Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy spring to you all…
I recognize that I’m likely in the minority, but I find the Canadian precinct of the National Hockey League a bit of a bore.
There, I said it. A bore.
Does that make me an un-hoser? Fine. Sue me. Sentence me to a lifetime of watching nothing but reruns of Don Messer’s Jubilee. Frankly, I’d just as soon see Don, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne pop up on my flatscreen on a Saturday night rather than endure another episode of Winnipeg Jets-Ottawa Senators/Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames.
The Jets and Sens have already met five times this year, with another five on the docket. Oh joy. That’s like looking forward to a root canal.
This week, we get a steady diet of the Canucks (two games) and Flames (three). That isn’t a treat. It’s cruel and unusual punishment, like listening to Nickelback music while trapped in an elevator.
Between March 31 and April 24, the Jets will face off vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs six times. But didn’t they just finish a three-game set? Yup, sure did. Hey, I enjoy watching Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews do their thing, but I’d rather have some Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon or Patrick Kane sprinkled into the mix.
An all-hoser division seemed like a good idea before they dropped the puck in January, and I realize gathering the seven Canadian outfits together in one playground was a necessary byproduct of COVID-19, but it’s become too much like turkey dinner at Christmas. You love it at the time, but you don’t want to still be noshing on cold gobbler sandwiches two weeks into the New Year.
So you can count me among those happy that the Canadian House League will be a one-off.
Say, look who’s talking. Why, it’s none other than the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, who came out of hiding for a natter with Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic. Their topic? All-hoser hockey.
“I think that for us, and I assume that the other Canadian teams feel the same way, there’s something very compelling about playing iconic franchises, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, and there’s a lot of history here dating back to the Smythe Division days with a lot of people’s recollections drawn to those games against Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver,” the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll said.
“So sure, I would love to play the Canadian teams more frequently. The challenge with that is, where do you find the games to do that? Because I would say we do enjoy and we’ve established some really good rivalries in the Central with Chicago, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville and Dallas. So on the one hand, I look forward to returning to that. On the other, I wish there was a way we can play Toronto and Montreal more.
“It’s not a perfect world, scheduling. So for now, I’m really enjoying the games as I think most fans in Canada are and we’ll enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe some day, there would be a way to play the Canadian teams more often. That would be my hope.”
My hope is that the Puck Pontiff doesn’t get his wish.
Given that Chipman delivers sound bites only slightly more often than a street mime, I find it interesting, also puzzling, that he would wag his chin with LeBrun rather than one of the boys on the Jets beat in Good Ol’ Hometown. Does he have something against Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Scott Billeck, Mad Mike McIntyre and Murat Ates? Do they refuse to genuflect and kiss his ring finger? I know that Mad Mike has requested an audience with the Puck Pontiff, but not once in his four-plus years on the beat at the Drab Slab has his ask been granted. “I don’t really care, nor am I losing any sleep over it,” he scribbled last July. I wouldn’t either, but that doesn’t make it right.
I agree, cheap-shot artist Zack Kassian got away with a flagrant foul on Twig Ehlers in the Jets 4-2 loss to the Edmonton McDavids on Saturday night. The guys wearing the orange arm bands blew it, but I find myself wondering if they turned a blind eye because Ehlers is recognized as one of those players who loses his feet too easily. Remember, he once was fined for diving, and faking it tends to stick.
Finnish publication Ilta-Sanomatran a lengthy takeout on John Tortorella the other day and, no shock, the Columbus Blue Jackets bench puppeteer had some interesting observations. Among other things, Torts believes, “The NHL is a league of young and stupid players.” Ya, that’s the kind of guy I’d want for a coach. “I miss the old type of player and old-fashioned hockey,” he added. “There were clashes on the ice and the players acted as cops. There are so many rules and different levels of discipline in the NHL today that this has become a ‘no-hitter’ league. I know people consider me Neanderthal, but I don’t care. I don’t want to lose the values of the old school. I think the game has lost some of its old values. I want to evolve and adapt to the new era, but I think today’s players need to learn some of those good, old values. Sometimes when I look at some payers on or off the ice, I wonder who the hell they think they are.” Which is precisely what many of us wonder about Torts.
Speaking of relics, why do so many hockey people continue to spew the “no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight” refrain? It’s rubbish and the old-school thinkers who insist on repeating the illogical mantra know it’s rubbish. Ben Chiarot’s right hand is the latest piece of evidence. It’s broken and Chiarot is lost to the Montreal Canadiens for six-eight weeks. He isn’t the first player to go on the shelf after suffering an owie in a scrap, and he won’t be the last. So the horse-and-buggy crowd is advised to do what Archie Bunker often told Edith—stifle yourself.
On the subject of fisticuffs, as advertised following his thrown-downwith Roy Jones Jr. last November, former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson plans to return to the ring in May. No word on the identity of Iron Mike’s opponent, but promoters promise he’ll have a matching set of ears when he enters the ring.
Can someone—anyone—tell me why Tiger Woods returning to his home base in Florida to rehab from his most-recent car crash is newsworthy? Does anyone actually care where his broken bones mend? It’s time mainstream media stopped fawning over Woods and told it like it is—he’s a reckless and dangerous man who puts the health and lives of others at risk when he gets behind the wheel of an automobile.
It would be interesting to know the story behind the story of Dani Rylan Kearney’s exit from the National Women’s Hockey League. She stepped down as commissioner in October, then last week resigned as advisor/president of W Hockey Group, which owns four of the six NWHL franchises—Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters. That’s a fast fall for the NWHL founder and the timing is curious, given that the Isobel Cup will be awarded on Saturday in Beantown. I’m sure mainstream media will get right on top of the story…oh, wait, it’s women’s hockey. They’ll give it a hard pass.
When our latest tennis phenom, Leylah Annie Fernandez, reaches the final of the Monterrey Open, shouldn’t it be more than a brief toss-in item on the back half of TSN SportsCentre? Is it necessary for us to absorb highlights from 20 U.S. college hoops games before they show us a Canadian kid making good on the Women’s Tennis Association tour? If Leylah Annie wins in Monterrey, I trust TSN will move her to the top of the show.
Tip of the bonnet to my favorite scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press, Melissa Martin. Her piece on Hometown Hockey in Cree attracted the attention of National Newspaper Award judges, and she’s one of three finalists for top sports writing honors. This sort of thing has become old hat for Melissa, who’s won the NNA as top columnist twice, and I like her chances this year against Cathal Kelly and Michael Doyle, both of the Globe and Mail.
For the benefit of those who aren’t keeping score at home, this is the 50th consecutive year that I have not been nominated for a National Newspaper Award. Or almost the same amount of time as the Republic of Tranna has gone without a Stanley Cup parade.
Longtime Canadian Football League coach and executive Wally Buono has weighed in on a proposed alliance between the stewards of Rouge Football and Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson’s idle XFL. Surprisingly, he’s “all for it” if it’s a way to “preserve our game.” I say surprisingly, because no one has to tell Wally about the Yankee Doodle Disaster that U.S. expansion became during the 1990s. “I was pleased that the CFL is looking at other ways to grow the game,” the former Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions bossman told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. “We have a great game. Maybe we’ve kept it a secret too long. It’s time to showcase our league, showcase our game so we can grow revenues.” He also believes the American football fan will buy our quirky game, lock, stock and rouge. “There was places we went to (in the 1990s), Baltimore and San Antonio and Birmingham, where the people there loved the game,” Buono recalled. “It was an exciting night of football when we were there with Doug Flutie and Tracy Ham and Matt Dunigan. These guys put on a tremendous show, and it was a three-down game. So, you know, football is football. The fans enjoyed it, there was a lot of excitement in the stadium.” Ya, until they discovered you get a single point for missing a field goal.
As expected, ratings for the Brier final last Sunday on TSN took a dive, 33 per cent, compared to last year’s Canadian men’s curling championship. The all-Alberta skirmish featuring Brendan Bottcher and Kevin Koe attracted an average of 728,000 viewers compared to 1.09 million a year ago, when Bottcher and Brad Gushue met in the ultimate match. Overall, 5.2 million watched the Brier at some point. Comparatively, the women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts had 4.7 million total viewers and an average of 682,000 for the Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan final, down from 979,000 in 2020. Those dipping numbers follow a trend for all big-ticket events throughout sports, and we’re left to wonder if people will return to their flatscreens post-COVID. I’m not convinced they will.
Bravo to Beth Mowins, who on Saturday became the first woman to call play-by-play of a Chicago Cubs game, a Cactus League joust vs. Colorado Rockies. Beth will make her regular season debut on May 8 and—holy cow!—I’m wondering what Harry Caray would think of that.
Favorite quote of the week, from Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights: “The stigma around mental health is insane.” True words, those. And kudos to Lehner for talking about mental health.
And, finally, if the Conservative Party of Canada doesn’t have to officially believe in climate change, I don’t have to believe Connor McDavid really skates that fast.
