports scribbling. It’s a large, and fun, part of the gig. Get a grip, man.

Geez, that last item included my third mention of Donald Trump this morning. This makes it four. I promise that the remainder of this post will be a Trump-free (five) zone.

To all the sports scribes who insist there’s no stigma attached to a positive COVID-19 test, tell that to Hutterites in Manitoba.

Say, those Seattle Kraken unis are spiffy. Love the logo, love the design, love the colors, love the name. Now we wait for some self-interest group like PETA to bellyache about cruelty to sea monsters and demand a name change.

On the subject of fashion, who’s responsible for dressing the women on Sportsnet Central, which returned to air last week? I swear, Carly Agro looked like a giant, upholstered chocolate bar, while Martine Gaillard and Danielle Michaud wore outfits that someone must have dug out of the freebe box at a thrift store. Either that or they’ve hired Don Cherry’s former tailor.

Doc Holliday

A tip of the bonnet to Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada and old friend and colleague Bob (Doc) Holliday. Scotty’s one of the truly good guys among jock journos, so it’s no surprise that he’s included in this year’s inductees to the Order of Manitoba, while Doc, one of my all-time favorite people, has had a street in St. Vital named in his honor—Bob Holliday Way. I’m not sure where you’d find Bob Holliday Way in St. Vital, but it’s probably the first stop on a Streetcar Named Retire, just past the Red Top Drive-In.

Both Bob and Scotty, by the way, are also members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, so their trophy rooms are getting cluttered.

I once dreamed of being in the MHHofF, but my dad ran off with my hockey equipment one day and I never played another game.

Nice to see the Winnipeg Sun back to publishing on Mondays, and I must say that the Winnipeg Free Press package on Saturdays is first rate. I’m not just talking about sports in the Drab Slab. It’s the entire Saturday sheet, from front to back. Terrific stuff.

Alyssa Nakken

Kudos to Alyssa Nakken, who became the first female to coach on-field in a Major League Baseball game. Alyssa worked first base for the San Francisco Giants v. the Oakland A’s last week, and I think that’s fantastic.

Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun is convinced that Connor Hellebuyck was snubbed in Hart Trophy balloting for the NHL’s most valuable performer. Scotty submits that being a goaltender worked against the Winnipeg Jets keeper, opining, “if your name isn’t Dominik Hasek, it’s not an easy code to crack.” Wrong. Carey Price cracked the code in 2015.

And, finally, as we approach the back end of July and I look out my window to gaze upon the Olympic Mountains in the United States, I note that there’s still snow on the peaks. What’s up with that? Is it something I should be telling Greta Thunberg about?

Let’s talk about the NHL lottery and Mickey Mouse…privacy vs. public figure…Edmonton’s Rocky Mountains…B.C.’s Rock Star Doc…Theo’s Hockey Hall of Fame snub…secret ballots…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, like the National Hockey League draft lottery, a lot of this probably won’t make sense to anyone…

I once saw a monkey figure out a Rubik’s Cube, but I’ll wager that the same smart-ass monkey couldn’t figure out the NHL draft lottery process.

Ideally, the first shout-out at the annual auction of teen talent would go to the NHL’s Sad Sack outfit, the Detroit Red Wings, who gave new meaning to the term “bottom feeder” in a season never completed. But no. The ping-pong balls didn’t bounce the Winged Wheel’s way in Phase 1 of the lottery on Friday night, and a Team To Be Named Later will pluck can’t-miss-kid Alex Lafreniere from the pool of NHL wannabes. The TTBNL might actually be named Pittsburgh Penguins, who narrowly edged the Red Wings in the Eastern Conference standings by a mere 47 points, and, as Brian Burke emphasized on Sportsnet, that’s “nothing short of a disgrace.”

Brian Burke

Burkie was in full-throated rant mode post-lottery, and he went off on the NHL in a natter with David Amber. The former NHL general manager and league exec said: “I think it makes our league look really bad. I think it makes our league look Mickey Mouse, and we’re not Mickey Mouse.” Perhaps not, but Goofy and Dopey come to mind.

