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

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

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

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

Brian Burke

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

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

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

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

Auston Matthews

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

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

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

Edmonton or Vancouver?

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

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

Dr. Bonnie Henry

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

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

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

Theo Fleury

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

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

Lou Marsh Trophy

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

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

Megan Rapinoe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Black quota in 2020?

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

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

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

Hal Johnson and Joanne McLeod

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

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

All of which has provided pause for ponder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take a knee, Donald.

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

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

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

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

Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie after COVID-19…what’s on my book shelf?…tee times…horrible takes on Ponytail Puck…a bull session with Chris Streveler in the Drab Slab…and other things on my mind

There’s been much natter about National Hockey League millionaires returning this summer to perform in front of empty seats in four select cities, none of which will be named Winnipeg (reportedly).

That’s a deep concern because the NHL is a gate-driven enterprise.

There is, however, a greater fret and threat looming. Try this: How many of those empty seats will remain unoccupied once the faithful have been given the okie-dokie to gather in groups and return to rinks hither and yon?

The Jets have made due with 15,000 and change at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie since 2011 and, once they’ve finished feeding at the public trough, it’s believed there’s black ink on the bottom line of the balance sheet. The profit is likely minimal, but we don’t know for certain because True North Sports+Entertainment has never been eager to open its books, even as it smugly expects the rabble to continue opening their wallets.

Unfortunately, the scourge that is COVID-19 has many thousands of workers also feeding from the public trough, and some of them won’t have a job at the far end of the pandemic.

It’s tough to part with thousands of dollars in support of the players’ millionaire lifestyles when you’re on pogey.

So let’s say the Jets lose 1,000 customers post-COVID-19 and can’t replace them. Is the NHL doable in Good Ol’ Hometown with just 14K in the pews? Well, when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, I seem to recall NHL commish Gary Bettman saying something about sellouts and SRO audiences being the absolute, no-margin-for-error requirement.

If so, 14,000 customers won’t cut it.

Oh, sure, the Jets boast of a robust wait list, so any available tickets would be scooped up faster than toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. But whoa Nellie. That was pre-COVID-19. The game has changed. It costs $100 (non-refundable) per annum to stay on that list, and $50 (non-refundable) to get on that list. Know anyone with a spare C-note or 50-dollar bill lying around these days, just in the hope of spending in excess of $1,000 to watch the millionaires frolic on the local freeze?

This isn’t meant to be a doomsday essay. It’s simply a cautionary note that once there’s a vaccine and the NHL arrives at its “new normal,” crowd concern might not be limited to warm-weather locales like Sunrise, Fla, and Glendale, Ariz. It might hit hard at the frost-bitten heart of the continent as well.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been catching up on my reading during the COVID-19 lockdown. So far, these have been my favorite books:

  • My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score: The Sex Scandal That Sank Tiger Woods, In His Own Words.

  • If It’s Too Late for a Prenup, I’m Totally Screwed: The Tiger Woods Tell-All About Infidelity and Divorce (with special forward by Elin Nordegren).

  • I Bit Off More Than I Could Chew: Mike Tyson Recounts the Night He Made a Snack Out of Evander Holyfield’s Ear.

  • D’oh Canada! The Duping of a Dope: The Rise and Fall of Ben Johnson at the Seoul Olympics.

  • Deflated: Who Really Let the Air Out of Tom Brady’s Balls (with special forward by Gisele Bundchen)?

  • The Dead Speak Scrolls: Complete Transcripts of Everything Bill Belichick has Ever Said that the Media Understood (Total number of pages-2).

  • Serena Williams

    I’ll Shove This %$#% Ball Down Your *%$#% Throat: Memoirs of Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.

  • Grey Cup and the Groupie: E! News Canada Takes A Deep Dive Into the Glen Suitor-Keith Urban Broadcast Booth Bromance (with special forward by Nicole Kidman).

  • You People: The Official Don Cherry Code of Conduct for Wannabe Canadians, where the former star of Coach’s Corner explains Milk & Honey & Poppies & EVERYTHINK LIKE THAT!

  • Still Searching In A White Ford Bronco After All These Years: O.J. Simpson Takes Us to Various Golf Courses In His Hunt for the Real Killers.

Speaking of golf, it looks like some courses across the land will be opening next month (a few in my neck of the woods never closed). I haven’t swung the sticks in more than 12 years, but I’ve been thinking about my ideal foursome were I ever to tee it up again. This is it: Moi, Alison Krauss, Babs Streisand and, of course, Jesus, because I figure that walk-on-water thing might come in handy given my skill level.

Oh drat. The Scripps National Spelling Bee in the U.S. has fallen victim to COVID-19, canceled for the first time since World War II. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to watching 10-year-old kids make me feel like a complete doofus again. Or is that spelled d-u-f-u-s? Or d-o-o-f-a-s? Or d-u-f-is? Or d-u-f-f-a-s? Geez, where’s a 10-year-old whiz kid when you really need one?

I note that Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna is now a kitchen, where they’re cooking 10,000 meals a day for front-line health workers, their families and the needy. Just wondering: How will the Tranna media make that feel-good story about Drake?

So, the National Women’s Hockey League has added an expansion franchise in the Republic of Tranna and, not surprisingly, at least one of the Dream Gappers (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) couldn’t resist the urge to take a cheap shot at the team to be named later. That would be Liz Knox, who attempted to paint NWHL execs as uncaring, tone-deaf oafs for conducting business during the pandemic. “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies,” she snarked in a text message. Oh, for sure, Liz. No businesses should look ahead to the day COVID-19 is behind us. The NHL shouldn’t make plans to finish its season or begin the 2020-21 crusade. The National Football League shouldn’t have conducted its draft last week. And, hey, Roger Federer has no business talking about a marriage between the women’s and men’s pro tennis tours. All sports operations should just sit and twiddle their thumbs. What a pathetic take, but totally in line with the PWHPA hate-on for the NWHL, which refuses to get out of the Dream Gappers’ way.

Tim & Sid granted air time on Sportsnet to another Dream Gapper, Natalie Spooner, who informed the boys that the PWHPA will “keep fighting for what we deserve.” Part of what they claim they “deserve” is a living wage, but none of the Dream Gappers has ever explained how anyone can pay for it.

Second worst take on the NWHL franchise in The ROT came from (who else?) Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna.

“It has been officially announced that Toronto has been awarded an expansion team in the National Women’s Hockey League,” he scribbled without allowing his grey matter and fingers to connect. “What hasn’t been announced: the team’s name; the team’s logo; the team’s venue. And some of those things, if not all of them, can make an outsider rather skeptical and troubled about the future of this kind of endeavour. You don’t gain credibility by announcing a team with no name, no place to play, and no big-name players. When you have all that in place, then make the announcement. The press release referred to the expansion team as a ‘first class team of professionals.’ Time will answer that, but the new Toronto Whatevers are not off to a great start.”

Really? There’s no credibility without a team name, a team logo or big-name players? Like the NHL’s expansion franchise in Seattle? The one that was announced in December 2018 and, 16 months later, remains without a team name, a team logo or any players. Or like the NHL Las Vegas expansion franchise that was announced in June 2016 without a team name, a team logo or any players? Or like the Jets, who arrived in Winnipeg sans a team name or a team logo in 2011?

Or does that lack of “credibility” only apply to female shinny outfits with no name, no logo and no big-name players at startup?

Simmons is on record as saying Ponytail Puck is a “charade,” so he’d be wise to concentrate on Golden Boy Auston Matthews’ mustache, Phil Kessel’s hot dog stand and Drake’s clown act, and leave the women’s game to news snoops who actually care and know something about it.

