About a suspension for Big Buff…homerism in the River City media…another Drab Slab sports columnist bites the dust…Paul Wiecek’s parting cheap shot at former colleagues…Winnipeg Blue Bombers getting lost in Winnipeg Jets hype…a hissing contest in Lotus Land…Rink Rat Scheifele the writer…coach PoMo is No. 10 with a bullet…and more hypocrisy in the media

A Sunday smorg on Turkey Weekend in Canada…

Dallas Stars 5, Winnipeg Jets 1…I guess the local hockey heroes will have to settle for an 81-1 record this season.

Since you asked, yes, Dustin Byfuglien should have been given the remainder of the night off after his attack on Dallas defenceman Connor Carrick on Saturday.

Big Buff

Got a kick out of the biased, homer reaction to the Byfuglien assault on Carrick. Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweeted “Atta boy Buff,” and Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press described it as a “careless cross-check.” As if. This was a brutal attack—from behind—on an unsuspecting, defenceless foe whose face was planted into the boards by Big Buff. Well after the whistle. Somehow I doubt Ol’ Lefty Westwood or McIntyre would pass it off as a meh moment had it been one of the Stars attacking, say, Josh Morrissey from the rear and driving his kisser into the woodwork. They’d be squawking about a match penalty, a game misconduct and a suspension, which Byfuglien deserves. But, hey, when you work for the broadcast rights holder or the official paper of the Jets, I guess you see a different game.

Speaking of the Freep, the Drab Slab chews up and spits out sports columnists like sunflower seeds in a baseball dugout.

If my scorecard is correct, Paul Wiecek is the fourth guy to either walk away from—or be pushed out of—the position since 2004, so once a newbe is on board it’ll be five in 14 years. That’s an alarming amount of foot traffic for such a highly coveted gig.

Now, I understand that the rag trade has changed greatly this century and the rats continue to scurry from what appears to be a sinking vessel (meaning the overall print business, if not the Freep). Jock journos across the continent have abandoned newspapers in favor of digital enterprises or they’ve defected to pro sports outfits, and the Drab Slab has been hit as hard, if not harder, than most sheets.

Here’s who the Freep has lost in recent years:

1) Tim Campbell (went to nhl.com);
2) Gary Lawless (went to TSN 1290 before the Vegas Golden Knights);
3) Ed Tait (went to bluebombers.com);
4) Wiecek (he’s going for a long walk on a beach).

That’s a big wallop. And it would seem the columnist gig in the Freep’s toy department doesn’t hold the stature it did in the days of Maurice Smith and Hal Sigurdson.

Ed Tait

Not at all surprised that Wiecek couldn’t resist the urge to take one final cheap shot, but I thought his target would have been one of his favorite whipping boys, Mike O’Shea and his “goofy shorts” or Jacob Trouba (“liar, liar”). Instead, he took aim at former colleagues Campbell, Lawless and Tait, each of whom defected from the Freep and now puts food on the table by working for pro outfits.

“I also won’t be taking a job as a shill for a sports team or league, as so many others now seem to do,” he wrote in his farewell column. “There is journalism and then there is everything else. Any former reporter who tries to tell you that having their paycheque now signed by the same people they are covering ‘really isn’t all that different’ is hoping to delude you. And if they actually believe that nonsense, then they’re deluding themselves, too.”

Can you say arrogant, kids?

Knuckles Irving

Interesting that Wiecek would dump on someone like Tait when longtime and greatly respected voice of the Bombers, Bob Irving, is saying this about the former Freep and Winnipeg Sun football scribe: “He is fair, objective and even critical of the team he works for when it’s warranted. A consummate pro and incredibly respected as such across the land.” That was after Tait had worked with Knuckles on CJOB’s broadcast of the Bombers-Bytown RedBlacks skirmish in Ottawa on Friday night. Irving’s description of Tait is spot on. Wiecek, on the other hand, is full of crap.

Jacob Trouba: One of Paul Wiecek’s favorite whipping boys.

When Wiecek first landed the columnist gig at the Drab Slab, I applauded his appointment. He’d been a terrific reporter on both newsside and on numerous sports beats, and he’s a very good writer. I quite enjoyed his early offerings. They were pointed, opinionated and seldom shy. Over time, however, his copy grew increasingly bitter, angry and deeply mean-spirited in tone. It had a haughty, elitist, my-stuff-doesn’t-stink vibe. He used his print pulpit for obscene and unrelenting attacks on Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach O’Shea and Jets young defenceman Trouba (he’s “a liar, petulant, a malcontent, impetuous, the biggest loser, reckless, greedy, phony, selfish, a problem”). They were personal in nature and totally unprofessional. He never disguised his complete contempt for bloggers, newspaper defectors like the aforementioned Campbell, Lawless and Tait (“flacks and hacks”), and professional athletes (“coddled millionaires”). Reading him in the past year, I often got the impression that he was merely “mailing it in.” He became a blogger with personal axes to grind, rather than a journalist.

