Let’s talk about a ruckus on press row…flush that scrum lurker…Burkie’s still blunt but making no sense…and other things on my mind

A long weekend, Monday morning short version of the smorgas-bored…and I wonder how many people will spend the day on the couch watching hockey…

Auston Matthews pulled his pants down to his ankles and mooned a female security guard at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Now he’s delivering lectures on ethics.

I agree, that takes balls.

I mean, what’s next? Tiger Woods touring the countryside to preach fidelity? Adam Sandler telling Martin Scorsese how to make a good movie? One of the Kardashians explaining what it’s like to have a real job?

Morgan Rielly and Auston Matthews

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t blame Matthews for going off on Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, scant moments after the initial volley in an argument between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets. That, after all, would be the same Simmons who, in mid-June, outed the Leafs centre as a COVID-19 victim and, to this day, cannot grasp the concept of personal health information remaining private unless the afflicted choose to release the details.

So there was Matthews on Sunday night, sitting alongside teammate Morgan Rielly in one of those awkward Zoom chin-wags with news snoops, their side having just been stifled, 2-0, by the Blue Jackets in the opening go-round of the National Hockey League’s quirky playoffs before the playoffs.

Simmons identified himself, then asked Matthews for his thoughts on the suffocating defensive tendencies of his foes.

Steve Simmons

“Well, first of all, it’s unfortunate that I’m getting a question from you at this point, Steve,” the Leafs wonder boy began in a tone about as warm as a Winnipeg winter. “I just wanted to say I didn’t really appreciate the article you wrote about me a couple months ago. I thought it was a bit unethical to be honest.”

There you have it. Mr. Drop My Drawers goes Miss Manners.

Naturally, it didn’t end there. Twitter does not allow for the natural death of hissing contests. It inflames them. Thus the rabble threw down, mostly on Simmons, although some thought that perhaps Matthews might have had other things on his mind, like the 0-1 hole les Leafs have dug themselves in the best-of-five skirmish v. the Ohioans.

Oddly enough, Simmons seized the moment to drag James Mirtle into the fray.

James Mirtle

“This would never happen to James Mirtle,” he tweeted about The Athletic editor-in-chief. “He never asks a question. Never. But he uses everybody else’s quotes. He was asked the other day on radio who the best player at Leaf camp was. He answered without hesitating. Never mind that he hadn’t been at Leaf camp once.”

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic would not have his boss be bullied.

“The Leafs’ best player spoke candidly in a scrum,” he roared back at Simmons. “James transcribed it. It was already widely reported, clipped, and shared before and after James did. For you to respond like this and make it personal is unprofessional, Steve.”

Others weighed in.

Simmons’ buddy at Postmedia Tranna, Steve Buffery, described the original COVID-19 story as “good reporting.”

Not true says Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.

“There was no justification for its publication,” he tweeted. “It was trivia. Nothing about how it affected travel, his status with the Leafs, his ability to attend training camp, long-term health effects. That’s on top of the debate about the ethics of reporting a positive test in a pandemic.”

Bruce Arthur

Meanwhile another of Simmons’ buddies and a TSN colleague, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star, had a go at Matthews, tweeting, “I would’ve liked him to explain why he thought it was unethical.”

Arthur is an intelligent guy and a terrific scribe, so playing the D’Oh Boy doesn’t suit him. He knows exactly why Matthews was offended.

Then there was Rosie DiManno of the Star, chiming in with this: “There are scrum lurkers who never ask questions. Even worse, they immediately tweet the answers.”

Oh, the horror. The nerve of those scrum lurkers. They’re the worst. Why, they have no business using the same cookie-cutter, “move-our-feet” quotes as everyone else if they aren’t prepared to wade in and ask the same dumb, cookie-cutter questions as everyone else.

I’m not sure how this will play out, but jock journos eating their own is as rare as spectators at these pre-playoff playoffs, so I’m loving it.

Frank Orr, right, with Don Cherry.