A Monday morning smorgas-bored coming down in 3, 2, 1…and it’s the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was slain, so here’s something else that might slay you…
I had a wacko dream the other night. Seriously, it was total Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds stuff.
Except instead of newspaper taxis, cellophane flowers, marmalade skies, and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies, I saw Mad Dogs and Pirates and Gold Miners and Glieberguys and football players bunked down in a barn and a Vegas lounge lizard.
Oh, and a Rock. There was a Rock with arms thicker than Louisiana gumbo and a bankroll that could choke a Budweiser Clydesdale.
Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie was also in the dream. He was talking about talking, and he was excited to be talking about talking. That’s the only part that seemed real, because Commish Randy always seems geeked up about something or other, even when the feds are telling him to take his begging cap and stick it where the sun don’t shine. He’s more upbeat than a 1960s Who concert.
Anyway, Commish Randy wasn’t just talking about talking. He was also talking about crawling into bed with the Rock, and that’s when I stirred from slumber.
“Whoa,” I said to myself, clearing my eyes and wondering if someone had spiked my fish sticks and fries the night before. “That’s some serious whack-a-do dreaming. No way Rouge Football is going down that road again.”
As we now know, that’s exactly where Commish Randy plans to take the CFL. To the United States of Four Down Football, lock, stock and to hell with the import ratio and rouge.
Naturally, since whispers of an alliance between Rouge Football and The Rock’s XFL became a roar last week, considerable hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing has ensued, much of it because there’s a belief Commish Randy and his CFL overlords are about to sell the very soul of our quirky three-downs game.
You know, just like during the 1990s.
Well, okay, they didn’t completely sell their soul to accommodate a handful of American expansion franchises in the ’90s, but they peddled enough of it to make some of us who were there antsy. We hear that Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) and Commish Randy have engaged in something more significant than pillow talk, and we squirm like a fresh batch of hemorrhoids has kicked in.
We remember how the U.S. expansion experiment became a Yankee Doodle Disaster. The CFL was as much a sitcom as it was a sports operation.
Among other things, the end zone at Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis was about the size of a cocktail napkin. Bernie and Lonie Glieberman skipped town in Ottawa to set up shop in Shreveport, La., where players were bedded down on the second floor of a milking barn during training camp. The Glieberguys fired their head coach, John Huard, before the opening kickoff. Pepper Rodgers, chief cook and bottle washer of the Memphis Mad Dogs, liked everything about the CFL except the rules, and he was never shy about critiquing the quirkiness of our game.
“You Canadians can sit around and do what you want up there in Canada,” he said, “but no one understands the rules here because we have some really weird stuff in this league.”
In Glitter Gulch, meanwhile, the Las Vegas Posse sometimes practiced in the parking lot of the Riviera Hotel, and they once attracted 2,350 customers to a game at Sam Boyd Stadium. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. Just 2,350 fans. They played their final home game in Edmonton. The Posse also trotted out a lounge singer named Dennis K.C. Parks, who mangled O Canada so badly that it became the biggest strain on 49th parallel relations since the torching of the White House.
So, ya, any hint of Rouge Football mixing with the twice-failed XFL sets off alarm bells.
But, as was the case in the 1990s, the CFL needs money like a vagabond needs a hot meal and a bath, and I can think of worse people for them to hook up with than the Rock and his ex-bride, Dany Garcia.
After washing out as a player with the Calgary Stampeders, Johnson found fame as a faux fighter with Vince McMahon’s WWE wrestling troupe, then became boffo box office by conquering Hollywood. Along the way, he grew very deep pockets and, according to Celebrity Net Worth, the mega-movie star is valued at $400 million. Garcia comes in at $20M, thus the $15M they forked over to purchase McMahon’s XFL table scraps last summer is chump change.
Money can’t buy credibility, though, so you can color me skeptical.
I don’t see a second venture into the land of stars, stripes and the maskless happening. It would be as calamitous as a Trump presidency. But, hey, I’ve misread the tea leaves before. I mean, I never imagined Rosie O’Donnell would make me laugh, but she was funny in A League of Their Own. So maybe a CFL-XFL will happen. Maybe they’ll make a go of it this time around. And maybe Johnny Manziel will collect as many Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady.
Let me just say this about all that: If there is a CFL-XFL and they take away the rouge, add a down, take away a player, shrink the field, or if I hear the regrettable Dennis K.C. Parks clearing his throat, they’ll lose me.
So, the Winnipeg Jets made a pilgrimage to the Republic of Tranna and took five of a possible six points from the Maple Leafs. Is there any doubt which is the best National Hockey League outfit on the northern tundra? Didn’t think so.
I still don’t like the Jets blueline, but no team in the Hoser Division knows how to play defence, so it’s a moot point.
I might be in the minority, but I won’t miss the all-Canadian house league next season. It’s too much same old, same old for my taste.
Yes, I realize Patrik Laine wanted out of Good Ol’ Hometown and the Jets obliged, but that doesn’t mean we should take glee in his struggles with the Columbus Blue Jackets. I don’t like bullies and his coach, John Tortorella, is a bully, so I feel sorry for the kid.
Just wondering, is it my imagination, or are the hemlines on TSN SportsCentre getting higher? And, if so, are the lady anchors being instructed to wear their skirts/dresses that short, or is it by choice?
Oh, woe are our male Pebble People. The Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson teams left the Brier bubble in Calgary battered and bruised, which means our Buffalo Boys remain stalled at 1-for-the-2000s. It’s one thing to have a bad year, but a bad century? Only Jeff Stoughton and pals have managed to get the job done, winning back in 2011, so these are very lean times. Meanwhile, Alberta outfits have lapped the field at the Canadian men’s curling championship, with Brendan Bottcher’s success on Sunday the 12th title this century for the boys from Wild Rose Country. Along with the dozen Brier wins, there have been three Scotties Tournament of Hearts titles from Alberta women in the 2000s. Manitoba’s Pebble People have combined for nine. So perhaps it’s time I conceded that Wild Rose Country, not our Keystone Province, is the Curling Capital Of The World. Naw. Not going there. Can’t go there.
I had the over/under at five draws for the first F-bomb at the Brier. Turns out the cuss word landed during the third match I watched. Never heard one F-bomb during the Scotties, and I still don’t understand why the boys get all potty-mouthed while the women can keep it clean.
One place you will never find my name: The list of Relevant People on Twitter.
I don’t like to cheer against athletes, but I’d rather not see Bryson DeChambeau win another tournament. Golf’s incredible bulk is an irksome fellow, especially when he says things like, “I don’t think you can Bryson-proof a golf course.” Is that confidence or arrogance? I tend to think it’s the latter. So you’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the field against him at the Players Championship on Sunday.
Here’s something you don’t hear too often: An athlete misses the media. It’s true. Belarusian tennis player Aryna Sabalenka had a natter with news snoops recently, and she got all warm-and-fuzzy, if not touchy-feely. “I prefer to see you guys in person actually,” she said. “I prefer that everything gets back to normal life. I feel okay with this kind of Zoom press conference, but I feel better emotionally to see each other and to have this eye contact when you guys ask me some questions.” Aw shucks.
Talk about robbing the cradle. Texas Tech has offered Sterling Skye Mahomes a full soccer scholarship, which wouldn’t be notable except Sterling Skye isn’t even a month old. Her parents, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Brittany Matthews, received the scholarship offer two days after the baby was born. So let me get this straight: Mahomes recently signed a contract that will pay him $450 million over the next 10 years, and his kid needs a free ride?
So what’s the new term for when a spoiled six-year-old kid in the playground takes his ball and goes home because he thinks the other kids are being mean? Pulling a Piers Morgan.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of sports figures spewing racist, homophobic or bigoted bile, then expecting us to believe that they aren’t actually racist, homophobic or bigoted.
The latest to join that list is Meyers Leonard, a Miami Heat centre caught uttering an anti-Jewish slur while live-streaming video game play.
“This is not a proper representation of who I am,” he insisted in his mea culpa.
The National Basketball Association believed Leonard, but still fined him $50,000 and the Heat ordered him to go stand in a corner and also seek guidance.
But Leonard’s “that isn’t who I am” defence is far too commonplace. Some examples:
Golfer Justin Thomas, after dropping a gay F-bomb during a recent tournament: “It’s not a word I use. It’s not who I am. It’s not the kind of person that I am.”
Baseball broadcaster Thom Brennaman, who dropped an anti-gay F-bomb during a broadcast: “That is not who I am and never has been.”
Heavyweight boxer Tyson Fury, who said being gay is one of three things that will lead to the apocalypse and homosexuality equals pedophilia: “I’m not homophobic, I’m not racist.”
Baseball player Kevin Pillar, after dropping an anti-gay F-bomb: “This is not who I am.”
Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers, who said he doesn’t want gay teammates: “Those discriminating feelings are truly not in my heart. It’s not what I feel in my heart.”