This week in jock journalism…

Jason Bell of the Drab Slab wins the prize for best off-beat yarn, with his piece on a Charolais bull named after Chris Streveler, former Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback and party boy. Streveler the bull is 1,499 pounds of pure Western Manitoba beef on the hoof—about the same as the entire Bombers O-line—and the brute recently sold for a whopping $45,000 at the Nykoliation family auction. The way Jason tells the story, 50 bulls were sold that day for $335,000, or about the value of a Tier-II starting QB in the Canadian Football League…I monitored bylines in the Winnipeg Sun from last Sunday through Saturday, and here’s the scorecard: Postmedia bylines 32; Toronto bylines 21; Winnipeg bylines 15; lady rassler bylines (Natalya Neidhart) 1. I swear, if I ever win Lotto Max, I’ll offer Postmedia the $1 Cdn. that the tabloid is worth today and convert it back to a local newspaper with local stories and enough scribes to actually cover the city…The NFL’s remote draft received favorable reviews from Bombers play-by-play guy Knuckles Irving and Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab. Here’s Knuckles on Twitter: “Watching the NFL draft and once again it’s completely apparent that no sports entity in the world can deliver elaborately choreographed, brilliantly produced, dragged out, mind-numbing TV hype like the NFL. Man are they good at it. Gotta be impressed.” And here’s Mad Mike: “You’ve got to hand it to the National Football League. Real life handed the league a lemon—in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic—but they showed why they’re the world’s most popular and successful sports operation by turning it into glorious, refreshing lemonade.” I never watched one second of the production, so I’ll just have to take their word for it…Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star misses sports and feels guilty about it. I don’t miss sports and feel guilty about it. Hmmm. I never thought of COVID-19 as a guilt trip, but apparently that’s what it is.

Jesse Stone and Thelma, one of his many female admirers.

And, finally, I went on a Jesse Stone movie binge last week. Watched all nine of the made-for-TV flicks. Jesse, played by Tom Selleck, is a scotch-swilling, non-smiling wreck of a cop so hung up on his ex-wife that he talks to her long distance every night. Between benders, sessions with his ex-wife’s shrink, and trying to figure out how to work a cellphone, Jesse always catches the bad guys in Paradise, Mass. He probably drinks too much caffeine, but Jesse’s coffee breath isn’t a turnoff to the ladies in Paradise. Apparently the woman who can resist his dimples has yet to be born. Jesse always gets the girl. And I do mean always. Tall, short, black, white, young, old…every woman falls prey to Jesse’s dimples and must dine or do lunch with him. Even a nun, Sister Mary John! It’s quite silly stuff, really. So why do I like it so much?

Let’s talk about the Legend of Big Buff and a few other things on my mind

Yes, Dustin Byfuglien was a trip.

Whether the rogue rearguard was rag-dolling foes, or simply having a rollicking good time playing unharnessed pond hockey rather than the rigid north-south style preferred by coaches who frowned on freelancing, Big Buff was the whole nine yards.

Many years from now, folks will gather around the campfire and talk about him as some mythical creature, if they aren’t already.

They’ll speak in hushed tones, describing a man-beast on blades, untamed and as tall as a grain silo, as wide as the Canadian Prairies, hairy and swift and capable of Paul Bunyanesque feats of strength. And they’ll talk about his habitat, how he roamed from one fishing hole to the next, catching muskellunge and walleye and trout while the smaller and less adventurous of his hockey species grazed on golf courses or took root in front of their PlayStations.

“I was there the night Big Buff rag-dolled those two Vegas Golden Knights,” someone will whisper with due reverence. “Took one of ’em in each of his big paws and yanked ’em right out of a scrum. Shook ’em and dragged ’em around like they were pom-poms.”

“Same thing one night against Nashville,” another will say, nodding. “Took two Predators by the scruff of the neck, one in each hand, and shook ’em like salt-and-pepper shakers.”

The folklore will include tales of derring-do, rink-length dashes by this hulking figure of few words, a force the likes of which had never been seen on a National Hockey League freeze. There’ll be mention of an ice tub and Evander Kane’s clothing, and the sonic boom of a slapshot that served the Winnipeg Jets so well for eight winters.

And it’ll all be true, even if delivered with a side order of embellishment.

Big Buff truly was unique. He didn’t have a pregame meal like the rest of the Jets. They simply tossed him a salt lick. That’s what you do when a guy is 6-feet-8 (on skates) and 260 pounds, give or take a late-night snack.

I always thought the whole Big Buff shtick would have made for a great sitcom. He could have played himself, except he’d have had to speak, and we all know Big Buff has less to say than a street mime with a mouth full of cotton. It’s kind of tough to do a talkie when the leading man won’t talk. Still, he’s got that impish grin and his peculiar ways, which certainly became more peculiar in the past eight months.

Big Buff’s divorce from the Jets, official on Friday, is the part of the legend that didn’t produce any yuks.

More to the point, Byfuglien was robustly villainized by many among the rabble and some news snoops when he took a powder on the eve of training camp last September. The Jets wanted and expected Big Buff to play hockey, but his druthers were to gaze at his navel while squatting in an ice-fishing hut. His adios left Winnipeg HC in a penny pinch, in that his $7.6 million cap hit was still on the books, and he put them in an on-ice pickle, with a hole the size of his appetite on the right side of the defence. For that he was branded “selfish” and an ingrate.

Well guess what? Life happens. Flames flicker out.

If we are to believe the way Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff tells the tale, Big Buff’s passion for banging heads, quarterbacking the powerplay and goofing around with the guys had run its course. To paraphrase a Yogi Berraism: Buff came to a fork in the road and he took it. Family and fishing won out over Winnipeg HC and shinny.

Was the most popular of the Jets guilty of bad timing? I don’t think Buff was guilty of anything. His life, his timetable. But, sure, from the club and fan perspective he could have picked a better time to bug out. No doubt there would have been a different twist to Chevy’s off-season tactics had he known about Buff’s Tour de Navel before September, except the universe doesn’t always unfold as an NHL GM would like it to.

I don’t know if Buff plans to confirm or deny Chevy’s version of events now that the divorce is a fait accompli, but I’m guessing the big defender will let us inside his head about the same time Lake Winnipeg runs dry.

And, really, he doesn’t owe us the skinny on everything that went down since September. Nor is there any obligation for him to convince us that he isn’t a complete numbskull for walking away when there was a sizable chunk of change ($14 million) still on the table for his taking.

He leaves on his own terms (some of us can relate to that) at age 35, and we should just let it be part of the folklore.

I don’t really like to say I told you so, but sometimes I can’t resist the urge. So, I’ll remind you that this is what I wrote on Oct. 9 last year: “Retire or return, Byfuglien has excused himself from the Jets’ future. I mean, if he lacks the jam to join them for this crusade, I can’t imagine he’ll feel any differently a year from now. Let’s face it, he’s done as a useful member of Winnipeg HC.” So there, I told you so.

Byfuglien has been called a riddle. An enigma. A puzzle. But is he really that hard to figure out? Okay, he’s a hockey hybrid. He has ox-like strength and no one his size has any business looking so light on his feet while skating on two blades barely wider than a butter knife. But that made him unique, not complicated. He also did a lot of freelancing, which led to crippling brain farts that resulted in pucks in the wrong net. But that made him a defensive liability, and there’s an abundance of those players in the NHL. So what is it about Big Buff that’s so confounding? Well, he seemed to play the game with a wink and a nod and, often, with a kid-like glee. He shunned news snoops like they’d give him cooties, but he was aw shucks and warm and fuzzy with a fawning faithful. It’s been oft written and said that he marched to the beat of his own drum, and hockey players aren’t programmed to go their own way. But the only truly unusual thing he’s done is turn his back on $14 million. That doesn’t make him an enigma. It makes him real.

Quick question: Will the rabble think differently about Big Buff if he takes his eroding talents to another NHL outfit? Seems to me they might. The storyline will go from “he didn’t want to play hockey anymore” to “he still wanted to play hockey, just not for the Jets.” Which means some might add another descriptive to the big man: Phony. But I don’t see him playing again.