So, after Phase 1 of the lottery, the Edmonton Oilers have a chance to win the No. 1 pick and land Lafreniere. Of course they do.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: In March, one basketball player tested positive for COVID-19, putting the brakes on the entire sports world and, at the same time, launching a stampede to the toilet paper aisles that resembled the California gold rush of the mid-1800s. Yet now, with many dozens of athletes in many sports testing positive, it’s go-time for the NHL, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball? What part of “deadly virus” do they not understand?

Just between you and me, I’m more excited to see toilet paper back on the shelves than shinny on the ice, hoops on the hardwood, and rounders in the ballyard.

Auston Matthews

It’s an old debate: Public figure vs. private citizen. Does the rabble have the right to know that Auston Matthews has tested positive for COVID-19? Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna thinks so, thus he wrote the story even though Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs preferred to keep it on the QT. Others, like TSN and Sportsnet, ignored it. Why? Because they’re part of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment structure, and they don’t think an employee’s personal health information is any of our business. Seems to me it should be up to the athlete. If Matthews had chosen to disclose his “upper body injury,” fine. If not, you can’t convince me we’re better off knowing about it. Unless he’s going to be sitting next to me at the pub, it’s none of my bee’s wax.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver took a big-picture look at the Matthews situation, and he doesn’t like what he sees vis-a-vis the pro sports team-media dynamic, in terms of controlling the message. He laments “a landscape where every attempt is made to manage availability in order to create homogeneous storylines,” and adds this: “Maybe you don’t find this outrageous. But this comes at a time when both the business and the soul of traditional media is fighting to survive. We used to be an unbiased filter between the established order and the public. Sometimes we still are. But we’re losing our strong, independent voices. We’re losing our place and the public is losing something in the bargain. You can understand why teams and leagues, to say nothing of political parties and their leaders, like this arrangement. But you shouldn’t.” If he thinks sports teams are controlling the message now, he ain’t seen nothing yet. It’ll be worse on the other side of the pandemic. That genie is out of the bottle, and she’s not going back in.

Longtime Sports Illustrated scribe S.L. Price had this take on the Willes essay: “This is more important than it seems, a canary in the ever-darkening journalism coalmine.” A tad dramatic, perhaps, but likely true.

Edmonton or Vancouver?

That was quite a sales pitch Alberta Premier Jason Kenney delivered in attempting to convince NHL Commish Gary Bettman that he’d be wise to set up shop in Edmonton for the Stanley Cup runoff. I mean, mountain vistas. Mountain resorts. Mountain lakes. Mountain waterfalls. Mustangs roaming wild and free. Who knew? Last time I was in downtown Edmonton, it looked a lot like downtown Winnipeg, only without the inferiority complex. But, hey, that was a couple of decades ago. Perhaps climate change means the Rocky Mountains have crept closer to the Taj West Edmonton Mahal. Does Greta Thunberg know and does she approve?

The Kenney video tweet supposedly was aimed at families of NHL players. While hubby/dad is busy playing hockey and living in a downtown hub bubble, mom and the kids can scatter hither and yon for fun and frolic. In other words: Come to Edmonton, but you probably won’t want to stay.

Dr. Bonnie Henry

Vancouver, which actually features mountain vistas and oceanfront property for real rather than on propaganda material, is out as an NHL playoff hub bubble, and I’m not hearing a big squawk from anyone on the Left Flank of the land. That’s because B.C.’s top doc, Dr. Bonnie Henry, managed to get a handle on the COVID-19 count from the get-go, and no one’s in the mood for a backslide by bending quarantine rules for an NHL invasion. “We are doing very well, we have a good balance,” says the Rock Star Doc. “But under no circumstances was I going to compromise in any way the health of people here in British Columbia.” She’d have put a series on hold if players tested positive, and that wouldn’t work in Commish Gary’s world. Some suggest a hub bubble in Vancity would have meant $19 million in found money during a financially crippling pandemic, but what’s the cost of lives?

Loved Scott Campbell’s fun tweet about the Hockey Hall of Fame’s latest list of inductees, which includes former Oilers defender Kevin Lowe: “Another tough year for me not making HHOF, but nobody cares. How many Avco Cups did Lowe win, huh?!!” You tell ’em, Scotty. Your one World Hockey Association champion ring is worth all six of Lowe’s Stanley Cup rings. Or maybe not.