The mention of scrum lurkers brings to mind a playoff game back in the day. The precise details are lost on me, but a gaggle of us news snoops had gathered in the washroom area of a team man chamber, interrogating some poor sap about the night’s events. Included in our group was a tall, awkward and loud guy from New York City, Norm MacLean, who always toted a tape recorder the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Some found him somewhat scattered and annoying, because he had a habit of wedging himself into the front of the pack, also asking questions longer than a Sunday sermon. Not this night, though. No one was budging. So Norm skirted the scrum and stepped inside one of the stalls, standing on the toilet and draping his right arm and tape recorder microphone over the wall, directly behind the player’s head. Noting Norm’s iffy perch atop the toilet, Frank Orr of the Toronto Star announced, “If anyone hears a splash, flush!”

Brian Burke

When Brian Burke hired on as one of Sportsnet’s talking heads, I thought he was terrific. He was blunt, insightful and colorful. And now? Not so much. Oh, he’s still blunt, but that’s only good if it makes sense. Here’s Burkie’s take on Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice calling Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames a dirty, rotten rat: “I think he crossed the line here. He’s questioning the character of a character player. Matthew Tkachuk is not a dirty player. He crosses the line and thank gawd we still have players that cross the line in our league. This is an unfortunate result but it wasn’t a dirty play and it’s really crossed the line for me.” So, in sum, it’s boffo stuff when Tkachuk crosses the line but distasteful if Maurice crosses the line. Okay, got it.

The Rock is part of a group that’s purchased the XFL. Apparently their next buy will be deck seats on the Titanic.

I’ve been watching Happy Days lately, and I find myself wondering why it was such a popular show. It isn’t particularly funny, and what’s with the Fonz? He’s a high school dropout in his late 20s who has nothing better to do than hang out with teenage girls and boys.

And, finally, as a folo to Sunday’s post on sports coverage in the two Winnipeg dailies, here’s the tally for the Drab Slab this long weekend, excluding professional teams: Saturday, 1 local article (Assiniboia Downs), Sunday 0, Monday 0. That’s correct. Just one read on local sports other than the Jets or Blue Bombers. In 17 pages. At the Sun, the total was zero in two days and 11 pages. I realize we’re in the grip of a pandemic, but you’ll never convince me there’s nothing to write about other than the Jets, Bombers and Goldeyes.

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

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

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

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

Ya, it’s called the Grey Cup.

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

Greybeard Mike Tyson

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

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

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

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

Dr. Fauci—D’oh!

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

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

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

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

Gary Bettman

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

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

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

The Big M

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Big M

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commish Randy

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

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

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

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

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

Doc Holliday

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

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

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

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

Alyssa Nakken

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

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

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

The Hens In The Hockey House “hurry hard” to a discuss Chevy’s handiwork…Coach PoMo’s porn star…a wild card playoff spot…and Coach PoMo’s shelf life

Another National Hockey League trade deadline has come and gone, so what you see is what you get with the Winnipeg Jets. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, who better to sort out general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork than our all-knowing Two Hens In The Hockey House.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: You sure you want to natter about the Jets this morning, girlfriend? Shouldn’t we be talking about Kerri Einarson and her gal pals instead?

Answer Lady: You might have a point. Kerri, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur did boffo business in Al Capone’s old hangout—that’s Moose Jaw, girlfriend—and you have to go a long, long way back to find a Manitoba skip not named Jennifer Jones or Connie Laliberte who won the Canadian women’s curling title.

Question Lady: Any idea how long ago it was?

Answer Lady: I’ll give you some hints: You and I were both in training bras. Papa Pierre Trudeau was PM. The Winnipeg Tribune was still publishing. The Bee Gees had the No. 1 hit, Stayin’ Alive. The event wasn’t called the Scotties Tournament of Hearts back then. It was the Macdonald Lassie and the sponsor was a tobacco company.

Question Lady: So who was the skip?