James Harrison of Pittsburgh Steelers, dropping the anti-gay F-bomb on NFL commish Roger Goodell: “I am not a homophobic bigot.”
Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls, dumping the gay F-bomb on a fan: “Anybody who knows me knows that I’m not like that.”
Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, who issued a series of anti-gay remarks on social media: “That doesn’t resemble the person I am now. Those are not my beliefs at all. They never were my beliefs.”
The late Kobe Bryant, who lashed out at a referee with the anti-gay F-bomb: “The words expressed do NOT express my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were NOT meant to offend anyone.”
Words matter. If you say it, own it. Then try to get better.
And, finally, my idea of March Madness has nothing to do with American college hoops and everything to do with reading dispatches from the Republic of Tranna when the Maple Leafs take their predictable nose dive.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and let’s salute the girls and ladies of sports on the eve of International Women’s Day…
I spent 30 years in the rag trade and worked alongside four women—Peggy Stewart and Rita Mingo at the Winnipeg Tribune, Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Sun, and Judy Owen at the Winnipeg Sun.
Oh, wait. There was a fifth.
We had a summer intern at the Calgary Sun, although her name escapes me. I recall that she failed to surface for her first day of work (something about her car breaking down in Banff on a long weekend—nudge-nudge, wink-wink), and that was our initial clue that she might have made a wrong turn on her career path.
Hey, I get it. Cars break down all the time. Been there, done that and had the hefty repair bills to prove it. Happens to us all. But in Banff? On a long weekend? How positively convenient.
I jokingly informed sports editor John Down that I would have crawled from Banff to Calgary if it meant arriving to my first assignment at the designated hour, but Downsy was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon on the porch, and he let it slide. Alas, that young lady with the pleasant personality one day showed up to cover a golf tournament a bit too uncovered. She was wearing hot pants and stilettos, and she sashayed onto the practice green in her spiked heels, puncturing the immaculately groomed lawn.
Her internship was aborted shortly thereafter.
Not because of her wardrobe malfunction, understand. That would have been an unacceptable double standard, even in the early 1980s.
I mean, none of my male colleagues back in the day were GQ cover material, the exception being Shakey Johnson, who knew how to hang a three-piece suit. The rest of the lot were borderline slobs. Some looked like they’d spent the night sleeping with a raccoon family under a bridge. Their idea of evening wear was a white shirt with anything less than three ketchup or mustard stains. But sartorial slobbery was a non-issue.
So, no, the young lady intern’s dismissal wasn’t about one ghastly fashion foible. It was her lack of zest for the job, the absence of an all-in mindset, and iffy subject knowledge. Let’s just say it became readily apparent that writing sports at the Sun wasn’t meant to be her calling.
Anyway, there were four full-time female sports scribes during my tour of duty, and I can’t imagine any of them considered wearing a pair of Daisy Dukes to the golf course, rink, ball park or stadium.
Rita, Judy and Mary all enjoyed lengthy, admirable careers in journalism, but I don’t know what became of the ever-smiling Peggy Stewart, hired by Jack Matheson as the first female to write sports full time at a major daily newspaper in Western Canada.
Today, the landscape in Good Ol’ Hometown is barren, with zero females in the toy departments at either of the daily newspapers.
Why is that? I’m uncertain. It could be that the rag trade has become too much of a bad bet. Maybe it’s still too much of a boys club. Perhaps it’s a reluctance to enter man caves and deal with brooding, boorish male athletes and/or coaches
“You know, it may just be a lack of interest in writing sports, rather than doors being closed for them,” Judy Owen suggests in an email. “After all, sports hours—when the world is normal—are kind of crappy and the sometimes-crazy deadline writing isn’t very appealing to a lot of journalists.”
Good point. The hours really do suck and often mean you’re not hopping into the kip until well after the pumpkin hour on game nights.
Whatever the case, the female sports scribe is extinct in Winnipeg, so here’s to those who were once there—Judy, Rita, Ashley Prest, Barb Huck and Melissa Martin.
How are we doing with coverage of women’s sports? Not so good. A 2019 U.S. study tells us that 40 per cent of athletes are female, yet the distaff side of the playground receives just 4 per cent of ink and air time. What about in Good Ol’ Hometown, though? Are the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab giving the ladies a fair shake? Well, I monitored both sheets for three months—November, December, January—and the findings aren’t favorable. The evidence:
Women on the sports front
Free Press 16 of 90 editions.
Sun 3 of 89 editions.
Copy on female sports
Free Press 74 articles, 30 briefs.
Sun 20 articles, 7 briefs.
Editions with coverage of female sports
Free Press 63 of 90.
Sun 24 of 89.
Naturally, the numbers were jacked up in February during the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I suspect coverage will revert to same old, same old moving forward.
TSN’s ratings for the Scotties final last Sunday took a face plant from a year ago, with an average of 682,000 sets of eyeballs checking out Kerri Einarson-Rachel Homan II, a sequel to the 2020 championship match that attracted 979,000 viewers. I trust no one is surprised, because it’s an industry-wide reality for major events during the COVID pandemic. Here are the facts, ma’am:
Stanley Cup final: -61%
U.S. Open golf: -56%
NBA final: -49%
Kentucky Derby: -49%
U.S. Open tennis: -45%
World Series: -31%
Super Bowl: -15%
I didn’t tune in to every draw of the Scotties, but I can report that I never heard one F-bomb, or any other salty language, from the lady curlers in the draws I watched. Somehow I doubt I’ll be able to say the same of the men at the close of business at this week’s Brier. They can be quite potty-mouthed Pebble People.
Gather ’round the campfire, kids, old friend Peter Young has a curling tale to tell. It’s all about a Snake and the longtime broadcaster faking it, which is to say Pete covered a Brier in Ottawa from the Forum in Montreal. True story. I don’t know if that makes him the Father of Zoom, but he surely was ahead of his time.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets send head coach John Tortorella packing, please don’t tell me there’s a job waiting for him on Sportsnet or TSN.
Jennifer Botterill is fantastic on Sportsnet’s hockey coverage. Just saying.
Muhammad Yaseen of Alberta’s provincial Hee-Haw Party has introduced a bill in the Legislature proposing that rodeo become the official sport of Wild Rose Country. He sees it as a “beacon of hope.” Animal rights activists, meanwhile, see it as a steaming pile of BS. They figure if you’re going to pay homage to a bunch of big, dumb animals that work for no more than eight seconds a day, why not the Calgary Flames?
When you think about it, Yaseen’s pitch makes sense for Alberta, where Wrangler jeans and straw hats are considered formal attire. Each year the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association sanctions approximately 50 events in Wild Rose Country, and there are probably just as many rodeos that fly under the radar. Hmmm. That’s a lot of road apples to clean up. About the biggest mess since Flames GM Brad Treliving took on Milan Lucic’s contract.
Actually, the Looch is having a decent year. He has more goals (six) than National Hockey League luminaries Nathan MacKinnon, Evgeni Malkin, Jack Eichel, Claude Giroux and Taylor Hall, so maybe I should stop picking on him. On second thought, naw.
Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield claims he observed a UFO while driving home from dinner in Austin, Texas, last week. He described the object as a “very bright ball of light.” UFO experts immediately pooh-poohed the sighting, claiming Mayfield had actually just seen the top of Terry Bradshaw’s head.
Archaeologists continue to make amazing discoveries in the ruins of Pompeii, the ancient Roman city buried by volcanic spewings in 79 AD. The latest finding has them really excited. It’s a ceremonial chariot that features ornate decorations of bronze and tin medallions, although they don’t know what to make of the Tom Brady rookie card stuck in the spokes of one of the wheels.
Speaking of Brady, his National Football League rookie card sold for $1.32 million at auction last week. Remind me once again how money is tight during this pandemic.
On the subject of high finance, some people think Fox Sports is nuts for agreeing to pay annoying squawkbox Skip Bayless $32 million over the next four years. I don’t know about that. When you break it down, it’ll work out to only 50 cents an insult.
Baseball is peanuts, Crackjack and hot dogs. And beer, of course. But how much booze? Well, the folks at njonlinegambling.com talked to 2,631 Major League Baseball fans to determine which team’s following is the booziest of the bunch, and nowhere do they swill more suds than on the south side of Chicago. White Sox loyalists chug down 4.2 drinks per nine innings, spending $46 on their libations, so you know they’re well-juiced by the seventh-inning stretch. Blue Jays fans, meanwhile, are middle of the pack when it comes to drinking (3 per game, $25), but they top one category: 70 per cent of them get into the grog before the opening pitch. Yup, they feel the need brace themselves for what’s to come.
TSN’s favorite washed-up quarterback, Johnny Manziel, apparently has used up all his Mulligans in football, so he plans to devote the next 12 years of his troubled life to earning his way onto the PGA Tour. As what? Tiger Woods’ chauffeur?