So here’s what I’m wondering this fine October morning: With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers heating up as it cools down, will the rabble notice?

I mean, the frost is fresh on the pumpkin and these crisp, autumn days and nights are made for football. The kind of football we saw Friday from Ottawa, where the Bombers were required to work extra time before subduing the Bytown Redblacks, 40-32. It was remarkable, entertaining theatre that left you wanting more. And I expect the Bombers to deliver more of same in the remaining three assignments on their Canadian Football League calendar.

But here’s the rub: The boys are back in town.

That is to say the Jets juggernaut invites its first sacrificial lamb of the 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Tuesday, and my fear is that Winnipeg FC is about to be swallowed whole by Scheifele, Wheeler, Laine et al, plus an unfortunate bit of scheduling.

The Bombers’ next skirmish is Saturday vs. the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Should be a sizable head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. But then what? Due to a bye week, the large lads are out of sight and out of mind for 13 days, during which time les Jets have half a dozen home dates, including a visit from the Tranna Maple Leafs. I’ll be shocked if the Bombers are anything more than an afterthought by the time the Calgary Stampeders roll into town on Oct. 26. What will that game attract, 20,000? Less?

I hope I’m wrong because the Bombers are on a significant roll that would stretch to four successive Ws with a win over Gang Green on Saturday, so they’re worthy of our attention.

Jonathon Jennings

That’s a nasty bit of business going on between B.C. Lions general manager Ed Hervey and the agent for quarterback Jonathon Jennings. If you missed it, Hervey called out Jennings during a chat with Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancouver, saying: “Will he reach elite status? That’s in his hands. That comes down to how much time you commit to pre- and post-practice film work and working with the coaches. I’ve been around some good quarterbacks and they lived around the (practice) facility. The good ones usually do. No knock on Jonathon, but you rarely see him around the facility enough to give you any indication that he’s ready to take it to that level.” To which agent Bardia Ghahremani responded: “Jonathon is one of the first to arrive to work every day. Ed would know this if Ed weren’t one of the last.” Total burn. The end result will be Jennings getting a new postal code next season.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Enjoyed Rink Rat Scheifele’s column on the TSN website last week. Among other things, the Jets centre offered this nugget: “You haven’t done anything until you’ve won a Stanley Cup. When you get that close, anything short of the ultimate goal is failure.” Now, if one of the boys on the beat had written that, the rabble would be calling the news snoop a negative SOB, or something less flattering. But since it’s Scheifele, everything’s cool.

A tip of the bonnet to Coach Potty Mouth, Paul Maurice. The losingest coach in NHL history is now the 10th winningest coach in NHL history with 649 Ws. If nothing else, you have to admire the guy’s stick-to-itness. Coach PoMo should pass both Mike Kennan and Pat Quinn to move into eighth place before the current crusade is in the books.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s ABH in the Major League Baseball playoffs—Anybody But Houston. Can’t root, root, root for a team that hired a guy who beats up women.

And, finally, Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna hopped on a horse called Faux Righteousness this weekend, calling out Brian Burke of Sportsnet for “hypocrisy.” If anyone knows about hypocrisy, it’s Simmons. He dumps all over Ray Rice for beating up his wife, yet he writes about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s “dignity” and glorifies the champion boxer, even though he’s a convicted wife beater. He brands John Farrell a traitor for defecting from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Boston Red Sox, even though he defected from the Calgary Sun to the Calgary Herald to the Toronto Sun.

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About Paul Wiecek feeling the wrath of the rabble…the Toronto-ization of the Winnipeg Sun…missing Kirk Penton’s work…and talking heads dreaming of Genie

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

It occurs to me that a large portion of the rabble consider Paul Wiecek to be a complete doofus.

Matter of fact, Wiecek might have supplanted Paul Friesen as resident rabble-rouser among River City jock journalists, essentially because the Winnipeg Free Press columnist has the bad manners to critique the local sporting heroes.

It’s always about the dark clouds with Wiecek, isn’t it? Never the silver linings. He’s grand poobah of the Royal Order of Negative Nellies, right?

Except, here’s the deal: The greatest percentage of Wiecek’s scribblings focus on a hockey outfit that has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby five of six springs and has won exactly zero playoff matches, and a football team that has never failed to fail for more than a quarter century. The shinny side is coached by a smooth-talking man destined next winter to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history, and the gridiron gang is coached by a blood-and-guts guy who, four years in, has a 25-34 record and still makes the boneheaded decisions of a Canadian Football League fledgling on training wheels.