Over at the Drab Slab, there seems to be some confusion about Big Buff’s legacy, at least that’s the way I read Mad Mike McIntyre’s take on the matter. Here’s what he’s written:

Feb. 3: “A re-charged and rehabilitated Byfuglien was expected to be a pillar on the back end. Instead, his selfish actions created nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Unfortunately for Byfuglien, the entire soap opera has tarnished the legacy of one of the most unique athletes we’ve ever seen in the city.”

April 17: “Forgive me if I have a hard time painting anyone who willingly walks away from US $14 million as selfish,” and “In my eyes, no legacy has been tarnished here, nor should it be.”

So he’s selfish, but he isn’t selfish. He’s tarnished, but he isn’t tarnished. Mr. Flip, meet Mr. Flop.

Frankly, I doubt Big Buff gives a damn what jock journos think or write about him. Just like they don’t give a damn what he thinks about them or their scribblings. It’s a mutual Don’t Give A Damn Society.

Hey, check it out. My man young Eddie Tait has a book out, For the W, the story of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ gallop to the Grey Cup last year. If young Eddie’s doing the scribbling, you know it’s a top-drawer product, and I’m told he has a boffo editor in Rheanne Marcoux. Winnipeg FC radio voice Knuckles Irving of CJOB says the book is “sensational,” and that’s good enough for me. It sells for $54.99 and you can grab a copy at the Canadian Football League club’s shop or online.

This week in jock journalism…

I make an early-morning tour of newspapers and sports websites hither and yon, always searching for something fresh and different, and I found it in a Rob Tychkowski column. Rob’s with Postmedia E-Town, and he did a parody on the recent conference call between Donald Trump and various pro sports leaders. It’s laugh-out-loud funny…I never know what to expect when I call up the Winnipeg Sun, but some issues are more disappointing than others. Today, for example, there are eight pages of sports. Total number of local stories: 0. Total number of local bylines: 0. Total number of bylines from the Republic of Tranna: 4…No, I don’t think sports is important while COVID-19 has us in lockdown, but if you insist on doing it, do it right for gawd’s sake…Not sure what the dumbest story of the week was, but here are the candidates, all from the Drab Slab: 1) Andrew Berkshire’s graphs and numbers-crunching on the Jets’ odd-man rushes and counter-attack plays last season; 2) Mad Mike McIntyre’s top-10 goals in Jets 2.0 history; 3) Mad Mike’s suggestion that the entire NHL (all 31 teams) gather in Good Ol’ Hometown to complete the 2019-20 season sometime this summer. My vote goes to article No. 3. It’s just stupid.

And, finally, Scott Billeck went from the toy department to newsside for the Winnipeg Sun when COVID-19 took grip, and his work has been boffo. Bruce Arthur has done the same thing for the Toronto Star. I’m not sure how many sports scribes could pull that off, but Scott and Bruce are getting it done.

Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?

Let’s talk about a hockey junta in Ponytail Puck…newspapers telling the NHL how to spend money…bubble hockey for the Winnipeg Jets…Tranna’s “heroic” Golden Boy…the Zach attack on Raggedy Man-dy…Arrrrgoooos suck…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and there’s white stuff on the ground where I live, so I might have to make like Harry and Meghan and relocate…

I find myself thinking about Ponytail Puck this morning, because the Dream Gappers were back on the freeze for fun, frolic, faux games and more self-congratulatory back-patting on the weekend.

In case you missed it, and you probably did, the Dream Gap Tour of malcontents staged six $15-a-pop glorified and largely unobserved scrimmages in the Republic of Tranna and Vaughan, Ont., and the hundreds of empty seats in Herb Carnegie Arena brought to mind something American Olympian Kendall Coyne Schofield said recently about the state of women’s hockey: “It’s in shambles.”

Kendall ought to know, of course, because she’s one of the 100-plus Dream Gappers who refuse to lace ’em up in the National Women’s Hockey League, the sole shinny operation on this continent that actually pays women to lace ’em up.

They’d rather be a barn-storming novelty act, featuring riveting rivalries like Team Larocque vs. Team Kessel, or Team Bellamy vs. Team Daoust, or Team Spooner vs. Team Coyne, or Team Kessel vs. Team Bellamy, or Team Coyne vs. Team Larocque, or Team Daoust vs. Team Spooner. The Battle of Alberta it ain’t, but that’s what the women are selling, and most of them don’t seem to notice that few folks are buying.

True story: I called up the feed for a Sunday morning scrimmage and there might have been 50 people in the building. Later in the day, I checked out the final scrimmage from storied Maple Leaf Gardens: Barn half empty.

Dani Rylan

But cue the rose-tinted glasses.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum going,” insists Canadian Olympian Renata Fast. “We’re making this sport better.”

“The momentum we’ve gotten in the last couple of months has been amazing,” gushes Sarah Nurse, another Canadian Olympian.

And here’s goaltender Erica Howe, who’s also worn the Maple Leaf in international play: “Everything is just moving and pushing forward towards our goals.”

Well, just don’t let the Dream Gappers fool you into believing their crusade is about a better tomorrow for today’s 12-year-old girls. It isn’t.

The Dream Gap Tour is a scorched-earth agenda. Period.

Uppermost, they want commish Dani Rylan and her NWHL to vamoose, leaving the Ponytail Puck landscape charred and barren. Once they’ve bullied Rylan out of business, they’ll tromp on the NWHL gravesite and go hat in hand to the National Hockey League with the expectation of becoming a welfare case. Call it a hockey junta.

You think not? Lend an ear to Melodie Daoust:

“We’re not where we want to be, being treated like professional or having more hockey games. But the answer to all of that is we’re waiting for the NHL to step in.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield

And here’s Coyne Schofield: “I hope the NHL steps in one day, because they would be the perfect partner.”

Translation: Get rid of Rylan and it’s game on.

Except Rylan has made it abundantly clear that she has no desire or intention to take a powder, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made it just as clear that he harbors no desire to play the role of knight on a white steed and save the women from themselves.

It’s uncertain what part of that equation the Dream Gappers don’t understand.

Whatever, they soldier on, wearing non-descript practice jerseys and playing meaningless matches in front of family, friends, 12-year-old girls and all those unoccupied chairs at Herb Carnegie Arena/old Maple Leaf Gardens in The ROT, all the while being largely ignored by mainstream media (unless you consider a 10-second clip on Sportsnet Central and a 30-second hit on Sports Centre substantial coverage).

Ron MacLean

Odd thing is, the Dream Gappers actually have friends in the media, most notably Ron MacLean and his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone, who engaged in some pathetic pandering during a chin-wag with the aforementioned Erica Howe on Sunday.

“When you come out, you know, as a hockey fan, you see the names on the back of the jerseys, it’s like, it’s mind-blowing,” gushed a positively orgasmic Slone, who then swooned over Tie Domi.

“This is really interesting,” said the normally on-point Slone. “Just over the last few months, he’s really emerged as a big supporter of the women’s game. He was at the panel discussion on Friday night, he was at a game yesterday, so what does it mean to have people of that stature endorse (Ponytail Puck)?”

Oh, yes, that’s what every crusade needs: A former NHL goon who’s sole claim to fame was beating up people. Can’t have enough thugs backing your cause.

Gary Bettman

Look, if the Dream Gappers truly want to advance the cause of women’s hockey, they’d engage in meaningful dialogue with Rylan and, together, they’d come up with a viable business plan to show prospective investors (perhaps even Bettman) that a fulltime professional Ponytail Puck league can work. That it can pay its own way. Now that would be newsworthy.

But no. They’d rather take thinly veiled cheap shots at Rylan and indulge themselves in fantasy. You know, like talk of $50,000 to $100,000 annual salaries that Cassie Campbell-Pascall believes the NHL “should be” paying them.

Sorry, but Coyne Schofield is correct: The game is “in shambles,” and what went down in The ROT on the weekend did nothing to change that. It underscored how broken it really is.