While saluting friend and former teammate Chris Schultz, who died of a heart attack on Friday, did Pinball Clemons really refer to the Toronto Argonauts as Canada’s Team? Sure enough, he did. Someone ought to share that little secret with the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna. That way the Boatmen might attract more than friends and family to BMO Field next time they grab grass, whenever that might be.
Watched the movie Creed a few days ago. I won’t make that mistake again. Total rubbish. Yo! Adrian! Tell Rocky to do us all a favor and find another hobby.
If you’re a fan of Ponytail Puck (guilty, yer honor), there’s good and not-so-good tidings.
First, select members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have assembled in Chicago to continue the renewal of their Dream Gap Tour and pose for the mandatory photo-ops with Billie Jean King.
It’s the sequel to last weekend’s engagement at historic Madison Square Garden in Gotham.
That the Dream Gappers have returned to the freeze is a favorable development, to be sure, even if they can’t seem to blow their noses without borrowing a Kleenex from BJK.
Not so good, on the other hand, is the setup.
These are glorified scrimmages, featuring many of the top female players on the planet. There is no league. Nothing is at stake, save for bragging rights, some post-match bottles of bubbly, and a share of the $1 million pot Secret Deodorant has donated.
There is no rooting interest, either. Unless, of course, Team adidas throwing down on Team Women’s Sports Foundation gives you the urge to break out the pom-poms.
I think we can agree that identity is vital in sports. We (mostly) pledge allegiance to our local sides/athletes, whether on a community, national or international level. We like to have a dog in the fight because it gives us a sense of ownership and allows us to get sucked up in rivalries (Red Sox-Yankees, Canada-Russia, Ali-Frazier, Chrissie-Martina, Arnie-Jack, Canada-U.S. in women’s hockey, Habs-Leafs, Tiger-Phil, Rafa-Roger, Serena-nobody, etc.).
Alas, there’s nothing compelling about the Dream Gap Tour structure. They play their friendlies, they pat themselves on the back for existing, then they sit back and listen to their pals in the media heap praise on the product but ignore the problem.
Those of us who want Ponytail Puck to work (one viable league) have yet to see or hear a doable business plan from the Dream Gappers. The mission remains as it was at the PWHPA start-up in May 2019: Bury the National Women’s Hockey League and wish, hope and cross fingers that the NHL is prepared to adopt approximately 125 orphans.
Trouble is, unless there’s something developing behind closed doors that we aren’t privy to, that isn’t about to happen anytime soon. The NWHL has shown no inclination to cede the territory it’s staked out in the past six years, and NHL commish Gary Bettman has made it abundantly clear that he harbors no eagerness to further muddy the waters of a divided women’s game.
Which brings us back to the matter of identity sports.
Who are the Dream Gappers? Well, they’re barnstormers. A curiosity piece. A novelty act, if you will, much like the Harlem Globetrotters or Stars On Ice. But that isn’t who they want to be. It isn’t what fans of Ponytail Puck want them to be.
Unfortunately, they’ve trapped themselves in a contradiction of their own creation. That is, they want to play hockey in a professional league, but they refuse to play in the only professional league available to them.
Thus, without an attitude adjustment, they’re destined to be nothing more than a sideshow.
And that’s a shame.
And, finally, can we call for a moratorium on broadcasters using the word “unbelievable” to describe everything from Auston Matthews’ mustache to a five-point game from Connor McDavid? I mean, Darryl Sittler once scored 10 points in a match, so why is five points unbelievable? Nothing in sports is unbelievable if it’s already happened, and when something happens for the first time it has to be believable because it’s happened. So knock it off.
Top o’ the morning to you, Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson.
I’m guessing you boys noticed that Kerri Einarson and her gal pals won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday night.
Yup. Took out Rachel Homan in the final, and I’d say they’re starting to make a habit of it.
That’s two straight national curling titles for the Gimli Gals and a personal three-peat for second Shannon Birchard, who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Scotties. She’s been there three times and she’s collected three gold medals, twice with Einarson and once with Jennifer Jones.
Hopefully you took note of all that, fellas, because you’ll soon be off on your own curling bubble adventure at the Brier in Calgary, and I trust you both realize that you’ve been letting the side down.
It’s not just you two, mind you. It’s all the Buffalo Boys.
Manitoba outfits used to win the Brier as often as McDonald’s sold a Big Mac. Now you win as often as…well, that’s the beef. You don’t win.
You’ve had five cracks at a national men’s curling crown, Mike, and you’re 0-fer. The best you’ve managed is to return home with a bronze trinket. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to devalue your parting gift from the 2017 Brier in St. John’s. You were magnificent. Hopes were high. And a favorable rub here or a fortuitous tick there might have turned that bronze into silver or gold.
As for you, Jason, you were a Brier neophyte a year ago and put a good foot forward until the games mattered most, which is to say in the championship pool. You went 0-fer.
I suppose that might have been the product of inexperience, or perhaps jitters on the big stage, or maybe the considerable burden of expectation carried by any curler wearing the buffalo on his back.
That weight might not be fair, fellas, but you can blame it on guys like Gordie Hudson and Howie Wood and Ken Watson and Ab Gowanlock and Billy Walsh and Bronco and the Snake and Dugie and the Big O and Mike Riley and Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters and a couple others. They spoiled us.
Twenty-seven times the Tankard has been hoisted by Buffalo Boys, but here’s the glitch: 26 of those victory laps came in the 20th century.
That’s right, we’re 1-for-the-21st century. One. As in Jeff Stoughton, circa 2011.
Burtnyk, Mark Lukowich, John Bubbs, Brent Scales, Randy Dutiaume, Rob Fowler and Reid Carruthers all went as skips, but did not conquer.
That will never do, not when Alberta teams have been padding their stats with 12 Brier championships since Y2K.
I don’t know about you, boys, but I’m tired of hearing those uppity mooks in Wild Rose Country telling us that Alberta is the epicenter of Planet Pebble. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, boys, but it bugs the bejeebers out of me, and I have zero appetite for calling up the Edmonton Sun and reading a fresh serving of smug blah, blah, blah in a Terry Jones column.
Frankly, I’m shocked that Jonesy hasn’t already penned a piece to remind us that Einarson third Val Sweeting lives and works in Edmonton. I expected him to somehow twist the plot into a made-in-Alberta storyline.
At any rate, this isn’t about Jonesy and his delusions, boys.
My point is this: You can’t continue to let the ladies do all the heavy lifting, which is exactly what they’ve been doing since Y2K. There have been eight Scotties titles between Jen Jones and Kerri Einarson, and it doesn’t matter that three times they were cloaked in the colors of Canada. A ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team.
There are certain things Manitobans have come to expect, boys: High water in the spring, large skeeters in the summer, good grub at the Sal’s, and our curlers winning.
The Buffalo Girls have showed you the way, boys. Again. So it would be nice if you held up your half of the bargain.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and in honor of Groundhog Day, I’ll pop my head out of the ground on Tuesday and let you know if there’ll be six more weeks of bad blogging…
So let me see if I’ve got this straight:
National Hockey League players traipse willy-nilly across the COVID-infected tundra, and they’re granted a quarantine exemption from Manitoba’s top docs and politicos. Meanwhile, our curlers plan to shelter themselves in a Calgary bubble for the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Brier and the mixed nationals, yet they’re told they must go into isolation for the full 14 days once they return home from two weeks of hijinks in February/March. No quarantine exemption for you!
This is fair how?
Oh, wait. Silly me. I forgot that the millionaire hockey players provide an “essential” service (as if the Ottawa Senators are “essential” to anyone), while bunking down in five-star hotels and being whisked about in charter or private aircraft. The curlers? Apparently, hurrying hard is not an “essential” service. Pebble People are just everyday working stiffs blessed with good draw weight, so it doesn’t matter that they might have to carpool their way to and from Calgary. Or that they might be out of pocket if away from the salt mines for an additional 14 days. It only matters that the millionaire hockey players are happy.
That is so wrong.
Hey, I’ve never thought of hockey players as coddled and pampered. They have a special skill that means they take in rarified oxygen, but the same has to be said of our curlers, who are among the best on the planet. And Pebble People are the salt of the earth.
If hockey players deserve a quarantine concession, the curlers do too.
Quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane has an oversized personality. Gone. Patrik Laine has an oversized personality. Gone. Dustin Byfuglien has an oversized personality. Gone. What are we to make of that?
We need to discuss the Edmonton Oilers, because they annoy me. The Oilers are Jesse James, Billy the Kid and 18 guys with water pistols. Seriously, they have more no-names than the Witness Protection Program. I watch the Oilers play and, 60 minutes later, it’s like Butch and Sundance: “Who are those guys?” They’re as memorable as the second man to leave a footprint on the moon. You know, Ol’ What’shisname.
That bothers me.
It shouldn’t, of course, because the Oilers became the Evil Empire in Good Ol’ Hometown during the 1980s, when they made paddywhacking the Jets a spring ritual during their Stanley Cup binge. It’s been a pox on the E-Town house ever since. But I can’t help it. I want Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to succeed. So sue me.