Answer Lady: Cathy Pidzarko. She and her twin sister Chris got together with Iris Armstrong and Patti Vandekerckhove to win the Lassie in The Soo. And here’s what’s noteworthy: Patti Vandekerckhove became Patti Vande, then became Patti Wuthrich and she was coach of the Einarson team in Moose Jaw last week. Talk about coming full circle. Oh, one more thing: The Pidzarko twins and I went to the same high school—good, ol’ Miles Mac Collegiate in East Kildonan.

Question Lady: Well, we’re just full of trivia this morning, aren’t we?

Answer Lady: Many people have told me that I’m full of something or other, and it was never meant as a compliment.

Question Lady: Fine. But can we talk about the Jets now?

Answer Lady: Fire away, girlfriend.

Question Lady: Are you giving GM Chevy thumbs up or thumbs down for his tinkering at the NHL trade deadline?

Answer Lady: It’s more like the sound of one hand clapping. I mean, it’s not like I expected Chevy to go out and trade one of his young, blue-chip forwards in exchange for a top-four defenceman and a Zamboni driver to be named later. He knew one more piece wasn’t going to make his club Stanley Cup worthy.

If we’re being honest, the Jets are playing with house money. They probably have no business being in the playoff discussion today, not when you consider the numerous nights during the first five months of the fray when head coach Paul Maurice’s blueline had the hand-me-down look and feel of an old hobo’s coat. It hasn’t been “next man up” for Coach PoMo, it’s been Josh Morrissey, Neal Pionk and “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

Mind you, it figured to be this way after the defections of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Dustin Byfuglien. But still. Does any combination of Anthony Bitteto, Nathan Beaulieu, Luca Sbisa, Dmitry Kulikov, Ville Heinola, Sami Niku, Tucker Poolman and Carl Dahlstrom scream out “playoff defence” to you? Didn’t think so.

Yet here they are this morning, just a chin whisker away from qualifying for Beard Season.

Question Lady: Can a guy like Dylan DeMelo be the difference between the playoffs and an early tee time?

Answer Lady: You mean Coach PoMo’s porn star? Actually, Dylan DeMelo is kind of a porn star-sounding name, isn’t it? It’s not quite Long John Holmes quality, but I think it has marquee value.

Question Lady: Can you believe that PoMo said watching DeMelo play hockey is coach’s porn?

Answer Lady: Makes you wonder what goes on at a coaches’ bachelor party, doesn’t it? What do they do, sit around watching old film of Denis Potvin and Larry Robinson breaking up two-on-one rushes? Or maybe they get their jollies by watching raunchy film of Nick Lidstrom poke check the puck off Brett Hull’s stick. They sound like a real fun bunch.

Question Lady: Ya, but as long as Coach PoMo keeps delivering those kind of quotes, the scribes and talking heads will continue to be completely hornswaggled. They love the guy, and they’ll be loving him for another three years. Was his contract extension warranted?

Answer Lady: Well, we both knew that Coach Sound Bite was safe this year, even if some of the meatheads in the media thought his seat was a bonfire. But just because a guy signs for three years, it doesn’t mean he gets to coach for three years. I doubt Coach PoMo makes it to the end of his freshly minted deal. I’d almost wager that we’ll be listening to his sound bites on TSN Trade Centre two years from now.

Question Lady: Which brings us back on topic. Chevy made two moves just before the deadline, bringing in DeMelo and Cody Eakin. Is that enough to guarantee there’ll be meaningful matches played at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April?

Answer Lady: I already had the Jets pegged for a wild card team, and they’re better with those two guys. So, ya, I don’t see Nashville, Minny or Chicago squeezing them out.

Question Lady: What about the Calgary Flames?

Answer Lady: Have you been paying attention this season, girlfriend? Those young millionaires look like they’re already on the first tee at the hoity-toity Calgary Golf & Country Club.

Question Lady: Question is, are the Jets good enough to make some noise in the Stanley Cup runoff, or will it earn Winnipeg HC nothing more than a third one-and-done participation pin?