As stated, Ponytail Puck has friends in the media. The Winnipeg Free Press editorial board, for example, tells us the NHL has “a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion.” Toronto Star opinionists agree, writing, “A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path.” Scott Stinson of the National Post tells us that “it is long beyond time that (the NHL) listened” to the women’s pleas, while Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post insists the women “deserve livable wages and health insurance.” Also, if Ponytail Puck disappears “the NHL is guilty by inaction.” I must say, it’s awful thoughtful of newspaper people to provide the NHL with financial advice even as their own business goes down the toilet. But tossing good money after bad is never a sound business plan, and until someone comes up with a better idea the women are on their own.

Is there a market for Ponytail Puck? Absolutely. Whenever it’s Canada vs. U.S.A., eh? Otherwise, not so much until they sort out the mess.

I note TSN has extended its working arrangement with Hockey Canada through 2033-34. Initial reaction: It’s nice to know there’ll be a 2033-34. Second blush: Hopefully between now and then TSN will actually find a time slot for some Ponytail Puck.

The Winnipeg Jets were pegged as a bubble team when the puck was dropped on the current NHL crusade, so why are so many among the rabble surprised that they are, in fact, on the playoff bubble? I still believe the local hockey heroes will qualify for Beard Season, but we probably won’t know for certain until the 11th hour.

If the Jets don’t start winning games at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, I sense we’ll soon be reading another “ruffled feathers” story.

Auston Matthews

Reason No. 6,379,292 why many of us in the colonies think the geniuses at our two national sports networks are a bunch of mooks is this headline on the Sportsnet website following the Jets-Tranna Maple Leafs joust last Wednesday: “Heroic effort vs. Jets officially puts Leafs’ Matthews in Hart Trophy talks.” According to essayist Chris Johnston, “The superstar centre willed his Toronto Maple Leafs to a point” and “you are starting to see Matthews exert his will in all three zones” and “against the Jets, he was the only reason the Leafs walked out of Scotiabank Arena with something to show for their night.” That’s all fine and dandy, except for one small detail—the Jets won the freaking game! Oh, and did I mention that Rink Rat Scheifele, not Auston Matthews, was la premiere étoile? But, sure, Matthews was “heroic.” Sigh.

Bench puppeteer Paul Maurice, aka Coach Potty Mouth, described the 3-on-3 OT session between his Jets and les Leafs as a “shit show.” You tell ’em, Coach PoMo. We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!

Interesting that the Leafs used the subway to get to and from practice last week. Except backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson. He was still under a bus somewhere.

This is not a fight.

Okay, when is a fight not a fight in the NHL? Apparently when Zack Kassian of the Edmonton Oilers drops his mitts, grabs Matthew Tkachuk by the scruff of the neck, tosses (by my count) 11 bare-knuckle punches, and ragdolls the Calgary Flames forward like a Rottweiler with a new chew toy. We haven’t seen a fight that one-sided since the Tiger Woods divorce settlement. But wait. It wasn’t a fight. Kassian was flagged for roughing and told to sit and stew for an additional 10 minutes, but not for fisticuffs. Well, if that wasn’t a fight, Albertans don’t vote Conservative.

Kassian had some special language for Tkachuk post-match, describing Raggedy Man-dy as a “pussy.” That didn’t put my knickers in a knot, but I’m guessing in this era of zero tolerance for sexist remarks it was greeted with much harrumphing in the NHL ivory tower.

After watching the Kassian-Tkachuk beatdown, Drew Doughty said: “Why the hell didn’t I think of doing that?”

Gotta like Montreal Larks new co-bankroll Gary Stern. When asked why he and father-in-law Sid Spiegel didn’t purchase the Tranna Boatmen when they were available, he said: “The Argos suck.” I don’t know if that will translate into a bump in ticket sales when the two Canadian Football League outfits grab grass next season, but I know news snoops will want their recording gadgets in proper working order whenever Stern speaks.

Is it just me or does anyone else find something wrong about playing tennis in Australia while the entire continent burns to a charred ruin?

Katie Sowers

The San Francisco 49ers will play for the National Football League NFC title next weekend, and it’s worth noting that one of their assistant offensive coaches is Katie Sowers, a woman and lesbian. So much for gays being a “distraction.” As Katie says in her new Microsoft Surface Pro 7 computer commercial, “I’m not just here to be the token female. I’m here to help us win.” You go, girl.

And, finally, according to Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times, news that Prince Harry and Meghan no longer wish to live off granny’s money and plan to relocate to Canada has “unleashed a frenzy of excitement” in the True North. We’re all “giddy,” don’t you know? After all, they’ll be “injecting some glamour” into our “bone-chillingly cold country.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d be more frenzied and excited if a couple top-pair defenceman would relocate to the Jets blueline.

Let’s talk about white privilege and giving voice to women and minorities in hockey media

As the discussion about the cult of shinny rages on, I find it most disturbing that some opinionists are just now discovering that hockey is not for everyone.

Consider, as a prime example, a recent Twitter exchange between Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star and a chap with the user handle I Drink And I Know Nothing:

I Drink: “My daughter loves hockey but the ‘boys only’ culture she has to endure is going to ruin it for her. The area is too small to have a girls league and if you want to play, you have to put up with the players and coaches who feel that ‘girls are too weak.’”

McGran: “Even today? I thought we were at least past this.”

Earth to Kevin! Earth to Kevin! You might want to have a meaningful chat with some of the women in your life, and I’m guessing they’ll suggest you haven’t been paying attention.

Seriously, 2019 is a moment in history, not a cure-all for what ails shinny.

I mean, sure, women are now being accepted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, more females are playing the game today, and there’s a pro women’s league, but to assume the ‘old boys club’ mentality has gone the way of the dinosaur, the dodo and home milk delivery is pure folly. Also remarkably naive.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

Meanwhile, one of The Athletic’s finest scribes, Sean Fitz-Gerald, has had an awakening of sorts, telling us that “hockey, increasingly, is not for everyone,” and a Calgary Sun editorial described racist language used by now-former Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters as “shocking.”

Come on, people, where have you been hiding? Like, I’d be shocked if someone discovered JFK and Marilyn Monroe were still alive and shacked up together somewhere behind the Grassy Knoll, but a hockey coach spewing racism or bullying a player? That’s a dog biting a man.

Hockey has never been for everyone, and anyone who’s spent more than five minutes inside the cult that is hockey shouldn’t be shocked by the disgusting language Peters used 10 years ago, when he and the target of his toxic tongue, Akim Aliu, were trying to claw their way to the National Hockey League.

Since L’Affaire Peters-Aliu became top-of-the-page news, pundits hither and yon have had their say, but have you noticed anything about the jock journos who’ve been given a voice?

That’s right. All white faces. Male white faces.

I turned on Sportsnet the other day and three white guys were talking about it. I turned on TSN and four white dudes were talking about it. I called up newspaper websites, and no one but white guys were writing about it.

Does that not strike you as odd? Also wrong?

Like, what in the name of Martin Luther King Jr. do male sports scribes and talking heads of white privilege know about discrimination based on skin hue? Nada.

Morgan Rielly

It was no different last March when Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was thought, mistakenly, to have used a homophobic slur during a match. Both TSN and Sportsnet trotted out the usual suspects for panel gasbagging about the evils of anti-gay language, and those usual suspects had one thing in common—all were heterosexual men. How in the name of Harvey Milk can heterosexual men in hockey—a culture that is deeply and disturbingly homophobic—speak with any level of authority on anti-gay slurs?

The simple answer is they can’t. Yet no gay man or woman was invited to participate in panel discussions.

So we now are having a yackety-yack about racism in hockey, with tentacles also reaching out to touch on bullying, hazing, sexism, misogyny and LGBT(etc.) matters, and not until Saturday night on Hockey Night In Canada did we finally hear from a gathering of black people in the game.

Imagine that. People of color discussing racism. And one of them, Sarah Nurse, is a woman. What a concept.

Ron MacLean, Sarah Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber.

Although inviting Nurse, Anthony Stewart, David Amber and Anson Carter to join the conversation, HNIC remains complicit in perpetuating the whiteness of hockey, something host Ron MacLean acknowledged in another discussion with black filmmaker Kwame Mason and singer/sports broadcaster Tara Slone.