I just don’t think the Oilers should stink. Just like the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Yankees and Green Bay Packers should never stink. It’s okay to root, root, root against any or all of those storied franchises, but you shouldn’t want them to stink.
Oh, I know, many among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown can’t get past that 1980s thing, and they’re probably still sticking pins in their old Slats Sather, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier voodoo dolls.
Well, hocus-pocus rituals aren’t necessary these days. The Oilers stink on their own merit.
Yes, I realize they managed to muster up a victory on Saturday night, nudging the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in OT, but they’re 4-6 and that’s no way to behave when your lineup features McDavid and Draisaitl.
Fashion note: Those reverse retro unis that the Oilers wore on Saturday night looked like poorly designed Orange Crush bottles, and the Leafs’ threads were absolutely ghastly. Seriously. Dark blue numbers on dark blue sweaters? The ghost of Humpty Harold Ballard lives on.
Random observations two weeks into the 2021 NHL crusade: There’s a very good reason why so many players in the Hoser Division are at or near the top of the NHL scoring table: Nobody plays defence. There are no big, ugly, nasty teams that lean on you, just a bunch of fly boys. That works now, but not so much once they’re down to the final four in Beard Season and the Canadian survivor is required to deal with big bodies that try to slow them down…You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t join the chorus and rave about the entertainment level of COVID hockey. Much of the activity I’ve seen has been, to borrow a Danny Gallivanism, “as shabby as an old hobo’s coat.”…The Tkachuk brothers are soooo smarmy. Both Matthew and Brady are more irritating than a bad case of fanny fungus. They’re the dirty, rotten scoundrels who like to sit at the back of the class and fire spitballs at the nerds. They probably stole enough lunch money to prop up a third-world country. But, yes, I’d take either one of them on my team…The Ottawa Senators are an embarrassment best kept off prime time TV…It’s obvious the Hoser Division playoff positions will come down to this: The two teams that piddle away the most points v. the Senators will be on the outside looking in. That means the next week is pivotal to the Oilers’ post-season aspirations. They’ll be fed a steady diet of the Sens, meeting them four times…Yes, I still think a Hoser Division is a boffo idea, but I’m not sold on the baseball-style schedule. I understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it…Hands up anyone who knows what teams are leading the other three divisions. Actually, hands up anyone who can name the other three divisions…I was wrong about the Montreal Canadiens. They look legit. I was wrong about the Senators. I thought youthful enthusiasm would serve them well. I was right about the Calgary Flames. Their win over the Habs on Saturday notwithstanding, the Flames are a false bill of goods, and will continue to be as long as they have Milan Lucic dragging his knuckles up and down the freeze…Shouldn’t Sportsnet lift their regional blackouts and give us the full menu each night in this special season? If it’s all the same to them, I’d much rather watch the Jets-Habs than Canucks-Senators.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame will go 0-for-2021, with no players receiving the required 75 per cent of the vote for enshrinement to Cooperstown, and that means “integrity, sportsmanship, character” won out over stats. Noted steroids cheats Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens struck out in this year’s balloting, as did Curt Schilling, who collects Nazi SS memorabilia and isn’t fond of anyone unless they wear a MAGA hat and attend Toby Keith concerts. It’s the ninth time Schilling has been snubbed by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and now he wants his name erased from the ballot. “I’ll defer to the veterans committee and men whose opinions actually matter and who are in a position to actually judge a player,” he wrote in a self-indulgent, 1,200-word whinge on Facebook. He also labeled Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy a “morally decrepit” man, and accused scribes of lining up to “destroy my character.” I don’t know about that. Seems to me Schilling has assassinated his own character on social media, with transphobic tweets, a posting that suggested lynching journalists is “so much awesome,” calling Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones a liar for accusing fans at Fenway Park in Boston of dropping N-bombs in his direction, and giving thumbs up to the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Bottom line on Schilling’s NBHOF candidacy: “I don’t think I’m a hall of famer,” he said. Fine. Case closed.
Most peculiar take on the latest NBHOF voting was delivered by TSN analyst Steve Phillips. The former Major League Baseball exec drew a parallel between segregation and ‘roid cheaters Bonds and Clemens sticking needles in their butts. “There’s been performance enhancement in every era of baseball,” Phillips said. “Babe Ruth didn’t play against some of the best Negro League players of the time, players went to war, players stayed home, the mound was lowered, the DH was entered, ballparks have changed. So it’s been in every era.” Hmmm. I thought the Babe hit all those home runs (714) because he was a rare breed, but now I find out it was only because he never saw the spin on a Satchel Paige slider. Who knew? Actually, I have a different theory, and it has nothing to do with Jim Crow-era baseball or the boys of summer marching off to kick Hitler’s ass. To wit: Had the Babe laid off the booze, the babes and the speakeasies, and had he not missed playing time due to STDs, he would have swatted 914 dingers.
In his first natter with news snoops after signing with Toronto, slugger George Springer compared the Blue Jays to his Houston Astros outfit that cheated its way to a World Series title. “This (Jays) lineup reminds me a lot of them,” he said. Great. Vlad the Gifted gets a trash can. Bo Bichette gets a trash can. Cavan Biggio gets a trash can. Everybody gets a trash can. Bang the can slowly, boys.
Nice to see Sportsnet and, on a more subdued level, TSN have discovered the National Women’s Hockey League. Until last week, any talk of Ponytail Puck at Sportsnet was reserved for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and it was mostly pathetic pandering from Tara Slone and Ron MacLean. Now Sportsnet Central is delivering nightly updates/highlights on the Isobel Cup season/tournament in Lake Placid, and there are numerous articles on the website. It’s fabulous.
An outfit from the Republic of Tranna is in Lake Placid. It’s called the Six. It has a 3-1-1 record, and stands atop the NWHL tables. Someone might want to clue in the geniuses at the Toronto Sun. I look daily but, unless I missed it, the tabloid has given its home team less ink than Bernie Sanders’ mittens. TorSun trumpets itself as the top sports sheet in the nation, but I call BS on that if they can’t squeeze in a few paragraphs about Ponytail Puck.
It’s puzzling that the aforementioned PWHPA has gone radio silent on its website since Dec. 21. Not a peep. The propaganda peddlers have stopped telling us that they “deserve” a living wage, that they “deserve” an affiliation with the NHL, that they “deserve” our undivided attention, and there have been no photo-ops with Billie Jean King. The Dream Gappers have $1 million of funding from Secret, and they’ve said they’ll stage a series of barnstorming showcase tournaments, but they still aren’t telling us where or when they’ll drop the puck. Silence is a peculiar way to sell your product.
Speaking of product, the Argos need all the help they can get to make the rabble in the Republic of Tranna sit up, take notice and find their way to BMO Field, so what do they do? That’s right, they sign a repeat offender of the National Football League drug policy. Martavis Bryant was first banished for four games in 2015, then sent to his room for the entire 2016 crusade, then punted indefinitely in 2018. The Canadian Football League needs guys like Bryant the way Bill Gates needs my spare change.
It was a double whammy of bad tidings for Rouge Football last week. Aside from the Bryant hiring, Scott Milanovich took his three Grey Cup rings and walked away from the E-Town E-Somethings before ever stepping onto the sideline at Commonwealth Stadium, and can anyone really blame him? Coaches gotta coach, and since we don’t know if there’ll be three-downs football this year, Milanovich opted for the sure thing as quarterbacks guru with the Indianapolis Colts. I just wonder if this means the second coming of Chris Jones to the E-Somethings.
So, TSN ran a feature discussing the greatest athlete of all time in North American “team sports.” Names tossed about were Tom Brady, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky. SportsCentre co-anchor Kayla Grey immediately added this to the debate: “Ask Serena Williams about all that,” she said smugly. Just wondering: What part of “team sports” does Grey not understand? Last time I looked, Williams is a tennis player. Her specialty is singles play. If, however, we were to consider her form chart in doubles, which certainly is a team sport, Williams isn’t the GOAT in the women’s game. It’s Martina Navratilova, who once partnered with Pam Shriver to win 109 consecutive matches and went more than two years without a loss. Check it out:
Grand Slam Doubles Titles
Navratilova 41 Williams 16
Doubles Match Victories
Navratilova 747 Williams 190
Navratilova 187 Williams 25
There are at least 37 women and 55 men with more doubles titles than Williams, including our guy Daniel Nestor with 95. Do the math. Williams’ 25 doesn’t spell G-O-A-T in “team sports” to me.
Really, it’s time for Serena-ites like Grey to cease with the GOAT narrative. She isn’t the greatest tennis player of all time (hello Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic—take your pick), ergo she cannot possibly be the finest athlete in history. So do us all a favor and clam up.
The January numbers are in for coverage of female athletes in the two local rags (30 publishing days):
Winnipeg Free Press-4.
Total number of articles
Winnipeg Free Press-29 (plus 12 briefs).
Winnipeg Sun-3 (plus 4 briefs).