Quick now, name all eight female players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Heck, name five of the eight. Betcha can’t do it. For answer, see below.

Theo Fleury

Now that you ask, yes, I believe Theo Fleury belongs in the HHOF based on the numbers he put up in the NHL and his success while wearing Team Canada linen. But, no, I’m not surprised that he’s been snubbed again. His on-ice bona fides are beyond challenge, but, as he wrote in his book Playing with Fire, “Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock,” and that ain’t Theo Fleury. Confessions of off-ice antics that included excessive boozing, heavy drug abuse, womanizing, gambling and barroom brawling tend to be a turnoff to the purists.

Got a kick out of Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the HHOF election process, which remains a deep, dark secret. “Because vote totals aren’t released, we have no idea how close Fleury came, who may have lobbied for his inclusion and who was against it,” he writes in the Drab Slab. “Compare that with how the NHL’s annual awards work, in which a couple hundred members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association reveal our ballots every year in the name of accountability and transparency, which is how it should be.” Every year? Spare us the back-patting, Mad Mike. The PHWA was a secret society for 49 years and didn’t play show-and-tell with its ballots until 2018, so pots shouldn’t be calling kettles black.

Lou Marsh Trophy

On the subject of pots and kettles, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star also took a run at the HHOF, asking this question: “Can anybody offer a plausible rationale for the secrecy?” Right. The guy who serves as executive director of the Lou Marsh Trophy voting committee is calling out the HHOF for a lack of transparency. That’s like Lance Armstrong trashing A-Rod for taking drugs. We’re never told exactly who and how many people are on Cox’s Lou Marsh selection panel, nor which jocks receive how many votes in Canada’s athlete-of-the-year balloting. We just know that a bunch of news snoops gather around a big boardroom table in the Republic of Tranna for snacks (presumably) and to bicker for a couple of hours. After that, they send up a puff of white smoke to alert the rabble that they’ve anointed the country’s top jock. That’s transparent like a jar of peanut butter.

Something only a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna would say, Vol. 3,692: “Everyone loves Vince Carter in Canada,” TSN gab guy Jay Onrait declared last week after the former Tranna Jurassics star retired. Well, speaking only for moi and not the entire nation, I’ve never understood the Vince Carter as God thing, and I think about him as often as I watch Friends reruns. Which is never. (Loved Phoebe Buffay, though.)

Megan Rapinoe

Kudos to Sportsnet, which has been featuring stories and video in support of gay athletes during Pride month, whereas TSN basically ignored the issue. “There’s a lot more out athletes who have made names of themselves in the media—people like Megan Rapinoe, Adam Rippon or Gus Kenworthy—so…the media are collectively much more aware of LGBTQ people in sports,” says Jim Buzinski, co-founder of the gay website Outsports. “But also, at some level, I think they get a little bit bored of it if there’s not a big name coming out.” So that explains it. TSN is bored. Or boring. (Seriously, have you been watching SportsCentre lately?)

According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Tranna Blue Jays have asked Trudeau The Younger for permission to play their MLB season at home. If that request is granted by the feds, perhaps they’ll also explain why the Winnipeg Goldeyes are calling Fargo, N.D., home this summer.

Funny how we develop a rooting interest for different sports outfits. My team in the English Premier League is freshly crowned champion Liverpool FC, and it has nothing to do with footy skill. I like them because of the Beatles and the team theme song, You’ll Never Walk Alone by another Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers. I couldn’t name three members of the LFC starting 11, but, hey, I know the names of all four lads in the Beatles’ starting lineup, and one who didn’t make the final cut (hello, Pete Best). You’re right, it’s probably a silly reason to root, root, root for LFC, so sue me.

And, finally, the eight female players in the Hockey Hall of Fame are Kim St-Pierre, Angela James, Cammi Granato, Hayley Wickenheiser, Geraldine Heaney, Angela Ruggiero, Danielle Goyette and Jayna Hefford. If you named them all without going to Google, I’m guessing you wear your hair in a ponytail.