“When the kids throw back to Hockey Night In Canada,” MacLean said, “as a general rule they’re all white, and if they’re not all white, the whites often have the speaking part, and it’s the same with our Hometown Hockey, we’re so proud of being inclusive but how many times do we get people of color to pick the three stars?”

He confessed that it’s “a real eye opener that I don’t recognize the structural racism or sexism that’s going on.”

That is an astonishing admission. How could MacLean not see and hear it?

Don Cherry and Ron MacLean

For gawd’s sake, he spent the past 33 years sitting beside Don Cherry’s horrible wardrobe, listening to the gasbag promote cement-head hockey while, at the same time, flailing away at Europeans, Russians, French guys, pinkos and anyone else whose hairy knuckles don’t drag on the ground. MacLean heard Cherry insist that female reporters don’t belong in changing rooms. Over at TSN, their idea of diversity on its many hockey panels is allowing Marty Biron to prattle on in his fractured English. He’s the token Quebec guy. Sportsnet gives the aforementioned Stewart a voice, but their panel pundits are 99.9 per cent white male.

Women, meanwhile, aren’t a minority group, but they’re treated like one. They aren’t allowed to join hockey panels, even though there are numerous former and/or current players from our national and Olympic sides quite capable of stringing together complete sentences. I’ve heard them do that very thing.

It’s no different in the rag trade. This country’s top jock columnists are white, heterosexual males. They simply cannot relate or speak to issues of marginalized communities. To see the light at the end of the tunnel, one must first step inside the tunnel, so good luck to them trying to deliver the kind of meaningful commentary that only a lived experience allows.

People are talking about L’Affaire Peters-Aliu, also Mike Babcock’s bullying of Mitch Marner, as “watershed” moments for hockey. Maybe so. We’ll see. But I hope it also serves as a swift kick in the butt for mainstream sports media as it relates to hockey.

It isn’t just white, heterosexual men who know the game. Women and minorities also have something to say. Let them roar.

Let’s talk about Auston Matthews’ moonwalk…sports scribes losing the plot…Cammi Granato’s new job…Puck Finn Unplugged no more…welcome back Connor…the Tranna Maple Leafs’ bonus babies…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers air defence…Keith Urban, JLo and Shakira…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and autumn leaves are falling and so are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…

It’s no surprise, really, that the flowers of jock journalism in this country have basically ignored Fayola Dozithee in L’Affaire Matthews.

They are, after all, men.

And because they’re men, they can’t relate to the sudden surge of fear a woman feels when riding in an elevator late at night and two men with booze on their breath and lust in their loins walk in. You…are…trapped. There is no escape. Anxiety swallows you.

They can’t relate to the discomfort and uncertainty of walking past a work crew on a city street and listening to lewd, crude comments about body parts and “wanting a piece of that ass,” all to the accompaniment of frat boy laughter. It feels like 1,000 spiders and worms are crawling over you.

They can’t relate to the sound of quickening footsteps on pavement or the sight of darting shadows while walking to a parked car after the last cocktail has been poured. Even once inside your vehicle, there is a slight paralysis of the heart and shortness of breath. You nervously glance into the rear-view mirror, holding your breath, during your entire drive home.

They can’t relate to being followed home by two shadowy dudes in a pickup truck after leaving work at 3:30 in the morning, and I doubt they’ve ever felt the need to carry pepper spray to ward off predators.

So why would they care about Fayola Dozithee?

Auston Matthews

It’s much more convenient to write and talk about the Toronto Maple Leafs captaincy, and whether or not someone should stitch the letter ‘C’ on Auston Matthews’ blue-and-white uniform top.

That, of course, has been the central narrative since we learned that Matthews was (allegedly) caught, on camera, with his pants down in the small hours of a May morning in Scottsdale, Ariz., after a bout of frat boy frolic and beer swilling that (allegedly) included the intimidation and mooning of Dozithee, a security guard.

Observing her alone in a parked car at 2 a.m., Auston and pals (allegedly) took to the notion of attempting to pile into the back seat of the vehicle. Hey, boys, wouldn’t it be some kind of fun to scare the bejeebers out of a lone woman at 2 o’clock in the morning? You know, just for some late-night giggles?

They were “drunk out of their frickin’ minds,” Dozithee told the cop who took her statement on the incident, adding that she asked them to “leave me the hell alone and they still thought it was funny.”

Ya, it’s a real knee-slapper.

Let me tell you something: There sure as hell is nothing funny about a police report that includes the terms “sex crime” and “public sexual indecency.”

Matthews wasn’t charged with either, but he is facing a disorderly conduct-disruptive behavior rap and, late next month, a judge will hear all about how the Maple Leafs golden boy (allegedly) dropped his trousers, bent over, and grabbed his butt cheeks just to let Dozithee know exactly what he thought of her roadside manner. After his moonwalk, he toddled off, presumably to sleep it off, with his trousers bunched about his ankles.

It’s been stressed that Matthews never dropped his drawers to show Dozithee the surface of his full moon. Well, how gallant of him. (Somehow I doubt that morsel of discretion will earn him brownie points with the good judge.)

In the meantime, the male jock journos pound away at Matthews, tsk-tsking him for his loutishness, his immaturity, his entitlement and his stupidity, and they make sport of the notion that he now has the most talked-about butt this side of Kim Kardashian’s oversized caboose (cue the butt jokes, Captain Underpants). But they make no more than token acknowledgement that, hey, the target of his hoorawing was a very vulnerable woman.

Steve Simmons

“More than anything,” writes Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, “the real crime here is both stupidity and entitlement.”

Like hell it is.

Being a doofus isn’t a crime. Neither is the advantage of talent and wealth.

The crime is intimidating and frightening a woman. It’s trying to force your way into her locked car at any hour of the day, let alone at 2 o’clock in the morning. It’s ignoring her pleas to desist and depart. It’s a misogynistic and sexist culture so ingrained that you believe you can use a woman as a late-night play thing and still get to be captain of the hockey team.

If the jock journos really want to know what this is about, they should go home and ask their mothers or wives or daughters or sisters how they’d feel if it happened to them.

Then they might begin to grasp what the “real crime” is.

Cathal Kelly and Bruce Arthur.

The pundits have devoted many words to Matthews’ age, as if to excuse his “prank” as the product of youth. You know, boys will be boys and all that rot. “It’s the kind of dumb, entitled, thoughtless thing that young men are prone to do,” wrote Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail provided this echo: “We all do stupid things. We are all especially likely to do stupid things when it is late, when we are drunk and when we are 22.” South of the Great Divide, Kevin Allen of USA Today made it a menage-a-parrots, writing, “His alleged behavior reads like a testimony to his immaturity.” Nice try fellas, but this kind of behavior isn’t age specific. Police rap sheets are full of names of men who have choked on their wild oats by assaulting, harassing and intimidating women, and a large percentage of them are older than 22. It’s a cultural shame, not the province of college-age scamps, so stop using a birth certificate as an excuse.

Dinosaur and great defender of hockey culture Don Cherry also played the youth card, telling Joe Warmington of the Toronto Sun that Matthews is “just a kid,” as if that makes it acceptable to disrespect, frighten and intimidate a woman doing her job. The Lord of Loud took it further, saying he’s “flabbergasted” that Dozithee had the bad manners to call the cops on Matthews and his accomplices. That’s typical of someone who has never been a woman sitting alone in a car at 2 o’clock in the a.m. Typical and pathetic.

Cammi Granato

How ironic that we learn about Matthews and his moonwalk the same week the Seattle expansion team struck a blow for inclusiveness by hiring Cammi Granato as a bird dog. Cammi, who’ll work in the pro department for the unnamed outfit (bet on Kraken), becomes the first female scout in National Hockey League history, so the culture is shifting. It’s just that it’s at a glacial pace. The NHL still has a long way to go in playing catch-up to the National Basketball Association, which now features 11 female assistant coaches, Teresa Weatherspoon of the New Orleans Pelicans being the latest to join that rank and file.