Number of days with female-centric copy
Winnipeg Free Press-21 of 30.
Winnipeg Sun-6 of 30.
And, finally, I think it’s great that so many people are willing to share their mental health challenges on Bell’s Let’s Talk day, but it would be even better if we did it more than once a year. I’ve always thought of mental health as an every-day thing.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and someone told me that I really should quit while I’m ahead, but I’ve never been able to get ahead…
So, according to the pundits, the acquisition of Paul Stastny was supposed to accomplish two things for the Winnipeg Jets:
1. Fill the long-standing need for a second-line centre.
2. Put a happy face on Patrik Laine and put the skids on the galloping gossip that has hounded Puck Finn for more than a year.
Well, insofar as the first point of the equation, we can continue to debate the pros and cons of the Jets reeling in the aging Stastny—and I’m squarely on the con side of the discussion—but it’s probably best that we allow his play in Winnipeg HC’s next National Hockey League crusade to settle the argument.
As for point No. 2, good luck with that.
It took less than a week for one of TSN’s hockey “insiders” to fan the flames of L’Affaire Laine once again, and this time it isn’t a campfire. It’s a bonfire with possible gusts up to a five-alarm inferno.
Here’s what LeBrun told host James Duthie last Thursday:
“There’s been some scuttlebutt around the National Hockey League of late that Patrik Laine may not show up at camp if he’s not dealt by the Winnipeg Jets.
“I reached out to his representation agents, Andy Scott and Mike Liut, to get some clarity and they absolutely deny that. That Laine has not asked for a trade, he’s not threatening to not be at camp if he’s not dealt.
“Having said that, his agents also made clear that it’s fair to say that given that Laine knows his name has been in trade discussions as we’ve talked about here, and given that his usage in the lineup the last couple of years has been a constant topic of conversation, the fact that he doesn’t get consistent first-line minutes, his agents Mike Liut and Andy Scott do confirm that it probably would be mutually beneficial to both the player and to the team if Patrik Laine is traded and that there is clear communication between them and Kevin Cheveldayoff, the GM of the Winnipeg Jets, about this.
“Now I spoke to Kevin Cheveldayoff on this day. And he reiterated that he’s looking at all options when it comes to trade and that Patrik Laine remains a big part of the organization.
“What I would say, not Cheveldayoff, is that he’s not going to just trade Patrik Laine for the sake of it, that it’s going to have to be something that makes sense for the Winnipeg Jets. But I will say this, as Andy Scott, the agent for Patrik Laine, said to me, there is a clear understanding between both sides about where this is probably headed.”
Now, you can pooh-pooh LeBrun’s bona fides as an “insider” if you like, but one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Patrik Laine will remain the centrepiece of trade rumors until a) Chevy hands him a one-way ticket out of town or b) Puck Finn signs long term. Nothing else will dim the natter.
I’m just surprised that so many among the rabble and in mainstream media are surprised that it’s come to this.
I mean, I don’t have my feet on the ground in Good Ol’ Hometown, but this is how I read the room 16 months ago: “You think Patrik Laine’s agent hasn’t noticed how the (Jacob) Trouba saga played out? If it’s true that Puck Finn’s nose is out of joint, all he has to do is sign a two-year bridge deal, take les Jets to arbitration down the road, then force a trade.”
So how has it played out to date? Laine signed a two-year bridge deal, he’s eligible for arbitration after next season, and already his two mouthpieces sound like they’re trying to force a trade.
Yet I keep hearing and reading that the Jets are in control of this game of chicken. To a point, that’s true. But they can only delay Puck Finn’s departure if that’s his intent. They can’t stop him. Just like they couldn’t stop Evander Kane and they couldn’t stop Trouba.
We don’t know who or what is up Laine’s nose. His beef could be with the captain, Blake Wheeler, or the head coach, Paul Maurice, or maybe he’s bought into the silly “Winnipeg has lousy WiFi” nonsense. If it’s Wheeler, it wouldn’t be the first time two teammates refused to exchange Christmas cards. If it’s Coach PoMo, it’s not like there’s never been conflict between a bench boss and a worker (for evidence see: Bowman, Scotty). If it’s the city, he isn’t the first guy who’s wanted out of Dodge.
Whomever or whatever, I repeat what I wrote in February 2019: “I doubt Puck Finn will finish his career in Jets linen.”
But, hey, what do I know? Like I said, I don’t have feet on the ground. Except I predicted in 2012 that Evander Kane would one day walk into Chevy’s office and demand a new postal code. He did that very thing—repeatedly—and Chevy obliged, in 2015. In September 2018, I peered into the tea leaves and predicted Trouba would be gone in less than two years. He left the building nine months later. So tell me I’m wrong about Laine.
Interesting read from Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun on the challenges Chevy faces in attempting to lure top-drawer free agents to Good Ol’ Hometown, and also navigate his way around no-trade clauses. “There’s no happy ending for this,” he writes. “It’s an ongoing problem for the Jets. What it does underscore is the need to ensure the team is a winner, by whatever means possible, and in spite of unfavorable geography. And it means the organization needs to be that much more creative when it comes to recruitment. Getting players in the door begins with a pitch that centres around winning the Cup. For most, that’s the dream. If you can show a pathway to that dream, you can probably get folks into the house. And that’s when perceptions die and new ones are made, and the word spreads. Winnipeg’s advertising comes via word of mouth. There just has to be something enticing other than frigid winters. And it may be as simple—and as difficult—as putting a winning product on the ice.”That’s fair analysis, but it’s worth remembering that the original Winnipeg Jets lineup was crafted 100 per cent on guys who chose to play in Good Ol’ Hometown, including the most significant free agent signing in pro hockey history—Bobby Hull, at the time the game’s glamour guy. Every player on that team came to River City without kicking and screaming. So can anyone tell me exactly when Winnipeg became the armpit of hockey? I’d really like to know.
When I hear the San Jose Sharks have signed Patrick Marleau, it tells me that they’ve already tapped out on next season.
And what is Kyle Dubas trying to prove in the Republic of Tranna? The Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, so the kid GM thought it would be a swell idea to sign Marleau’s former running mate Jumbo Joe Thornton who, coincidentally, broke into the NHL that same year. Okay, okay. Jumbo hasn’t been around quite that long. But Dubas seems to be setting up a Fossil Factory in the ROT, with Jumbo Joe, 41, and Jason Spezza, 37, on board.
Scant seconds after becoming one of the newest Maple Leafs, Wayne Simmonds did the Zoom thing with news snoops and warned foes that “I can punch your head off if need be.” He calls what he does on a hockey rink “functional toughness.” Back it the day we called it “goon.”
I keep hearing about all the free agents still available in the NHL, but the top free agent in sports right now is Chelsea Carey, champion curler without a team to call her own. We don’t know how this season will shake down for our Pebble People, but it’s hard to imagine a two-time Scotties queen being stuck on the outside looking in with her nose pressed against the window.
On the subject of our fab provincial Pebble People, the deep thinkers at the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame want to know what you think. They’re looking to name the Most Notable Team in local lore, and that’s where you come in. The MCHF is accepting votes until Dec. 5 for its 25 Most Notable Teams and, really, this should be a no-brainer. I mean, it doesn’t get more “notable” than winning Olympic Games gold, so Jennifer Jones and her gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen have to be at the top of the heap. It doesn’t hurt that they were also Canadian and world champions, and they had longer sustained success than any foursome I can recall. Next in line would be the Digit, Don Duguid, and his gang from the Granite—Bryan Wood, Jim Pettapiece and the Arrow, Rod Hunter—who went 17-0 to win back-to-back world titles in 1970 and ’71. Completing my top three would be Bronco Braunstein and his team of brother Ron, Moose Turnbull and Jack Van Hellemond. Still just school kids, the teenagers copped the Manitoba men’s title then fell one game shy of winning the 1958 Brier in Victoria, losing to Matt Baldwin of Alberta in a one-game showdown.
Fans of fist fighting were shocked to hear Mike Tyson on Good Morning Britain last week. In a natter with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid, the former heavyweight boxing champion was muttering unintelligibly and slurring his words badly. Hey, cut the guy some slack. It can’t be easy to talk with your mouth full of Evander Holyfield’s ear.
Sticking with boxing, I stayed up well past my bedtime Saturday to watch Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko chuck knuckles in a lightweight title bout. At the end of the night, Lopez had four belts. Hmmm. Four belts—sounds like the Rat Pack at closing time.
So, the Houston Astros have been drummed out of the Major League Baseball playoffs (karma, baby). Some teams run out of pitching, some teams run out of hitting. Some teams run out of time. I guess the Astros ran out of trash cans.
Is there a Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher with a worse post-season record than Clayton Kershaw of my Los Angeles Dodgers? Kershaw will be in Cooperstown one day, but it won’t be due to anything he’s done in the World Series or playoffs. The guy’s 175-75, .697, 2.43 ERA in the hum-drum of spring and summer ball, but a dismal 11-12, .478, 4.31 ERA when it matters most. And, to think, some people have compared him favorably to Sandy Koufax. Ya, like a box of Timbits is fine dining.