And what? You expect glad tidings from Wiecek?

Look, when Mike O’Shea continues to cough up hair balls and then tells you that the cow did, in fact, jump over the moon and the dish really did run away with the spoon, you don’t look the other way and pretend it’s like a tree that falls in the forest. You call him on it. Which is what Wiecek does. Repeatedly. Because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach repeatedly trips over his own feet and tells fairy tales.

The most recent example of Wiecek’s slicing and dicing was delivered in the wake of a ghastly blunder by O’Shea in the Bombers’ 45-42 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night in Vancouver. At the most inopportune time, Coach D’oh thought it a swell idea to give his kicker, Justin Medlock, the green light to hurl a pass instead of punting the football, a gob-smacking decision that Wiecek described as “a monumentally stupid play call.” I thought he was being kind.

Paul Wiecek

But what’s the first reader comment under the article?

Give it a rest Wiecek.”

Others showed Wiecek some love. This time. In general, the fangirlz and boyz who live in a rose-colored tea room usually skewer him when he pokes and prods their sacred cows in cleats or on skates. He’s “bitter” and “garbage” and “stupid” and “a pillar of negativity” and “anti-Jets” and “sour grapes” and “meaningless” and “Jekyll and Hyde” and he should “just go write for the National Enquirer.”

Look, I don’t always agree with what Wiecek writes. I thought he was terribly unfair in his commentary about Jacob Trouba when the young Winnipeg Jets defenceman went AWOL during the club’s training camp last autumn and bailed on the first month of the season. The criticism seemed creepily personal, which is never a good thing. He appears to harbour a peculiar mania for the matter of pro sports franchises limiting access to mainstream media and, instead, delivering their propaganda via in-house flacks, a number of whom have fled the falling house of cards that is the rag trade for the security of a gig with an NHL or CFL club (hello Ed Tait, Tim Campbell and Gary Lawless, all late of the Freep). And describing talented scribes like Tait and George Johnson as “hacks” because they went to the other side was hopelessly ignorant.

Wade Miller

Overall, though, Wiecek does solid work and, should the mood and need strike, he’s not shy about tossing scud missiles in the direction of movers and shakers in ivory towers, like Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Bombers CEO Wade Miller, who seems to have built himself a nice, little fiefdom in the club’s bunker at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

More than once, Chipman and Miller have declined interview requests from Wiecek, which, of course, only makes them come across as petty little men and tells me he’s doing his job.

I like his work (mostly) and I doubt the slings and arrows from the rabble cause him a moment of shuteye at night, nor do I think they have any influence on the way he goes about his business. If the Jets and Bombers insist on stinking, he has no choice but to say they stink.

It’s a shame what the Postmedia chain has done to Winnipeg Sun sports. I swear there are days when I’m convinced I’m reading the Toronto Sun, because there’s more Republic of Tranna tripe than local content. This morning, for example, I called up the Sun and there were six articles on the Toronto Blue Jays, two on Toronto FC, and one on the Toronto Raptors on the sports front. Meanwhile, I thought Paul Friesen was the main sports columnist, but apparently he’s not. It seems to be the Tranna-centric, Argonauts tub-thumping Steve Simmons, whose shtick is crapping on everyone and everything including Winnipeg. It’s not just a shame, it’s a sham.

I used to enjoy the weekly CFL Blitz feature in the Sun. Kirk Penton did a boffo job. The article was full of anecdotal insight, insider tidbits and biting, caustic commentary from coaches and executives across the land. Alas, Kirk has decided to give another side of life a try and, since his departure, CFL Blitz has basically become a collection of items that induce yawns.

Much fawning on display in the Republic of Tranna on Tuesday, with struggling tennis player Genie Bouchard in the 416 for some face time with the talking heads on The Fan 590 and Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid. Genie, of course, has more glam than game, which no doubt explains why Elliotte Friedman was swooning. I thought he was actually going to ask her for a date. Tim and Sid were captivated by Her Long-Leggedness, as well, and spent precious little time talking about Genie’s tennis, which is not good. She’s been a first-round loser in eight of 11 events since leaving Australia, she’s beaten just two world top-20 players, and her season record is 11-14. But, hey, she has cover girl good looks, so why let the facts get in the way of all that long, blonde hair and those smoky eyes?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s playoff guarantee for the Winnipeg Jets…Festus Haggen running the Vancouver Canucks…Genie Bouchard’s hissy fit…the heavyweight boxing alphabet…and those darned kids are playing on Steve Simmons’ lawn again

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Interesting exchange between John Shannon of Sportsnet and Kevin Cheveldayoff before the ping pong balls went bouncy-bouncy at the National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna.