Let’s talk about Hal Johnson outing TSN…Where’s Waldo’s Sister?…Beep! Beep! There goes Alphonso!…Rouge Football takes a knee…Yippee for Youpii!…big bucks, baseball and bickering…the best of the Blue Bombers…Herb Carnegie gave the New York Rangers a pass…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and Happy Summer to you all…

Now that Hal Johnson has ‘outed’ TSN for racist hiring practices that included a limit on the number of Black reporters (one maximum) in 1988, here’s a question that needs to be answered:

What is the Black quota in 2020?

We know it’s more than one, because Farhan Lalji, Jermain Franklin and Kayla Grey are part of Team Yakety-Yak at TSN, but, in offering a lame mea culpa to Johnson the other day, the network’s spin doctors neglected to confirm or deny that a ceiling on the number of minority hires remains in place.

“There is still much work to do to improve our commitment to on-air and editorial diversity,” was part of a pre-fab statement on Twitter.

So, is what happened to fitness guru Johnson in 1988 still happening today?

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

If you missed it, here’s the Coles Notes version of Johnson’s TSN tale: Hired in the morning. Fired in the afternoon. By a suit in the ivory tower who believed adding a second Black news snoop was bad for business. So thanks for dropping in, Hal, and you can pick up your parting gifts on the way out. Oh, and by the way, we’d be happy to air your boffo Body Break fitness show with Joanne McLeod, but only if you hire a white actor to replace yourself because we can’t have an interracial couple exercising and having fun together on TV.

The spin doctors describe that as “a shameful part of our past,” (ya think?) but 32 years later TSN remains almost as white as a bowl of rice. It’s a sea of bleached faces, with a few former football players, Grey and John Lu in the mix.

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

The popular thing to do today is discuss diversity, also all the isms and phobias that are a pox on society. Suddenly, everyone has a tale to tell, and the great unwashed nod in enthusiastic agreement whenever it’s mentioned that discrimination, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and bullying are bad manners.

Many have been drawn into the conversation out of genuine concern, a yearning to understand and a will to effect change, while others have felt obliged to participate for fear of a tsk-tsking. Even though mistreatment of the marginalized is older than the ink on the Dead Sea Scrolls, only now are they gazing into the looking glass.

It will be interesting to learn what they discover and, more important, what they’ll do about it.

Be certain that TSN isn’t flying solo here. Denise Balkissoon has written an essay for Chatelaine on racism at the Globe and Mail, and Morgan Campbell hasn’t been shy about detailing his experience with racism at the Toronto Star.

Meanwhile, I’ve been squawking about the lack of diversity in jock journalism for much of this 21st century, and when I look at the sports landscape in the rag trade I see that it’s still whiter than a box of Titleist golf balls. Not only that, finding a female face among jock journos at our daily newspapers is like playing a game of Where’s Waldo’s Sister?

So what’s the scoop? Is there a restriction on hiring females? Or is it a hesitancy owing to the horse-and-buggy notion that women can’t possibly know sports?

The last time there was an opening in the toy department of the Winnipeg Sun, more than 30 wannabes applied. Four of them were women. Scott Billeck landed the gig. It’s proven to be a beneficial hire, even as he’s become the tabloid’s Virus Boy, but it’s worth noting that the Sun’s stable of sports scribes hasn’t included a female since the turn of the century, when Judy Owen discovered better things to occupy her time and left the building.

As for gay jock journos, I know of two in this country’s mainstream—the terrific curling writer Devin Heroux of CBC, and Scott MacArthur of Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

It terms of diversity, it’s a rather bleak scorecard.

Our guy Alphonso Davies set gums a-flapping with his eye-popping lickety-split in a recent Bundesliga soccer match, dashing up the pitch at a dazzling 36.5 km/h. Not sure what the big deal is, though. I mean, I know sports writers who run a lot faster than that every time the bar tab arrives.

Hey, I’m not saying jock journos are cheap, but there’s a reason why Canada took the penny out of circulation—sports scribes had them all squirreled away.

I must confess that I can do without all the fuzzballs that romp around sports facilities, but I’ve always liked Youppi!, one-time mascot of the Montreal Expos and now the official furball of les Canadiens. Youppi! has been inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame (yes, there really is such a thing, in Whiting, Indiana), and I suppose that makes him this country’s best two-sport big-league star since Gerry James, aka Kid Dynamite. For those of you who haven’t been introduced, Kid Dynamite played for both the Tranna Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, sometimes in the same year. He also won hockey’s Memorial Cup and football’s Grey Cup. Youppi! won neither, but kids really like him and that has to count for something.