Some good reads in the past week: Paul Friesen’s series on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ journey to the Grey Cup; Freezer’s running mate at the Winnipeg Sun, Ted Wyman, dishes on Hockey Hall of Famer Serge Savard; Luke Fox’s Q&A with Brian Burke on the Sportsnet website.
When the National Women’s Hockey League restructuredits business model and assigned founder and commissioner Dani Rylan Kearney to a lesser role last week, shouldn’t it have been a big deal in the media? No women would be drawing pay to play shinny if not for Dani, who gave the NWHL its jump start in 2015, but her removal from the big office was a blip at best in most newspapers, websites and on air. Seems to me the story, and Dani, warranted better play than that.
Speaking of not getting their due, it’s about Sue Bird: Not many hoopsters can boast of her bona fides. When Seattle Storm won the Women’s National Basketball Association title recently, it was her fourth. You know, the same number as LeBron James has won in his NBA career. Sue also has four Olympic gold medals, four FIBA World Cup titles, five EuroLeague titles, two NCAA titles, one national high school title, five Russian National League titles, two Europe Super Cup titles, she’s the all-time WNBA assists leader, she’s started the most games in WNBA history, she’s an 11-time WNBA all-star, a two-time EuroLeague all-star and a former Naismith college player of the year. She’s the High Priestess of the Hardwood, but somehow manages to fly under the radar of most mainstream media. Shame that.
And, finally, this is the 50th anniversary season for the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, and I’d say that calls for some sort of special feature piece in either or both of the Winnipeg dailies. So why hasn’t either the Sun or Drab Slab done something about it?
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and I saw the sky yesterday for the first time in more than a week…
Evander Kane wanted out. Gone. Age 23.
Jacob Trouba wanted out. Gone. Age 25.
Patrik Laine…well, we don’t really know what notions swirl about in Puck Finn’s grey matter, but if he wants a new postal code there won’t be anything the Winnipeg Jets can do to prevent him from escaping Good Ol’ Hometown.
For now, the Finnish winger is on lockdown for the 2020-21 National Hockey League crusade, whenever that might begin and end, but then he becomes a restricted free agent with the right to plead his case before an arbitrator should the Jets refuse to drive a Brinks truck up to his doorway. You know, just like Trouba before him, and I doubt Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff are keen on retracing those footsteps.
Which means the pundits need not look for a pot to stir. They’ve got it.
Laine’s shelf life with the Jets has been a matter of conjecture dating back to July 2019, when Elliotte Friedman went on his 31 Thoughts podcast and word-painted the Finnish winger as pouting Patty.
“Laine is a whole big discussion, right?” he said. “He didn’t leave happy last year. Some of that was his own fault. He wasn’t as good as he could be, and I think he chafed under some of the leadership there. Like, the guys at the top of that food chain are hard-driving guys. They expect you to buy into the program, and I think that they felt he didn’t buy in enough, and I think he felt that some of the things they wanted were ridiculous. So you gotta bridge that, too.”
A month later, Chris Johnston of Sportsnet was in Lahti, Finland, for a natter with Puck Finn, who said, “You never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything.” Then along came Pekka Jalonen of the Finnish publication Iltalehti, suggesting Laine’s nose was out of joint because he was required to skate alongside the NHL’s equivalent of beer-leaguers.
And now, Friedman has his hand on the stirring stick once again, saying this on 630 CHED in Edmonton last week:
“I think the thing about Winnipeg that’s gonna be interesting is gonna be Laine. There’s something going on there. I don’t know if Laine’s not happy or whatever it is. I think he wants to play with Scheifele, I’m not sure that that’s what Winnipeg is looking at right now. You know, there’s something there. And I think that Winnipeg realizes that it’s not gonna be easy to sign him when the time comes, and they’re gonna have to…they might have to trade him before they want to trade him. It’s possible. It’s certainly out there, it’s possible.
“I don’t think…you know, what they did with Trouba, is they kept on extending him until they had to make the deal, right? I don’t know that that’s going to be their plan for Laine, but I think they realize that the closer this gets to unrestricted free agency, you know, the more likely that they’re gonna have to make a move. If you’re trading that guy, the return has to be enormous. You’re talking about a market that saw them trade Teemu Selanne, so you don’t want to see that again.”
So what is the rabble to make of that? Same as we did a year ago. Not much.
Note how Friedman framed his comments: “I think” and “I don’t know” and “I think” and “I’m not sure” and “I think” and “I don’t think” and “I don’t know” and “I think.”
In other words, “I think” he’s spitballing again, but “I’m not sure.”
The thing is, that’s what news snoops do. They speculate. Sometimes some of what they say and/or write sticks, and I guess that’s how a guy like Friedman comes to be known as an insider and gets to sit and schmooze with the retired players on the Hockey Night in Canada panel.
I’m not saying he’s wrong about Laine, because I doubt the big Finn will be wearing Jets linen for the duration. Few do. If any of the local hockey heroes goes start to finish in Good Ol’ Hometown, my guess is it’ll be Rink Rat Scheifele, but I wouldn’t want to wager more than the price of a pint on it.
It’s usually a matter of when, not if, even for a 22-year-old who’s scored 36, 44, 30 and 28 goals in his four NHL crusades.
I wrote something very similar about Evander Kane for Arctic Ice Hockey in December 2012. Said Kane and Winnipeg weren’t a happy mix, and suggested he’d stomp into Chevy’s office one day and demand to be put on the next stage out of Dodge. We now know that’s exactly what happened every off-season, and they parted company in February 2015. The same thing is apt to happen with Laine if head coach Paul Maurice insists on having him line up alongside third- and fourth-rate centres. There won’t be a tub of ice water involved, but he’ll be gone.
Friedman described the recent Eric Staal-Marcus Johansson trade as “a Zeus-like thunderbolt.” So that’s what passes for a major deal in the NHL these days? A 35-year-old guy who’s already building a retirement home in barter for a 29-year-old 40-point guy? Head for the storm shelter and batten the hatches if the Jets deal Puck Finn or Twig Ehlers.
Bill Johnson has agreed to generally manage the Arizona Coyotes. Hey, I can think of worse jobs. Cleaning up after the circus elephants comes to mind.
Speaking of circus acts, no need to send in the clowns—they’re already here and they’re pitching for the Tranna Blue Jays. The New York Yankees played T-Ball with Jays hurlers last week, scoring 43 runs and swatting 19 dingers in a three-game series. Only the Venus de Milo has worse arms.
If you watched the first two rounds of the U.S. Open, you’ll know that Tiger Woods’ universe didn’t unfold as he would have liked, thus he won’t be around to wear a red shirt today. But expecting Tiger to win the U.S. Open is kind of like handing Michelangelo a box of crayons and telling him to redo the Sistine Chapel. It was painful to watch the great golfer hack his way around Winged Foot. The thing is, I wouldn’t be too hasty in writing him off for the Masters in November. Augusta National won’t be as punitive as Winged Foot, where the rough is thicker than a tub of tar, and the Masters has a history of being kind to golfers in their forties (seven 40-plus champions, including Tiger last year).
It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or about the same amount of time it takes for a Bryson DeChambeau tee shot to land. I swear, there hasn’t been this much talk about air time since Howard Stern arrived on radio.
I don’t know about you, but I really miss the Pre-Pandemic Era of pro sports. You know, a time when all those mega-millionaire athletes lived in a vacuum instead of a bubble.
On the subject of bubbles, when, oh when, will sports scribes clue in to the reality that the rabble simply isn’t interested in their petty gripes and grievances?
The latest example of jock journo whinging came from Mark Spector of Sportsnet, who delivered this tweet from the NHL bubble in Edmonton: “Biggest challenge for writers by far in Zoom era: Putting together a cogent piece when you get just one question per Zoom. No follow-ups, no working your way to the money question. Just a bunch of quotes that have little to do with each other, and a deadline. Go!”
Oh, the humanity.
Predictably, response from the rabble was swift, harsh and lathered in sarcasm. To wit:
“This sounds difficult, a little too difficult if you ask me. I think it’s best that you retire, it’s just too difficult.”
“Wah wah wah. MSM bitching and moaning again. Health care workers. Teachers, Police. They are facing real challenges.”
I trust that’s cogent enough for Spector.
You know you’re getting long in tooth (if you have any teeth left) when you see someone of your vintage trending on Twitter and you assume she or he has died. Mind you, it can work the other way, too. On Friday morning, for example, I noted that Jimi Hendrix was trending and thought, “What? Jimi’s alive?” Nope. Still toes up.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a Canadian Football League fix right about now. Grew up with Rouge Football. Love Rouge Football. Autumn just isn’t the same without Rouge Football. And now I fear the worst. I mean, if I’m this bummed out about no three-downs football, how am I going to feel if there’s no Scotties Tournament of Hearts or Brier? I’ll be needing me some Chelsea Carey and Kerri Einarson and Jen Jones and Tracy Fleury and Mike McEwen before long.