Puck Finn

I can’t say for certain because neither the Winnipeg Jets or Mike Liut asked me to proofread the contract Patrik Laine put his signature on the other day, but I’m pretty sure if we were to read the fine print we’d find this clause: “For gawd’s sake, shut the hell up!” Laine’s loose lips caused a bit of a stink a little more than a week ago, you’ll recall, when he muttered something about being saddled with a bunch of beer-leaguers as linemates. Little surprise, therefore, that Puck Finn’s initial sound bites after agreeing to a two-year, $13.5 million deal were rather muted. “What I can say is that this was a relief,” he told a Finnish news scavenger. “They already said that I cannot say more. They want me to speak on Monday (in Winnipeg).” Of course they do. That way the Jets can have a PR flack lurking nearby to monitor the filter between his grey matter and his mouth. They prefer a scripted Puck Finn to Puck Finn Unplugged.

Well, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and their bean counters got the job done, reeling in both Laine and Kyle Connor, although it took a bridge deal for Puck Finn to keep them under the salary cap. That isn’t the Jets normal way of doing business with their core players, you realize. The MO is to sweet talk the workers into accepting long-term, team-favorable contracts (see Scheifele, Mark; Ehlers, Twig, etc.), but, with the salary cap squeezing them tighter than a tourniquet, that wasn’t possible for both of their restricted free agents. Still, they managed to show their two prodigal 30-goal men the way home, and it’s game on, pending Dustin Byfuglien’s status. Winnipeg HC is a bubble playoff team with Big Buff, not so much without him.

I really didn’t think Connor or Laine would settle for less than the $7.15 AAV Arizona Coyotes have agreed to pay 14-goal scorer Clayton Keller, so in that sense both of the Jets wingers are bargains at $7,142,867 (Connor) and $6.75 (Puck Finn). I also didn’t imagine either guy would step in front of Rink Rat Scheifele at the pay window. Go figure.

So what month do you think Puck Finn will score 18 of his 30-plus goals this crusade? I’m thinking December.

There’s the Tranna Maple Leafs way of doing business and there’s the Jets way of doing business. When it comes to signing bonuses, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas tosses money around like rice at a wedding. It’s more like manhole covers for the Puck Pontiff and Chevy. Consider the salary bonuses for this season (from CapFriendly):

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’m done talking about millionaires’ pay envelopes.

I have something to say about that Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Hamilton Tabbies skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: On second thought, forget about it. Doesn’t Hamilton 33, Winnipeg 13 say it all?

On third thought, let me say this about that: If the Winnipeg FC air defence gets any worse, CEO Wade Miller will have to climb down from his ivory tower and place D-coordinator Richie Hall in a witness protection program. If he hasn’t already. In the past five quarters of football, the Bombers D has looked about as Grey Cup ready as Gwyneth Paltrow looks fat. I mean, Tabbies runny-nose quarterback Dane Evans has shown he knows his way around the pocket, but he isn’t my idea of Bernie Faloney, Joe Zuger or Danny Mac, so the Bombers D has no business allowing him to behave like those Ticat legends.

So, the Canadian Football League gets g’day guy Keith Urban for a halftime act at the Grey Cup game in Calgary, and the National Football League recruits JLo and Shakira for the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens. Based on hair, they win.

Keith Urban

I don’t know about you, but I have no problem with Randy Ambrosie ignoring all our fine Canadian talent and importing an Aussie to lip sync his way through the halftime gig. I just assume it’s part of Commish Randy’s global outreach program, something he likes to call CFL 2.0. Come to think of it, 2.0 is the number of Keith Urban songs I can name.

What’s the difference between Urban and all those foreigners that Commish Randy ordered every CFL team to sign under his 2.0 initiative? Urban’s the only one who’ll actually get to play this year.

I think Mr. Nicole Kidman is a talented guy. Plucks a mean banjo (but, no, he doesn’t wear a watermelon on his head) and I’m obliged to like him because there’s a little lady named Ashley in Keremeos, B.C., who’ll never talk to me again if I toss shade at her boy Keith. So get after it, Aussie boy.

In case you missed it, FIFA’s top female footballer of the year is a lesbian, Megan Rapinoe, and so is the top female coach, Jill Ellis, both of the World Cup champion U.S. National side. Their sexual preference shouldn’t matter, but as long as homophobia exists, it does matter. And Megan targeted that very topic, also racism, in a terrific acceptance speech.

And, finally, a tip of the bonnet to one of my longtime favorite reads, Kirk Penton, this year’s inductee to the Manitoba Sports Media Roll of Honour. Kirk, who earned his chops at the Brandon Sun and as the Bombers beat writer at the Winnipeg Sun, is now cranking out the good stuff on the CFL for The Athletic, and I’d say the Roll of Honour voters made a boffo choice.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Jets and their Sideshow Bobs…someone told someone something about Big Buff…Buffpubry…a Big Blue hair ball…the life of Reilly…Andrew Harris and the MOP Award…little green men in Area 51…Ponytail Puck…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s out with summer and in with autumn colors…

Coach PoMo and Sideshow Bob

Now playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Sideshow Bob and Bob and Bob and Bob.

Seriously, I was sooooo wrong about the Winnipeg HC training sessions.

I mean, this is what I scribbled last week: “There are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his ‘sparrows.’ Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about?”

D’oh! Double d’oh! Triple d’oh!

But, hey, how was I to know Puck Finn would decide to skip stones across the Atlantic Ocean and one of them would whack Bryan Little in the privates? How was I to know Big Buff’s retreat might have reached the point of no return and the club would put him on the suspended list? How was I to know that Puck Finn and Little would kiss and make up via text/phone, even though there really wasn’t anything to kiss and make up about? How was I to know that Big Buff would search for the meaning of life in a pub?

Who’s the producer of this drama, Jerry Bruckheimer? And who’s writing Coach PoMo’s material? Matt Groening?

It’s become a cross between CSI: Jets and Big Buff Does Moe’s Tavern.

Here’s the deal, though: The Sideshow Bobs have turned this into the most interesting Jets camp. Ever. Tis a shame they have to interrupt all the shenanigans by playing meaningless games on the ice.

Big Buff and his buddies engaging in Buffpubry.

On the matter of Dustin Byfuglien and his navel gazing at the crossroads of life, we’ve had confirmed sightings of the will-he-or-won’t-he rearguard in watering holes/eateries about town, and he’s been hobnobbing and making nice with the rabble. One of the minions who observed Big Buff in his at-ease habitat swears on a stack of empties that No. 33 isn’t ready for last call on his National Hockey League career, and his 260 pounds of girth will return to the Jets blueline as soon as they start playing for keeps. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more reliable source than someone who heard someone say something to someone in a gin joint.

The folks at Merriam-Webster added 533 words and meanings to their dictionary this month. One of them is “Buffpubry.” It means “to drink beer and schmooze during the deliberate avoidance of NHL training camp.”

What’s that you say? I shouldn’t make light of Big Buff’s play-or-quit quandary? I suppose you’re right. Retirement is a serious bit of business. Plenty to ponder for a 34-year-old man who’s already earned north of $50 million and has an additional $14 million on the table. If I was Buff, I know exactly what I’d do—go to a pub and drink about it.

The Toad In The Hole

You think I’m kidding? That’s exactly what I did when it came time to fish or cut bait in 1999. I found the answer I was looking for while sitting in solitude one afternoon in the Toad In The Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village. Left the rag trade shortly thereafter and, just shy of age 49, moved to Victoria, as poor as Second Hand Rosie with holes in her pocketbook. If anyone noticed my adios, they didn’t give a damn. Big Buff won’t be able to sneak away to count his millions so quietly.

Coach Grunge

So, here’s what disturbed me after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hacked up a hair ball the size of a mule’s arse on Saturday afternoon in Montreal: Head coach Mike O’Shea suggested his large lads “maybe underestimated” the Alouettes. Excuse me? The boys in blue-and-gold linen believe they’re so high and mighty that they looked at les Larks as pushovers? Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dumbest of them all?