I’ve been writing about the Canadian Football League since 1980—Toronto Sun, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and now as a blogger—so I must report that, yes, not having anything but Commish Randy Ambrosie’s awkward mutterings to opine about these days is a total bummer. Like all who follow the goings-on of Rouge Football, I would rather be discussing passers and pass rushers than Commish Randy’s panhandling on Parliament Hill, but it should be obvious to all that the large lads in pads will not be grabbing grass and growling this year. And that truly is a shame.

North American professional team sports in 2020: An unhealthy scratch.

Take a knee, Donald.

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 1: Donald Trump vows he won’t watch soccer or National Football League games if players are allowed to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Hmmm. Something tells me they’ll all be watching when he takes a knee in November.

While in ponder of diversity, equality and inclusiveness, I found myself wondering if the Football Reporters of Canada will make this the year they finally vote a female into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. At present, it’s the ultimate boys’ club, with 100 per cent male membership, and that’s something that needs correcting.

By golly, I do believe TSN nailed it with its all-time Blue Bombers team. As long as Bud Grant is the coach, Kenny Ploen is the quarterback, and Leo Lewis is one of the running backs, you can’t go wrong. If I have a slight quibble (of course I do), it’s the absence of Ernie (Zazu) Pitts among the receivers. Pitts is on my team before Rick House every time, but I’m not going to sue TSN for giving Houser the nod.

Just curious: Is baseball still a thing? Seriously. By the time Major League Baseball’s millionaire players and billionaire owners have finished bickering over who deserves how many bucks for playing however many games, nobody will give a damn. Maybe they’ve already arrived at that point.

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

Things that make me go Hmmm, Vol. 2: In a chin wag last week with Ron MacLean of Sportsnet, sports sociologist Dr. Cheryl MacDonald claimed to have interviewed “openly gay men’s hockey players who’ve played at elite levels.” Hmmm. We shouldn’t be surprised that Doc MacDonald didn’t name names, but I found myself wondering if she meant National Hockey League players. That seemed the logical next query to me, but MacLean declined to pursue that line of questioning. Frankly, his natters have become long on fluff and short on substance.

The lady doctor also suggested that the lack of out gay men in major team sports “might be even a masculinity thing.” Might be? What was her first clue?

It’s incredible how many people are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone. The latest example of this ‘awakening’ is an essay on the Colored Hockey League by Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star. “Canadians call hockey ‘our game.’ But history tells us it hasn’t been everybody’s,” he scribbles. It’s a well-written, informative piece, but we don’t have to go back 100 years to realize that men’s hockey isn’t an inclusive enterprise. Its lack of acceptance is right in front of us today.

I’m a doctor of absolutely nothing, so COVID-19 is a mystery. I do, however, know that I’d prefer NHL players to be as far removed from me as possible during this pandemic, which means Vancouver is too close for my comfort. We haven’t had an active case of COVID-19 on Vancouver Island in more than a month, so I’m fine with the NHL choosing Edmonton or the Republic of Tranna as hub bubbles for the Stanley Cup tournament, thank you very much.

I like Murat Ates. A lot. He does boffo work for The Athletic. I like Sara Orlesky. A lot. She does boffo work for TSN’s Winnipeg bureau. But I believe Murat’s recent Q&A with Sara is a sure signal that he’s struggling for story ideas this deep into the pandemic.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a jock columnist? Well, let’s have Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna tell us: “Life as a columnist. On Thursday, I write about my dad and Father’s Day and everybody loves me and thinks I’m great. On Friday, I break the (Auston) Matthews (COVID-19) story and I get called every name in the book and some that haven’t gotten there yet. On Saturday, I’m putting this notes column together, which is next to impossible with no games going on. On Sunday, thankfully, I exhale. And now on to next week.” The poor dear. I wonder if he’d like some cheese with that whine.

True, the gig can be a grind, but it isn’t “next to impossible” to churn out a notes column “with no games going on.” I do it every Sunday. I just do it in a different format and, unlike Simmons, I don’t get paid for it.