Shannon: “I mean this sincerely, I don’t wanna see you (here) next year.”

Chevy: “I’m not coming back.”

I suppose we can read that light-hearted bit of good, ol’ boys banter one of two ways:

1) Chevy, after half a dozen years of generally (mis)managing the Winnipeg Jets, is telling the faithful that there shall be meaningful games played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. That’s right, playoffs. You have his guarantee. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s iron-clad.

Or…

2) Should the Jets fail to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament, Chevy is telling Jets Nation that he no longer will be generally (mis)managing the Jets. They’ll kick him to the curb.

Which of the two is it? Well, I don’t think Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman is inclined to kick Chevy anywhere, although a good, swift boot to the seat of his britches might serve a useful purpose. So, he’s guaranteeing us that the Jets will not be a lottery team next year.

Trouble is, nobody will hold him to it.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! This is your weekly reminder about how to build a playoff team. If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton McDavids’ postseason run, you’ll know they’ve gotten game-winning goals from Zack Kassian (two), David Desharnais, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev. All but Slepyshev were acquired in trades, Chevy. Oh, and that goalie who stole Game 2 for the McDavids in their skirmish with the Disney Ducks? That’s right. Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade, as well. But, hey, you just keep drafting and doing nothing else, Chevy.

Why do I keep reading and hearing that it will be an upset if the McDavids knock off the Ducks? Edmonton was a mere two points in arrears of Anaheim at the close of regular-season business, they racked up the same number of Ws (regulation/overtime), and their goal differential was 12 better. So how would that qualify as an upset?

Festus Haggen and Trevor Linden: Separated at birth?

That hot mess that is the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t look any prettier after they dropped three spots, to No. 5, in the draft lottery, but it won’t prevent Trevor Linden from peddling his flock a snootful of hooey. “We could get a better player at five than the top two, and that’s what we’re focused on,” the Canucks chief cook and bottle washer said. “We’re thinking about the entire draft. We’ll have six picks in the top 120 and we’re going to add to our group of prospects. That’s the message to our fans.” Which is like trying to sell mosquitoes to Winnipeg.

Yo! Trevor Linden! It’s one thing to look like you’re in the fourth month of a hunger strike, but what’s with those scruffy chin whiskers? If someone were to stick a tattered, old cowboy hat on you, we’d be looking at Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke.

Would I be out of line if I suggest someone other than Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world? I mean, I don’t see anyone better than Erik Karlsson these days, and the Ottawa Senators captain is playing on a foot with two hairline fractures.

I see our girl Genie Bouchard had herself quite the hissy fit when the Sharapova Shriek returned to the Women’s Tennis Association tour this week after 15 months of shriek freedom. Maria Sharapova, of course, had been in exile for using the banned substance meldonium, and the return of Her Royal Blondness as a wild-card entry in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart, Germany, inspired Genie to label the former world No. 1 a “cheater and…I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.” Geez, who knew Genie Bouchard was still on the circuit?

Maria Sharapova

Yo! Genie and all you other ladies (hello, Caroline Wozniacki) who would have Sharapova grovel! Listen up. Serena Williams is away having babies. The Sharapova Shriek had been silenced. You have no star power without them. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So give your heads a shake. Of course event organizers want the tall Russkie in the main draw. That’s why she was offered wild-card entries at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. She sells. It’s a no-brainer. Will she receive a free pass into the French Open at Roland Garros? We’ll know mid-May. In the meantime, the WTA needs her as much as she needs it.

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title bout was the biggest sports story of the day. Heavyweight champion of the world was the most exalted position in all of jockdom. Today? Dispatches on the title tiff between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London didn’t even make it on the front page of the Sportsnet website (I guess they couldn’t work a Toronto Maple Leafs angle into the story) and it made the bottom of the page on TSN’s site. For the record, Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) stopped Klitschko in the 11th round and he now owns two of prize fighting’s alphabet belts—the IBF and WBA. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champeen and Joseph Parker holds the WBO title. No word on the three champions going dukes up to sort out boxing’s alphabet, but if they do fight I’m sure Sportsnet won’t care.

Grandpa Steve Simmons is in the Bow Wow Bungalow again.

Oh, dear me, those pesky kids are playing in Grandpa Steve Simmons’ front yard again. The Postmedia columnist tweets: “Shouldn’t playoffs be enough to get people excited? Why this need for blaring noise and screaming half hour before Raptors game?” Shhhhhh. You kids keep it down out there! Grandpa Stevie has to get in his nap before tipoff.