Coach Grunge was right about one thing, though: The Bombers gagging on a 24-point lead in a shocking 38-37 loss was “sickening.” And I’m not sure a visit by the Hamilton Tabbies on Friday is the cure they’re looking for.

Andrew Harris

Yes, now that you mention it, I detected an extra helping of oomph in Andrew Harris’ giddyup v. les Larks. He certainly seemed to have a serious grouch on.

“Pissed off” is how Coach Grunge described his tainted tailback in advance of the skirmish at Percival Molson Stadium, and I suppose you and I would be wearing our grumpy pants too if squints in lab coats called us cheaters and told us to get lost for a few weeks.

So Harris returned to the fray with a chip the size of a totem pole on his shoulder pads and toted the pointy ball for 188 combined yards in Winnipeg FC’s losing effort, and he did so, presumably, without the benefit of anything that will attract the attention of lab techs tasked with the chore of squinting into a microscope in search of squiggly, little nasties in his pee.

The thing is, we have yet to determine the full and final fallout from L’affaire Harris.

He committed the crime (a trace amount of an illegal somethingorother was discovered in his pee in July) and he’s done the time (a two-game suspension), but the matter of the Canadian Football League’s year-end trinkets and whether Harris is now considered a pigskin pariah is yet to be determined.

This is normally an interesting debate and, as the leading lugger of mail in Rouge Football, Harris certainly has the bona fides to warrant consideration for the Most Outstanding Player bauble. In fact, I’d say he was the leading candidate BBP (before bad pee) and was likely heading to a landslide victory at the polls.

That all changed when the lab rats confirmed the Bombers tailback was (officially) a drug cheat.

A-Roid

Sounds so cruddy, doesn’t it? Drug cheat. Puts Harris in the same sinister sphere as Big Ben, A-Roid, Lance Armstrong and all the other needle jockeys. Difference is, a lot of people like me want to believe Harris when he swears there was something fishy in the supplement he took. It wasn’t poison fruit; someone poisoned the fruit.

Alas, that’s what they all say when caught with their hand in the juice jar, and I can’t imagine all the boys and girls on the beat are buying his denial. Surely a number of them will consider his yardage total ill-gotten. Question is, how many?

News snoops in Good Ol’ Hometown will be the first to pass judgment on Harris and, although we won’t hear from them until late October, I’m guessing some have already discussed/debated the merits and optics of choosing a guy branded a drug cheat as the Bombers MOP and/or most outstanding Canadian.

I don’t think it’s a tough call, though.

Forget that it would be a horrible optic. Awarding the highest individual honor to a player forced to sit down midway through the season due to a drug rap is just wrong.

This isn’t a moral dilemma about the ayes and nays of performance-boosting drugs. I think most people are guided by the same compass in that area, and they’re straightforward against. Thus, it’s a matter of belief. Do news snoops believe Harris’ story about a contaminated supplement? If so, they can vote him MOP with a clear conscience. If not, to vote him MOP is to excuse, if not endorse, performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s my understanding that Harris is a media favorite because he’s accessible, obliging and delivers quality sound bites. But how much does likability come into play in MOP voting? And should favoritism forgive him his sin?

John Bowman and Andrew Harris

Harris tells Ed Tait of bluebombers.com to “look at the facts” in his illegal drug case. “It wasn’t like they found a massive amount. I got tested earlier in the season and there was nothing and then 10 days later there’s a small trace. I’ll be tested for the rest of the season and there’s not going to be anything. It was one game where I had this trace in my system and it was probably my worst game of the year, too.” Harris repeated his “look at the facts” mantra to news snoops in Montreal after Larks D-lineman John Bowman called him a “cheater,” but he seems to be missing the point, which is this: Lab squints found a no-no substance in his pee. That’s the fact. It doesn’t matter if it was a “small trace” or a “massive amount.” Metandieonone was in there. It’s a banned substance. He got caught. Henceforth, suspicion and doubt will dog Harris the remainder of his CFL days, and it won’t be just John Bowman who’s skeptical of his achievements. That, not the two-game suspension, is the real punishment.

Mike Reilly, down again.

How in the name of Jackie Parker and Kenny Ploen has Mike Reilly made it through this CFL crusade in once piece? Angry large lads with malice in mind have beaten the poor man like a rug during spring cleaning, but the B.C. signal-barker is the last of the original starting QBs still standing. He really is the toughest dude in Rouge Football.

That was quite the crowd the Argonauts attracted to BMO Field for their skirmish with the Calgary Stampeders on Friday night: 9,819. Apparently the guy who won the 50/50 draw doesn’t know what to do with his $8.40 windfall.

Just wondering: Why is Mad Mike McIntyre selling subscriptions to the Drab Slab on his Twitter feed? Things must be grim at the broadsheet if they’ve got the scribes peddling papers.

Here’s the kind of stuff I like to see in a newspaper: Justin Emerson of the Las Vegas Sun asked members of the Golden Knights if they believe the U.S. government is hiding E.T. and some of his little green friends at secretive Area 51 in Nevada. Some of the answers are classic.
Head coach Gerard Gallant: “Ya, for sure. I’ve seen a couple in the stands.”
Alex Tuch: “I think we should be more working side-by-side with them instead of keeping them captive.”
Nate Schmidt: “There’s no live ones. Ever see Independence Day? That’s a factual movie.”

According to scientists, there’s been a dramatic decline in the North American bird population in the past 50 years, with a loss of 2.9 billion of our feather friends. If only something could be done to get rid of the Baltimore Orioles.

Talk to the ‘stache.

Some women are playing exhibition shinny in the Republic of Tranna this weekend. Apparently all the major media outlets planned to be there, except Auston Matthews scored a goal on Friday night so they had to interview his mustache.

Actually, Dave Feschuk of Toronto Star scribbled a piece on the women’s Dream Gap Tour a couple of days ago, and he only managed to squeeze three Drake references into his article. I’m quite uncertain what the Tranna Jurassics groupie has to do with women’s shinny, but apparently it’s compulsory for scribes in The ROT to mention Drake in every essay.

And, finally, I don’t think any of us expected Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to be pitching faux woo to one another at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, but the finest of our fancy skaters made their retirement official last week, and that’s sad. What a trip, though. For us.

Let’s talk about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and hold the tar and feathers…QB Matt Meh…mirror, mirror on the wall…The ROT’s big secret…TSN’s cleavage is showing…ugly on ugly…Button’s not down on Jets…big loss for the Dub…the Blue Jays dog-and-phony show…and others things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you know these are the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer when you’re walking downtown and see a naked woman sitting on a blanket in the middle of a four-lane street (true story)

Coach O’Grunge

Looking for symbolism, kids?

Try this: Mike O’Shea was wearing a tattered ball cap during a natter with news snoops on Thursday night.

That pretty much describes Winnipeg FC: Tattered.

But, no, not in ruins.

True, the suddenly shabby Blue Bombers limped home after a faceplant, a pratfall and perhaps too much down time for Tom foolery in Southern Ontario, but when I checked the tables this morning Coach O’Grunge’s group was joint leader in the West Division of a Canadian Football League crusade that’s become a crap shoot. And I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be cool with that.

What’s that you say? I’ve got the rose-tinted goggles on?

Not really.

Matt Nichols, whipping boy.

It’s just that I don’t get all bent out of shape in early August over a first-place outfit that grew accustomed to having its own way, only to discover that the other kids in the schoolyard aren’t quite so eager to turn over their lunch money anymore.

Trust me, I saw the flaws, first when the Bombers stumbled v. the Tabbies in the Hammer, then on Thursday night v. the previously laughable and mockable Arrrrrrgoos at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna, where Winnipeg FC piddled away a 20-point advantage like it was summer wages.