Simmons also continues to present himself as a hockey historian, even though his lived experience with the game doesn’t predate the 1960s. Commenting on Herb Carnegie, he writes: “Carnegie was more than good enough to play in the National Hockey League in the late 1940s, early ’50s. The Maple Leafs and the rest of the NHL wouldn’t sign him. He never got the chance to play at the highest level because he was black.” Actually, Carnegie did have the chance, even though he was Black. According to Cecil Harris’ book, Breaking the Ice: The Black Experience in Professional Hockey, the New York Rangers invited him to their 1948 training camp, and he stayed for 11 days, during which time the club presented three contract bids that would have had him begin the season in the minor leagues— $2,700 to play in Tacoma, $3,700 to play in St. Paul, $4,700 to play with the Rangers’ American Hockey League affiliate in New Haven. In other words, Carnegie was offered the same path to the big leagues that Jackie Robinson took with baseball’s Brooklyn Dodgers. Start in the minors, graduate to the show. But Carnegie rejected each of the Rangers’ bids for his services, preferring to earn $5,100 with the Sherbrooke Saint-Francois of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. His choice.

And, finally, I note that Paul McCartney turned 78 last week. It seems like only Yesterday that I was watching him and the other three Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. They were fab…yeah, yeah, yeah.

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 goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.

LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?

GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.

LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.

GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.

LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.

GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.

LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.

GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.

LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?

GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.

LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.

LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.

GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.

GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.

GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?

GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.

LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.

LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.

GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.

GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.

LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.

GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.

Let’s talk about If Season in the NHL…PoMo’s seat hot or cold…the great cod kissoff for the Leafs…one final kick for Bob Cameron…oh woe are the Leos…burgers and Greens…Bianca’s pinch-me world…Justify the galloping junkie…Jen Jones still winning after all these years…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no ifs, and or buts about it, this is an iffy post…

It’s an untruth that there are four seasons. There are five, the fifth being the If Season.

It’s a time of unharnessed blah, blah, blah, of great optimism and of exaggerated worth, when pundits hither and yon and fore and aft squint into the autumn-colored tea leaves and see Neal Pionk not only leaping over tall buildings, but also winning the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s finest defender.

Connor Hellebuyck

Connor Hellebuyck, they’ll inform us, isn’t really as iffy a goalkeeper as last winter, and Eric Comrie has a shot at the backup job if either Hellebuyck or Laurent Brossoit fall down an elevator shaft. Bryan Little will fill that No. 2 centre slot for the Winnipeg Jets just fine, thank you, if he becomes his former 28-year-old self instead of his soon-to-be 32-year-old self. And, hey, what about that large broth of a lad Logan Stanley? He’d be a prize catch, if only he didn’t have two left feet.

If Season has already begun, in case you hadn’t noticed, with Murat Ates of The Athletic delivering a snippet that has more ifs than the Kardashians have K girls.

“If Laine and Connor sign in time for the start of the season and if a young defenceman like Pionk or (Sami) Niku has a breakout season and if Bryan Little or Adam Lowry can provide a second line centre solution and if Hellebuyck returns to the top tier of NHL goaltending, Winnipeg is a formidable team,” he writes.

Yes, and if Jacob Trouba wasn’t sweet on Kelly Tyson he’d be skating beside Josh Morrissey today.

Kyle Connor

The thing you have to remember, kids, is that these people are not experts. They’re paid to fill space and air (much of it hot) during the Jets’ month-long training exercises, but they really don’t know much more than a lot of the lumps sitting on bar stools. Or me, for that matter. I’m just not as loud, drunk and obnoxious as the lumps on bar stools. Well, okay, maybe I’m every ounce as obnoxious. Point being, the basic difference between news snoops and the rabble is this: They get to ask players, coaches, etc. dumb questions and we don’t.

Other than that, your (bad) guess is as good as theirs.

For evidence, consider their exhaustive natterings and jottings on Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who remain in shinny limbo. It’s mostly been pure conjecture and iffy speculation, because GMs and player agents don’t make a habit of inviting news snoops into their private tete-a-tetes, and they also clear the room of any flies they find on the wall.