Just wondering: Is there a Canadian Football League rule that Chris Jones hasn’t broken since taking over Gang Green. The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mr. Everything has been levied fines totaling $116,500, which could buy him a backup quarterback, a rookie O-lineman and a fine to be levied later.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

 

About a guard dog for Puck Finn…the goalie blind Winnipeg Jets…soccer stupidity in hockey…a classy King…classy curlers…and adios to a classy Ken Fidlin

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

puck-finn2As Dire Straits advised us in the early 1990s, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. We know which one Patrik Laine was on Saturday afternoon, and let’s agree that the Winnipeg Jets rookie extraordinaire was the victim of a clean hit. Not clean-ish. Clean.

If you can’t agree, please proceed to another blog, because I’m not prepared to debate it.

I will, however, happily engage in a verbal to-and-fro re the suggestion that the Jets ought to send an SOS to former guard dog Anthony Peluso.

I mean, seriously? Anthony Peluso?

Yes, some among the rabble think it a swell idea to insert Peluso’s bare knuckles into the Jets’ lineup to discourage ruffians like Jake McCabe of the Sabres from taking liberties with the likes of Puck Finn, as he did in Buffalo. Well, sure. And some people also believe Donald Trump in the White House is a swell idea.

Look, it’s bad enough that a roster spot is occupied by Chris Thorburn, a loyal foot soldier whose sole purpose when not munching on popcorn appears to be dropping his hockey mitts and wrestling a foe of equally limited skills for 30 seconds or less. Unless this is 1975 and the Broad St. Bullies are pillaging the National Hockey League, adding another no-talent thug who would be tethered to the end of the bench or banished to the press box is not a wise use of personnel.

So no. Anthony Peluso is not the answer.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

As one who has suffered multiple concussions (10 at last count), I know what a dark and nasty place La La Land can be. The nausea, the dizziness, the ringing in the ears, the headaches, the imbalance, the forgetfulness…horrible. I was first concussed at age 13. Got hit in the head by a baseball. When I awoke in St. Boniface Hospital, the kid in the bed next to me had control of the TV. I asked him to put on Hockey Night in Canada. It was mid-July. I thought it was winter. I hope Laine knows it’s winter and there’s plenty of hockey to be played. More to the point, I hope Puck Finn doesn’t miss too much of it.

Almost lost in the hue and cry that arose after McCabe sent Laine to La La Land was the numbing reality that the Jets coughed up a huge hair ball in losing 4-3 to Buffalo. Ahead 3-1 less than 20 minutes from time, they gagged and it didn’t help that they received more minor league-level goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. I’m not prepared to close the book on Hellebuyck, but I do find it odd, also annoying, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs can recognize blue-chippers up front (the Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele, as an e.g.) and on the blueline (Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey) but they continue to be goalie blind. Should it really take six years to find a legitimate starting goaltender?

Interesting to note that Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t discuss the NHL standings with his workers. “I don’t talk about the standings and I don’t talk about any of that in the room,” he says. “It’s on a board somewhere and they can look at it if they like.” Perhaps that explains their lack of urgency some nights.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben, right, reacts after being tackled by Brazil's Michel Bastos, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
We can do without this and the shootout in hockey.

At the risk of sounding like Don Cherry, it occurs to me that Europeans have brought two things to hockey—soccer’s twin evils of diving and the shootout. Yes, of course, some hockey players (hello, Bill Barber) were acting like Italian footballers in their death throes before the great European wave arrived on our shores, but it got so bad that the NHL was motivated to pass anti-diving legislation in an effort to nip it in the bud. As for the shootout, I’m sure most of us would agree that it’s the devil’s handiwork. Under no circumstances should the gold-medal match at the World Junior Championship be determined by gimmickry. The Canadian and American kids put on a boffo show the other night, and they deserved better than soccer stupidity to decide the issue. I mean, it’s not like anyone was in a hurry to leave the rink.

So nice to see Dave King acting like a kid on Christmas morning after Canada’s success at the recent Spengler Cup tournament in Davos. King, who was Luke Richardson’s associate coach at the Swiss event, is among the finest men I met in 30 years of covering sports in mainstream media. He was always classy, always honest and always obliging. No doubt he still is.

Speaking of classy, former world champs Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Ryan were two of the reasons I enjoyed working the curling beat back in the day, and now their names are in the news again. Only this time, it’s their kids chasing glory. Laura Burtnyk and Hailey Ryan teamed up to win the Manitoba Junior women’s title, while J.T. Ryan skipped his team to the men’s crown. The kids will be wearing the Buffalo on their backs at the Canadian championships later this month in Victoria, and it’s never wise to bet against a Manitoba outfit at a national curling event. Especially if their names are Burtnyk and Ryan. Go get ’em, kids.