A landing spot for Chelsea Carey was the main mystery in advance of the 2020-21 curling season. The two-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion lost her entire team last spring, and there were whispers that she would be returning to her home in Manitoba, already the bully on the block. Throw Chelsea into the mix with Einarson, Jones and Fleury and you’d have a draw that’s tougher to get out of than the rough at Winged Foot. It’d be the most difficult task on Canadian pebble, although I’m sure some near-sighted scribes in Alberta would be more than happy to argue the point. And that’s okay, just as long as they know they’re wrong.
Nobody covers curling as well or with as much depth as the girls and boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown, so I’m surprised none of them have picked up a phone and asked Chelsea about her plans.
Had to laugh at Josh Donaldson getting ejected from a game last week for kicking dirt on home plate at the completion of his home run trot. Reminded me of Jimmy Piersall, noted for all sorts of oddball antics during his Major League Baseball career, like running the bases backwards after hitting his 100th dinger and wearing a Beatles wig during an at-bat.
No surprise that mainstream sports media (print division) mostly ignored the Yanic Duplessis coming-out story. As I’ve emphasized numerous times, jock journalism in Canadian newspapers is a white, male and heterosexual enterprise, thus they’re unable to deliver lived-experience accounting of social issues like homophobia. The rag trade is marginally more diverse today than when I broke into the business in 1969, and it hasn’t progressed since I left in 1999. If anything, it’s become less diverse, with fewer female sports scribes.
I believe the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab have now talked to every current and former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers about life during a pandemic. They’re free to move on to a fresh topic any time.
Based on the early returns, there can be just one reason why the Drab Slab dispatched Mad Mike McIntyre to the Jason Kenney Mountain Retreat in Edmonton for the short strokes of the Stanley Cup runoff—to say they’re there, as if it’s a feather in their cap. I mean, they’re spending oodles of coin for what? A feature on Derek Laxdal that drones on to the point of inducing extreme drowsiness? A natter with Scott Oake? (Hey, there’s nothing but high respect and admiration for Scotty in this corner, but I can do without his take on the E-Town bubble.) Worst of all, play-by-play game stories? Seriously. Play-by-play gamers? Sigh. There are no words, except to say that style of coverage is older than everything that’s older than old school. How’s Mad Mike filing his copy? Pony Express? Carrier pigeon? Telegraph?
It isn’t enough anymore to tell readers what they’ve already seen on TV/online or read on the Internet. A sports section should be as much a conversation pit as the gab fests on our flatscreens, meaning analysis, opinion, in-depth features (not fluff) and interpretation of the news, not just the listing of scores and delivering dreary, same old-same old game stories with the predictable cookie-cutter quotes. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I read a game story.
For the record, I’m not telling the bean-counters at the Drab Slab how to spend their money—or, in this case, how to waste their money—but the next time publisher Bob Cox goes hat in hand to the feds, demanding subsidies for his newspaper, remind him that he’s squandered thousands of dollars on Stanley Cup copy that could have been written from Good Ol’ Hometown.
And, finally, put a major sports event in Edmonton and you just know it’ll be done right. Commonwealth Games, World Cup soccer, the Brier, the Grey Cup, Stanley Cup bubble, you name it, E-Towners get ‘er done. But they still don’t curl as well as Winnipeggers.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I don’t know if I gained or lost an hour on the weekend…
Oh, baby. They pulled it off.
Yup, Sportsnet delivered its first 99.9 per cent estrogen-fueled broadcast of a National Hockey League joust on Sunday night, so a few words are in order:
a) Leah Hextall is more than adequate on play-by-play.
b) Christine Simpson is a real pro.
c) Cassie Campbell-Pascall doesn’t know when to put a sock in it.
d) Billie Jean King needs to pop a reality pill.
e) Ron MacLean makes for a rather subdued token male (he calls himself an “ally”).
f) Tara Slone has the groupie gene.
g) Apparently no one involved with the production of Hometown Hockey knows the National Women’s Hockey League exists.
That’s the Coles Notes version of what transpired during the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if the women did boffo work just ask them. They’ll assure you that they were absolutely fabulous, darling.
I mean, this was a 3½-hour exercise in excessive back-patting, and I believe they paid tribute to every woman on earth except Karla Homolka. Well, okay, that’s a stretch. But they did manage to squeeze Cher and Beyonce into the conversation, and we all know that no hockey broadcast is complete without mentioning Cher and Beyonce—not!
Curious name-dropping aside, full marks to Sportsnet for pushing the envelope. I just wish the main players hadn’t spent so much time kissing up to one another.
Don’t they realize you can catch coronavirus that way?
Among the women, Hextall had the most to gain/lose in this experiment. We’ve been listening to the empty squawkings of colorless commentator Campbell-Pascall for years now, and we’ve grown accustomed to Simpson’s smooth interview skills. But Hextall’s game call was something new, and I give her a passing grade.
I actually learned a new phrase from her: “He loses the boot.” Translation: A player lost his footing. Never heard that one before.
Hextall delivered another good line in the third period when two Golden Knights collided violently inside the blueline, describing it as “A bit of a Three Stooges moment.” I laughed out loud.
Hextall stumbled at times, though. She seemed caught by surprise when Nick Holden scored the second Vegas goal, also when Milan Lucic put the Flames on the board. “Lucic holds, fires and Lehner…oh, hang on, he scores,” she said. And she was flat out wrong on the Golden Knights winning tally, asking, “Is it in? Is it in? It looked in. From an angle shot, Max Pacioretty with the goal.” It was actually Shea Theodore who scored.
But, hey, other play-by-play people have made bigger blunders.
Is if fair to compare Hextall to male game-callers? Absolutely. After all, they’re the only measuring sticks available. So let’s just say she’s no Danny Gallivan, but who is? Like I said, she gets a passing grade.
I’m not sure what it is about Campbell-Pascall that gets up my nose, but I find her to be a total irritant, the same way skin rash is. She talked over Hextall too often, and she rudely hijacked the conversation when the two women were signing off. She also delivered the dumbest comment of the night when, as Ryan Reaves and Lucic lined up, she advised us that “the physicality on the ice right now is epic.” That would have been fine except for one small detail—they hadn’t even dropped the puck for the opening faceoff yet.
As expected, Slone and MacLean cooed and gushed during their taped first-intermission sit-down with Billie Jean King. MacLean was so dazzled to be in the presence of tennis royalty that he had Kendall Coyne Schofield winning the fastest skater competition at the NHL all-star game (she finished second last) and, when corrected by King, he mostly sat in slumped silence while Slone lathered the equal rights activist in praise.
No surprise that King called on the NHL to create hockey’s version of an adopt-a-pet program and subsidize a women’s professional league. “It’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be good business,” she said. “They can do this. They can do this. Why can’t we have 700 girls or a thousand girls playing in a league?” Earth to Billie Jean! Earth to Billie Jean! If it’ll be such “good business,” why don’t you peel off some of your personal bankroll and help fund a WNHL? And where’s your business plan? As for a women’s league with 700-1,000 players, that’s shocking naiveté. There are approximately 200 members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, and another 120 suiting up with the five NWHL clubs. Where does King propose they scare up another 380-680 elite-level female players? She’d have better luck trying to find a virgin in a brothel.
During the game, Campbell-Pascall lauded King for her work on behalf of the PWHPA, telling us she’s “moved women’s hockey forward.” Rubbish. Ponytail Puck has never been in a worse mess.
In 3½ hours, the talking heads made numerous mentions of the PWHPA, but not once did they talk about the NWHL. And that’s shameful. Sportsnet is supposed to be a news-gathering and news-distributing operation yet, on International Women’s Day, it chose to completely ignore a hockey league that has a female commissioner, a female director of its players association, female general managers, a female head coach, female broadcasters, and the only operation in North America that pays females to play shinny. At some point, they should have advised us that the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps had won their semifinal matches on Sunday and advanced to the Isobel Cup final, scheduled for puck drop on Friday in Beantown. They didn’t, and that’s just wrong.
Sportsnet’s snub of the NWHL is particularly puzzling given that Kristina Rutherford’s in-depth look at commish Dani Rylan popped up on its website Sunday. It’s a terrific read on the woman who started the NWHL from scratch and is already planning for a sixth season.
And, finally, it’s about the Brier. After nine days of incredible shot-making and last-gasp dramatics, the boys delivered a dud in the Canadian men’s curling championship final in Kingston. It was like seeing Sinatra in concert all week, then getting Nickelback for a closing act. Brad Gushue and his pals from the Rock put on a clinic in a 7-3 win, while Brendan Bottcher and his bunch from Wild Rose Country coughed up a hair ball (many of them, actually). It was all over except for the muffled celebration after three ends, and that’s not the finish this exceptional bonspiel deserved.