So my advice is to take what the scribes scribble and talking heads say during training camp with a grain of salt.

Murat Ates

Just to be clear, I think Murat Ates does a terrific job covering Winnipeg HC (see his excellent piece on the Andrew Copp arbitration as an e.g.), even if he has an annoying habit of letting pie charts, numbers and graphs clutter up his fine way with words. And, to be fair and for the record, he views les Jets as a “wild-card team capable of swinging wildly in either direction instead of a legitimate contender…the Jets are on the playoff bubble.” No ifs there, and I’m inclined to agree with him. A lot of the lumps likely do, too.

Murat’s revealing yarn on Copp’s experience with the NHL arbitration process is an example of what The Athletic brings to the table. It’s something you won’t see in either of the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown, because they’re stuck in the 20th century. And, yes, that probably reads like a sales pitch for The Athletic. So sue me.

I empathize with the boys and girls on the hockey beat. I truly do. Training camp can be a total drag. It’s long days of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, because there are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his “sparrows.” Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about? Line combinations, blueline pairings and depth forwards don’t do it for me, nor does head coach Paul Maurice trying to convince us that Logan Stanley doesn’t really have two left feet. That’s not what I’d call must-read material.

Coach Potty Mouth

There’s been some talk about the temperature of the seat Maurice is sitting on, but, again, it’s nothing but iffy yadda, yadda, yadda. As in, if les Jets soil the sheets in the early skirmishing, is Coach Potty Mouth’s job in jeopardy? Don’t even go there, because Maurice ain’t going anywhere. I don’t care if Pauly has one, five or 10 years remaining on his contract, you don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster. And we can’t forget that Coach PottyMo has 34 goals sitting in Michigan (Kyle Connor) and another 30 in Switzerland (Patrik Laine). He can’t take the rap for that, either.

Auston Mathews puckering up.

The Tranna Maple Leafs are in St. John’s for their training exercises, and a few of the boys were Screeched In on the weekend, a ritual on the Rock that includes puckering up and planting a kiss on a cod. This is noteworthy because it usually isn’t until the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Leafs get the ol’ kiss off.

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers salute Bob Cameron by adding his name to their Ring of Honour on Sept. 27, it will be only right if Ma Nature is in full bluster. I mean, outside of those weather whackadoos who run around chasing tornadoes, I can’t think of anyone who’s spent more time and did better work in the wind than the Acadia Rifle, so I think a robust breeze is the ticket. I don’t know how many J5Vs and Wilsons he launched into a stiff Winnipeg breeze during his 23 years with the home side, but I do know Bob kept doing it until age 48 and he only quit because numerous renovation projects needed his attention a lot more than the Bombers needed his right leg. And, from a media perspective, he was one of the great go-to guys for a usable sound bite.

If you’re interested in a retro look at punter Bob’s time kicking hither and yon in the Canadian Football League, you’ll want to check out Ed Tait’s yarn at bluebombers.com. Young Eddie’s got all the good stuff, and Cameron’s trip in the wayback machine makes for a fun read.

Terrific joust between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Larks on Saturday. It was especially thoughtful of the CFL to let them actually play all 60 minutes this time around.

The official head count for the Bytown RedBlacks-B.C. Leos skirmish on Friday night in Vancity was 15,000 and 52 stragglers who wanted to come in from the rain, prompting this tweet from former Canadian Press scribe Jim Morris: “It’s raining outside. So far the crowd inside at BC Place could fit under one umbrella.” Ouch.

Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancity writes this of the Leos: “Whatever else they are, the Lions have been a vital part of this city’s and this province’s sporting life for 65 years. They deserve more support.” A 2-10 record says otherwise, but I’m on the same page as Willes. I was born four years before the Leos and grew up watching Willie The Wisp, Peanut Butter Joe Kapp, By Bailey, Nub Beamer, Norm Fieldgate, Sonny Homer et al, so it pains me that they’ve become an after-thought on the Left Flank. Commish Randy Ambrosie tells news snoops that there are people willing to take the Leos off bankroll David Braley’s hands, and maybe someone, or a group of someones, can create a buzz and renewed interest in the Leos. But 2-10, 15,000 fans and a $2.9 million quarterback is like trying to sell another week of rain on the Wet Coast.