Answer Lady: Ideally, this is how it would shake down for the Jets: They secure the first wild-card spot, which means they’d avoid either St. Loo or Colorado in the opening round of Beard Season and meet the Pacific Division winner. Is there anything to fear in the Vancouver Canucks? Nada. How about the Edmonton Oilers? Connor McDavid, Leon D. and a whole lot of McNothing. The Vegas Golden Knights would be problematic, but if either the Canucks or Oilers can hold up their end of the bargain, I can see the Jets getting through to the second round. That might sound crazy, but I believe it’s doable.

Question Lady: Gotta say, girlfriend, that does sound a bit nutso. You’re really convinced the Jets can beat the Canucks or Oilers in a seven-game series?

Answer Lady: As sure as Donald Trump likes Twitter.

Question Lady: If you say so. But I’d feel more comfortable if Chevy had landed a top-four defenceman at the deadline. And if that meant sacrificing one of his young, blue-chip studs, don’t you think he should have done it?

Answer Lady: Unlike many among the rabble, I don’t squirm at the thought of Chevy tossing Jack Roslovic or even Twig Ehlers into the pot, but this wasn’t the right time to do it. It wasn’t going to push them over the top.

Question Lady: So we’re supposed to be satisfied that it’s status quo?

Answer Lady: Hell no. You should be properly PO’d at Chevy and Mark Chipman, because it didn’t have to be this way. When the entire right side of your defence and a quality guy from the left side disappear in one foul swoop, that’s totally on the GM/owner. Just like they’ve known for more than two years that they don’t have a No. 2 centre, they’ve known since last July that they needed an upgrade on the blueline. Waiting until the trade deadline to acquire Coach PoMo’s porn star doesn’t quite cut it as proactive management. That dithering is the reason the Jets weren’t ever going to be anything better than a wild card outfit.

Question Lady: And what do they do with Dustin Byfuglien?

Answer Lady: That’s a discussion for another day, girlfriend. For now, let’s see how this season plays out, then we’ll talk about Big Buff.

Question Lady: Fair enough. What’s up next for you?

Answer Lady: More curling. The Brier’s on deck. If either Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson can get the job done next week in Kingston, that means Manitoba runs the table this season—world mixed, two world Junior, Scotties and Brier champions. It doesn’t get better than that.

Let’s talk about whistleblowers and the NHL…talking heads…with this ring, P.K. does wed…the Chris Streveler pub crawl…beer league hockey meets Ponytail Puck…the Tranna Maple Beliebers…D’oh boys…and other year-end award winners

Back by unpopular demand, one final Sunday smorgas-bored for 2019…and if you haven’t had your fill of turkey, here’s another one for you…

It’s time for the inaugural RCR Year End Awards, which are not to be confused with the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, or the Tonys. Nor should they be mistaken for something significant. They are nothing more than the simple musings of a little, old lady who has too much time on her hands.

Bill Peters and Akim Aliu.

The Turkey Shoot Shield: To Akim Aliu and other National Hockey League whistleblowers.

A day of reckoning has arrived for NHL coaches, and there appears to be no statute of limitations on racist/sexist/homophobic language or bullying behavior, leaving us to wonder how deep a dive into the tombs they’ll take in a quest to root out the ghosts of wrong-doings past.

Bill Peters lost his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames for racist comments he made 10 years ago in another league, and for something he did a few years ago in the NHL.

Mike Babcock

Mike Babcock might never pull puppet strings from behind a players’ bench again because he did something stupid to Mitch Marner a couple of years ago.

Marc Crawford remains on forced leave from the Chicago Blackhawks today because he might have gotten physical with players in Los Angeles more than a decade ago.

We don’t know what Jim Montgomery said or did, or when he said or did it, but he’s no longer coaching in Dallas because of it. The Stars have only told us that Monty was dismissed for “unprofessional conduct,” a blanket statement that could cover everything from aiding and abetting Lee Harvey Oswald to piddling on the Grassy Knoll while intoxicated.

Whatever the case, the year closes with NHL coaches dropping out of sight faster than stoolies in a mobster movie, and by the time the turkey shoot is over no one but Sunday preachers and choirboys will qualify to fill vacancies behind the bench.