Ken Fidlin
Ken Fidlin

Another good one has left the toy department. That would be the now-retired Ken Fidlin, longtime jock journalist with the Toronto Sun. Fids and I arrived at the Sun at the same time, in late 1980, after his Ottawa Journal and my Winnipeg Tribune both ceased operation in the same 24-hour period. I bailed after a year and a half in the Republic of Tranna, moving to Calgary and then back to Pegtown, but Fids never left and the Little Paper That Grew was always better for it. He’s a terrific writer and an even better person.

Postmedia truly has done a nasty number on sports writing in Canada. Fidlin joins a lengthy parade of quality writers and people who have been bought out, forced out or walked out on the newspaper chain in the past 12 months—George (Shakey) Johnson, Cam Cole, Bill Lankhof, Dave Stubbs, Randy Sportak, John MacKinnon, Joanne Ireland and Kirk Penton, among others. I suppose Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun will be next on the chopping block. Sad.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing crap about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

About sports and social issues…women in the Hockey Hall of Fame…sad days in America…that left-wing kook Babs…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

I have often wondered why more sports scribes don’t tackle societal issues, yet, when they do, I wonder why they bothered.

Consider Michael Grange of Sportsnet, as an e.g.

Grange penned a piece in the wake of last week’s United States presidential election that sends Donald Trump to the White House, and it included this comment: “Sports have generally been perceived as being ahead of the general population on many social issues. While not always elegantly, the major U.S. sports leagues have pushed ahead on inclusivity and tolerance.”

I assume Grange wrote that with a straight face, which is ironic because it’s so laughable.

I mean, hands up anyone who actually believes that major professional sports has been “ahead” of the curve in areas such as domestic violence, gay rights, gender equality, drug abuse, drunk driving, etc. Hmmm, I don’t see any hands. No surprise.

Our major professional sports leagues, all of which are for and about men, have been a leader on these issues like Lady Gaga is a middle linebacker.

Let’s use sexual orientation as an example. Openly gay men can be found in every segment of society, from our military to our music, from our law courts to our classrooms, from our newspapers and our TV networks to our amateur playing fields and arenas. Yet how many openly gay men play in the National Hockey League? The National Football League? The National Basketball Association? Major League Baseball? Zero.

Julia Lemigova and tennis great Martina Navratilova on their wedding day.
Julia Lemigova and tennis great Martina Navratilova on their wedding day.

Meantime, there are out lesbians performing in the Women’s NBA—Elena Delle Donne, Janel McCarville, Brittney Griner, Seimone Augustus, etc. Professional women’s tennis has featured many out lesbians, including legendary players such as Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova, as well as Grand Slam champions Amelie Mauresmo and Hana Mandlikova. And that’s not to forget transgender pioneer Renee Richards. The Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour included openly gay Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan, Karrie Webb, Jane Geddes, Rosie Jones, etc. Canada’s national women’s hockey team has included lesbians Angela James, Sarah Vaillancourt, Charline Labonte and Jayna Hefford. The rosters in women’s soccer, here and abroad, are pockmarked with open lesbians.

Major men’s professional sports leagues and peripheral affiliates like tennis and golf are, in fact, decades behind society and women’s pro and amateur sports in the acceptance of gays. I doubt they will catch up in my lifetime. So much for inclusivity.

Tolerance? Yes, the NFL exercises tolerance, but in an ass-backwards manner. That is, it tolerates the use of a racist nickname for one of its member teams, the Washington Redskins. MLB tolerates the use of Chief Wahoo, a red-skinned, clownish, crazed-looking Indian as a logo for one of its member teams, Cleveland.

Grange failed to provide examples of how sports has been “ahead of the general population on many social issues,” which leads me to assume he was lazy or couldn’t think of any. And his use of the word “tolerance” shows a lack of understanding of marginalized groups. My gay friends don’t seek tolerance, they seek acceptance.

On the matter of minorities, Damien Cox has used his Toronto Star soapbox to deliver a lament about the lack of female presence in the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s a wellborn thought, to be sure, but Cox misses the mark when he implies it was a stretch for this year’s selection committee to induct Sergei Makarov ahead of women like Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Manon Rheaume. The committee “showed some genuine creativity in bending over backwards to honour men over women, dusting off the portfolios of former goaltender Rogatien Vachon and one-time Calgary Flames winger Sergei Makarov,” is how Cox put it. Nonsense. Makarov is a two-time Olympic champion, an eight-time world champion, a two-time world junior champion, and he was named to the International Ice Hockey Federation centennial all-star team, along with Wayne Gretzky, Valeri Kharlamov, Borje Salming, Viacheslav Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak. Campbell-Pascall had a commendable international career, but that was largley in a two-country competition. As for Rheaume, she was Phil Esposito’s public relations sideshow in Tampa. Yes, that experiment certainly raised the profile of women’s hockey, but that was of Espo’s doing mostly.