Elizabeth May

Those Harvey’s commercials during CFL broadcasts make me want to run out and buy a (real meat) cheeseburger with mustard, relish, tomato and pickle, but those ads the Conservative Party has been running don’t make me want to run out and vote for Harper Lite, otherwise known as shifty-eyed mama’s boy Andrew Scheer. Mind you, I’m not keen on Trudeau Lite, either. Could be we’ll see a breakthrough for the Green Party next month. Especially if leader Elizabeth May plops a watermelon on her head. That would guarantee her the Saskatchewan vote, no? (I’m patti dawn swansson, and I approve this message).

We now return to regularly scheduled sports natter, and I must say there are many reasons to like our tennis darling Bianca Andreescu, this being one of them: When asked a question, she doesn’t read from a script. Bianca is so wide-eyed refreshing in her new, pinch-me world that everything gushing from her is totally unrehearsed and genuine. Pity if some PR hack gets hold of her and trains her in robospeak.

Kim Clijsters and daughter Jada.

Kim Clijsters is returning to the women’s tennis tour at age 36, and I say good for her. Kim’s one of only three women to win a Grand Slam tournament as a mother, and she’s done it thrice. That includes a win over neighborhood bully Serena Williams, who had one of her epic temper tantrums and came completely undone in their 2009 U.S. Open semifinal. Kim’s also the only mom to reach world No. 1, so bet against her claiming another major title at your own risk.

The great galloping Justify failed a drug test prior to winning horse racing’s 2018 Triple Crown, which explains all those ‘wired’-to-wire wins.

This was one case where the winning jockey, Mike Smith, really did have to get down off his high horse.

Like everyone in sports caught cheating, Justify the Junkie’s trainer Bob Baffert has gone into denial mode. Swears on a stack of Daily Racing Forms that he never sprinkled performance enhancing oats into the champion thoroughbred’s feedbag. Must have been a contaminated hay bale, says he. So I guess authorities are now looking for a needle in a haystack. Literally.

Jen Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the curling season is upon us and our Jennifer Jones has yet to lose. Jen and gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen went 7-0 to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., on the weekend, and I’d say that’s serving official notice to all other female Pebble People that there’s no letup in the great skip’s game. I realize some folks are tired of seeing Jen win, but many among the rabble grew weary of Meryl Streep winning Oscars and Golden Globes every year. So deal with it.

So, unless I’m missing something, this is the blueprint for creating one viable women’s professional hockey operation: 1) The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceases operation; 2) approximately 200 of the world’s elite players boycott the National Women’s Hockey League; 3) members of the Swedish national side refuse to play; 4) the Swedish Ice Hockey Association cancels the Four Nations Cup; 5) a group of players band together and make plans for faux exhibition matches. Ya, that’ll get the rabble rushing to the box office and earn the women a living wage. Not.

This is comical in its absurdity: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Mitch Marner “the winner by knockout or unanimous decision” in his contract throwdown with Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “The deal is done and Marner will be paid $65+ million over the next six years.” Well, okay, young Mitch wins big. Agreed. But then Simmons craps all over Marner’s dad and agent. “For his next act of magic, Dubas will make Paul Marner disappear,” he writes. Then this: “How did a star like Marner end up with a less-than-star player agent like Darren Ferris? Cut rates, I’m told.” So, Marner wins by “knockout or decision” and becomes the NHL’s highest-salary player because he listened to his dad and/or agent, but one needs to be punted and the other isn’t worthy of quality clients. Does that make sense to anyone other than Simmons?

While we’re on the subject of my favorite “D’oh!” boys in the media, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab wrote this about the NHL’s changing contract landscape on Sept. 11: “Good luck signing a star player for the maximum team-friendly term of eight years.” Apparently Mad Mike didn’t notice that Clayton Keller signed one of those maximum team-friendly eight-year contracts on Sept. 4. And Josh Morrissey did the same on Sept. 12. Sigh.

And, finally, the official soundtrack of today’s post was provided by The Beatles and featured the classic albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, a collection of 28 tunes recorded and released when the lads were really starting to hit their creative stride. Tomorrow Never Knows is an astonishing song for the era.