Matt Nichols, the starting quarterback who’s become the rabble’s favorite whipping boy again, was gawdawful in the opening act of the Bombers’ pilgrimage to the Golden Horseshoe, and the best he could do for an encore was upgrade to meh in a 28-27 loss to the Boatmen. Matt Meh would be wise to keep the ear plugs close by, because he’s sure to hear it from the peanut gallery when the Calgary Stampeders trot onto Football Follies Field in Fort Garry later this week.

Coach LaPo

The rabble might want to save a hoot and a holler for the guy who plots offensive strategy, though.

Unless there’s something about Nichols’ pitching wing that Winnipeg FC medics aren’t sharing with us, Paul LaPolice apparently has forgotten that a Canadian football field is 110 yards in length. I mean, Willie Jefferson can probably toss manhole covers farther than Nichols is allowed to fling the football. How often did Coach LaPo instruct his QB to stretch the field v. the Argos? Here’s a hint: It’s the same number of Grey Cup victories for the Bombers since 1990.

So, barring a Nichols owie that’s being kept on the QT, LaPolice’s play selection is dismal.

And now let’s talk about Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The lads went from swagger to sleepwalking v. the Argos in less time than it takes a Democrat to call out Donald Trump for one of his hot-take tweets. I don’t know if the Boatmen were boring them, but I’m guessing it was by Hall’s design that the Blue and Gold laid down like a picnic blanket as time expired in the first half. Thus, 20-nada begat 20-3 begat 20-10 and the Scullers had wind in their sales.

Anyone can see that’s dumb coaching—on both sides of scrimmage—but I’m still not prepared to pick up and run with the “off with their heads” mob. Not yet.

As much as losing to the CFL Sad Sack is an irksome bit of business, I can think of worse places for Winnipeg FC to be than atop the tables, so let’s save any talk of pitchforks and torches because we all know the season doesn’t really begin until the Labour Day weekend and, of course, when they break out the banjos a week later.

If Coach O’Grunge and his chief lieutenants haven’t figured it out by then, I’ll supply the tar and you can bring the feathers.

These are words I didn’t want to hear: Quizzed about Nichols’ play, Coach O’Grunge went all wishy-washy, saying, “That’s a question that has to be answered after we, unfortunately, look at the film.” I don’t know about you, kids, but I don’t need to see the film. The QB has quickly become Matt Meh, and we’ll be hearing the name Chris Streveler mentioned frequently between now and the Stampeders’ visit on Thursday. But I suggest you save your breath. It will take the jaws of life pry the football away from Nichols.

Andrew Harris

Another disturbing remark was delivered by running back Andrew Harris, whose otherwise boffo performance was scarred by a fumble that cost the Bombers points: “They wanted it more tonight obviously.” Really? Getting a W meant more to the bottom-feeding Boatmen than it did to a top-dog club looking to keep ground between itself and a closing posse? If that’s true, Bombers brass needs to pass out mirrors with this week’s paycheques.

During the E-Town Eskimos/Cowtown Stampeders clash on Saturday, TSN sideline talker Sara Orlesky reported that wounded QB Bo Levi Mitchell tossed 50 passes the other day, all of them 10 yards or less. Hmmm. Sounds like Coach LaPo’s game plan.

CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been known to puff out his ample chest and gab about transparency. So how about ordering the Argos to release the head count at BMO Field, Commish Randy. We know it’s as bad as a bear’s breath, but why is the number a secret?

We might have to call the folks at Guinness, because I swear TSN directors/cameramen set a world record for most closeup shots of young ladies wearing tank tops and other tight, skimpy summer attire during the Bombers-Boatmen telecast. Seriously. You’ll see less cleavage on an episode of the Kardashians. (Not that I watch Kim K and the girls as a rule, you understand, but it can be a hazard of channel surfing.) I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, though. All those attractive girls simply got in the way of the camera.

Chez

More honesty in broadcasting: A week ago, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RedBlacks joust as “remarkably ugly,” and Davis Sanchez was similarly unimpressed with the RedBlacks-Montreal Larks on Friday night, telling us, “I can’t lie to you, that was ugly, really it was.” I should point out that Chez was talking about the offensive play, not the Gizmo/Pinball-like kick returning of Devonte Dedmon that had breathless Rod Black gasping for superlatives.

Every time I see Dave Dickenson, I think of a yappy, little lap dog. Coach Chihuahua, the Calgary Stampeders sideline steward, is forever tugging on game officials’ pant cuffs and you just want to slap him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. But in today’s CFL that’s definitely a 15-yard penalty and probably a fine.

Craig Button

Shortly after the National Hockey League grab bag of awe-shucks teens and the initial free-agent frenzy expired, I went on a manhunt for a pundit who saw silver linings in the Summer of Chevy. Turned out that man or woman didn’t exist. But now along comes Craig Button, the self-proclaimed TSN opinionista, and he’s pumping Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s tires.

Button analyzed a five-item Chevy-to-do list:

1) Sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor: Hasn’t done it.
2) Trade Jacob Trouba: Been there, done that, received Neal Pionk in barter and that was a “really good move. Neal Pionk plays 22 minutes a night, he’s a good, solid player. Kevin Cheveldayoff did what was necessary.”
3) Get the names of tier II RFAs Pionk, Andrew Copp and Laurent Brossoit on contracts: Been there, done that, which was “very important.”
4) Improve forward depth: There are some “very good depth forwards”
5) Sign Josh Morrissey long term: Hasn’t done it.

Button summarized by gushing like an overflowing toilet: “To me this is still a very, very good team. This is still a very good team. This is still a very good team.”

I don’t know if Craig was trying to convince us or himself, but he’s mightily impressed that Chevy has managed to check off two of the five boxes, three if you consider Mark Letestu, Andrei Chibisov and Kristian Vesalainen “very good depth forwards.”

I beg to differ with Button, and I don’t care if hockey is the bread and butter on his dinner table and just a hobby for moi. The Jets, as of today, are not “a very good team.” There’s been a substantial downgrade on the blueline, and why are we still growing worry lines because of the iffy No. 2 centre slot? The good news, of course, is there’s plenty of time for Chevy to check off the most important box (Laine/Connor), plus amend his roster with player movement, before the puck is dropped in October.

The ol’ Greaser

Well, this is not good news for followers of the Dub: The best blog on all matters Western Hockey League is no more. Gregg Drinnan, the ol’ Greaser, is shifting gears from shinny to kidneys, and I really don’t know where we’ll find indepth intel on the WHL now. Greaser was the go-to guy and he leaves a big, empty space. But, hey, it’s all about priorities, and I know Gregg’s bride Dorothy had a kidney transplant a few years ago. He assures me that she’s A-okay, and that’s really what I wanted to hear after I caught wind of his change in direction. As someone with Stage 4 chronic kidney disease, I can relate, so nothing but kind thoughts to both of them. Meanwhile, Gregg has pulled the plug on his WHL blog, but not his Taking Note bit, whereby he does some good, old-fashioned scattershooting on Sundays. It’s good stuff.

Just an observation: Brooks Koepka is the alpha dog of golf, but I can’t recall anyone looking so bored while being so great. I sometimes wonder if he’ll need a wakeup call to play the back nine.

Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez

What do you call what’s left of the Tranna Blue Jays roster and management sugar-coating the value of trades that sent hurlers Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and others down the road? A dog-and-phony show.

What do you call what’s left of the Blue Jays pitching staff any time they face the Yankees or Red Sox? A three-dog night.

Cutting comment from baseball columnist Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star on Jays management: “The lies that get told around this place sometimes just have to make you laugh.”

Seriously, can anyone tell me why it’s so important that the Tranna Jurassics play on Christmas day? An even better question: Why is anyone playing hoops on Christmas day?

Similarly, why are our teenage boys playing high-level hockey tournaments during the dog days of August? Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky weren’t on the ice 12 months a year. Why should these kids be?

And, finally, the ladies will be bringing on the glam with their fancy bonnets and summer frocks for the 71st running of the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on Monday afternoon. It’s always a highlight on the River City sports calendar, and the ponies break from the starting gate at 1:45, with the Derby scheduled as the final gallop on a seven-race card.