Cox also points out that 28 men and two women have been elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the past six years. “So much for even a semblance of equality,” he writes. Cox just doesn’t get it. It isn’t about gender equality or a female quota. It’s about performance and contribution. And, given the female game’s relative newness on a global scale and its overall lack of competitive depth, the pool of possibility is quite shallow for the women. Certainly someone like Fran Rider qualifies for the Hockey Hall of Fame for her contribution to the women’s game. She’ll get in. But not before Teemu Selanne, and it won’t be because he’s a he and she’s a she.

At least one sports writer believes Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election is sadder than the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
At least one sports writer believes Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election was a more mournful day than Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

From the department of “Does He Actually Think Before He Writes?” I give you anti-Trumpster Steve Simmons of Postmedia. On the night our neighbors to the south elected Donald Trump as their 45th president, the Toronto Sun sports scribe tweeted this gem: “The saddest night in American history.” Sigh. Let’s play that Sesame Street game: Pearl Harbor. JFK. 9/11. Katrina. Challenger. Kent State. Trump elected president…which one of these doesn’t belong?

Speaking of speaking without thinking, Hockey Night in Canada blowhard Don Cherry also used his Twitter account to weigh in on the presidential election: “The left wing kook entertainers and the left wing weirdo’s (sic) in the media in the U.S. have said if Trump wins the presidency they will move to Canada. Please, we have enough of these type here now.” Yes, by all means Grapes, let’s keep “kook entertainers” like Barbra Streisand out of Canada. She might do something radical. Like teach Justin Bieber how to sing, act and behave properly in mixed company.

Why are so many Canadians feeling misguidedly smug about the American election? Wasn’t it so long ago when they voted a man many consider to be a xenophobe, a racist, a protectionist, a bigot, a misogynist and a homophobe as the seventh greatest Canadian in history? Yup. That man is Don Cherry.

Yes, now that you mention it, this is an interesting world in which we live. I mean, unvarnished, unscripted, misogynist “locker room talk” gets Billy Bush fired from a TV show and it gets Donald Trump a room in the White House. Go figure.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About Evander Kane…Winnipeg Jets coach Pa Ingalls…sugar-coating a loss…intimidating the media…Cubs win, Cubs win…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Evander Kane fought the law and won.
Evander Kane fought the law and won.

Okay, what’s the over/under on Evander Kane? One month? Two months? Or can he go the distance and keep his nose clean for the next six months, thus escaping the long arm of the law?

I you missed it, old friend Evander fought the law and won this week in upstate New York, where it seems that men physically assailing women—i.e. grabbing a fistful of their hair, grabbing them by the throat, grabbing them by the wrist—is such a common occurrence on the Buffalo bar scene that prosecutors react with all the scorn of a parent scolding a child for failing to wash behind his ears.

This type of activity in bars occurs every weekend,” Erie county District Attorney Michael Flaherty said quite ho-humishly when explaining how it was that Kane walked on charges of misdemeanor trespass and non-criminal violations of harassment and disorderly conduct on Monday.

It didn’t matter that surveillance evidence from the Bottoms Up bar security cameras showed images of Kane “in contact with other patrons, grabbing a girl by her hair, grabbing another girl by her wrist and then scuffling with some bouncers as they try to escort him.” According to Flaherty (he apparently overlooked or ignored the part of the security film that showed Kane wrapping his hands around a woman’s throat), this behaviour “could be described as arrogant, surly and boorish, but at the end of the day what he did did not rise to the level of criminal offence.”

(Yes, I suppose that begs this question: What the hell does pass for a criminal offence in Buffalo?)

Whatever, Kane, the former oft-injured, underachieving, controversial Winnipeg Jets winger and now an oft-injured, underachieving, controversial Buffalo Sabres winger, received a get-out-of-jail-free card. There was, mind you, a caveat: He must straighten up and fly right between now and March 30, otherwise some big-bellied sheriff will stir from his boys-will-be-boys posture and revisit Kane’s improprieties on that late June night at Bottoms Up.

Assuming Kane keeps his hands to himself and eats all his vegetables for the next six months, Lady Justice will turn a blind eye to his misdeeds and pretend they never happened. You know, sort of like what the National Hockey League is already doing.

Well, good luck with that.

I mean, keeping one’s name off a police blotter for half a year wouldn’t be a burden for 99.99999 per cent of 25-year-old men in North America, but we’re talking Evander Kane here. Party boy. Loads of loot. Doesn’t much give a damn what you or I or someone wearing a tin badge think or say about him. If he wants to jaywalk, he’ll jaywalk. If he wants to spit on a city sidewalk, he’ll unload a loogie. And if he wants to grab a woman’s hair in a bar, he’ll have a mitt full of splint ends.

But, hey, he promises to eat all his veggies for the next six months, which apparently is good enough for the Buffalo legal system, the Sabres and the NHL.

Alexander Burmistrov, aka Paul Maurice's adopted son.
Alexander Burmistrov, aka Paul Maurice’s adopted son.

I have a few questions for Jets head coach Paul Maurice: It’s about Alexander Burmistrov…why, Paul? Why? Did you pull a Madonna and legally adopt the wandering waif when you were coaching in Russia? I mean, this isn’t Little House on the Prairie, where Ma and Pa Ingalls continually brought strays and orphans home to their wee shack on the flatland. The guy’s a bust. Let’s move on.

Speaking of coach Pa Ingalls, he delivered a rather harsh indictment of the linesman who ticketed the Jets for a too-many-men violation in the bonus period of their 4-3 overtime loss to Team Ovechkin in Washington on Thursday night. “Horse shit,” is how Maurice described the call. Well, I’ll see his “horse shit” and raise him a “horse’s ass” for his interpretation of the play and rule. Captain Blake Wheeler was in a different time zone when his replacement, Patrik Laine, hopped over the boards as the Capitals dashed forward on a two-on-one. Forty feet from the players’ bench is a penalty. At any time.

Dumbest headline of the week was delivered by the Winnipeg Sun after the local hockey heroes’ defeat in Donald Trump’s kind of town: “Jets winners even in loss.” The accompanying article by Ted Wyman was just as lame. I swear, there was more sugar coating on his game story than on a dozen glazed Timbits. I got a toothache just reading the thing. Spare us the pom-pom waving, boys. Moral victories are for the forlorn and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Coach Paul Maurice: Is this the look that intimidates the Winnipeg media?
Coach Paul Maurice: Is this the look that intimidates the Winnipeg media?

Here’s more on Maurice. Interesting chin-wag between the two Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, who discuss the likelihood that news snoops in River City walk on egg shells around the Jets bench boss. I cannot imagine that coach Pa Ingalls is a more intimidating man than John Bowie Ferguson back in the day. Seldom did we see Fergy when there wasn’t smoke seeping from his mouth, nose and ears. And that was before he lit his cigar. I don’t recall news scavengers running scared, though. Yo! Journos! Any man who harbors hope for Alexander Burmistrov and his rudderless game is never the smartest man in the room. Next time Maurice goes into intimidation mode, remind him of his NHL coaching record: 18 seasons, 11 seasons out of playoffs, two times fired mid-season, won-lost percentage .500, give or take a shootout.

I note that the Freep Grumpets allowed the induction of Doug Brown to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Roll of Honour to pass without mention. I find that interesting because Lyons and Wiecek pooh-poohed a similar salute to quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock. “He never won anything,” is what Lyons said of Diet the Treat, twice anointed the Most Outstanding Player in the Canadian Football League. Well, okay, Brock failed to bring the Grey Cup to River City. And D-lineman Brown did it how many times? Once? Twice. Thrice? Nope. Try zero. Zilch. Zip. He never won anything. But hey. Brown delivers once-a-week alphabet soup to the Freep sports pages, and we can’t have the Grumpets eating their own, now can we.

I don’t want to be accused of ageism, but it’s about the B.C. Lions. Seriously? Paul McCallum? If you missed it, the Leos have hauled McCallum out of moth balls and he’ll be doing the short-range place-kicking in the Leos’ final regular-season game and the CFL playoffs. My initial thought: Can Joe Kapp be far behind? Upon further review, however, McCallum’s 46-year-old right leg can’t be any worse than Richie Leone’s 24-year-old right limb. Leone has been about as dependable as a leaky condom. He’s had more misses than Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton combined. So, based on coach/GM Wally Buono’s track record, this will probably work.

Legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.
Legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.

My takes on the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series: 1) Finally, Steve Bartman can leave his house; 2) Love the Budweiser commercial featuring a Harry Caray voiceover, it’s pure genius; 3) Game 7 of the Cubs-Cleveland Indians series was the reason I love baseball more than any other sport.

Steve Simmons, whose work often appears in the Winnipeg Sun, has been voted favorite sports writer by readers of the Toronto Sun. He calls it “humbling.” Not so humbling, apparently, that he couldn’t resist the urge to advise his Twitter followers that “it’s 21 times now” that he’s felt so humbled.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.