The thing is, I’m not sure Christ and his disciples could pass the sniff test today, because they were known to spend time with tax collectors and women of sketchy character..

The That’s Telling It Like It Is Trophy: To Scott Campbell, one-time Winnipeg Jets D-man and all-round good guy. Scotty took note of news snoops pumping Paul Maurice’s tires as the NHL’s top bench boss, and offered this tweet: “Thinking seriously about a Jets blog about Maurice, listening to some fans and national MSM that he’s a top candidate for coach of the year. Just because they have a job talking doesn’t make them right.” For evidence, see: Poulin, Dave.

Lindsey and P.K.

The With This Ring I Thee Promise To Wed Wreath: To Lindsey Vonn, who no longer slides down icy mountainsides for a living. The former champion ski racer did a very 21st century thing by proposing to her main squeeze, hockey guy P.K. Subban. No word on whether Lindsey got down on bended knee, but P.K. said “yes.” Ya, that’s a real shocker. P.K. Subban taking a plunge.

The 99 More Bottles Of Beer On The Wall Plaque: To Chris Streveler. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers backup quarterback might become the first player in history to go directly from a pub crawl to four-down football. It’s been reported that Streveler has some workouts lined up with National Football League outfits, but they might want to have him take a breathalyzer test before he takes his first snap. Does he even know the Grey Cup parade has ended? Has he put his clothes back on?

The Pour Me Another One Medallion: Again, to Streveler. He’s been named the South Dakota Sports Celebrity of the Year, as if he needed another reason to celebrate. At this rate, he’ll show up at his NFL workouts with a blood-alcohol reading higher than Tom Brady’s career passing yards total.

The Hissy Fit Diploma: To members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, who believe glorified scrimmages and mean-mouthing the National Women’s Hockey League is the best route to creating a one-size-fits-all operation for Ponytail Puck. The PWHPA prattles on about not having a league in which to play, even as the U.S.-based NWHL is comfortably into a fifth season that mainstream media chooses to ignore, and that makes zero sense. But, hey, a year ago at this time there were two non-sustainable women’s semi-pro leagues. Now there’s only one for the media to ignore. Maybe that’s the PWHPA’s idea of progress.

The Trash Talking Trinket: To Hilary Knight. The American Olympian and outspoken PWHPA member labelled commish Dani Rylan’s NWHL “a glorified beer league.” And what, PWHPA scrimmages aren’t? Fact is, the PWHPA boycotters are delivering the very definition of beer-league shinny. You know, get a bunch of players together, toss the sticks into a pile, pick sides, have at it, and hope someone notices. So far, Billie Jean King and little girls have noticed, but not mainstream media or the masses.

Biebs and the boys: Auston Matthews, the Biebs, Mitch Marner, Tyson Barrie.

The Tranna Maple Beliebers Bauble: To pop guy Justin Bieber, who somehow convinced Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Tyson Barrie of les Leafs to drive down to Stratford for a bit of Boxing Day shinny. The boys played 4-on-4 with the Biebs and some of his childhood chums, and here’s the shame of it: Their pickup game is attracting more internet attention than the PWHPA or NWHL. Even longtime CBC news anchor Peter Mansbridge scribbled an article on it. Ponytail Puck can only wish.

The Gay Pride Plaque: We end this year and decade with Sports Illustrated anointing Megan Rapinoe—an out, proud and loud lesbian—its Sportsperson of the Year, and Time magazine sharing a group hug with Rapinoe and the U.S. women’s national soccer side, naming the lesbian-laden Yankee Doodle Damsels its collective Athlete of the Year. That’s serious gay power.

The What Part Of Anti-Gay Speech Do They Not Understand Trophy: To organizers of the Australian Open, who plan to salute Margaret Court next month. Ol’ Maggie, be advised, is a noted gay-basher. She would prefer to live in the type of illusory world created by Hallmark Channel’s makers of saccharine-sopped movies, where there are no Megan Rapinoes or Sue Birds or Elena Delle Donnes celebrating things like birth, marriage, parenthood, family and Christmas. Gays do not exist in Hallmark’s hokey, happily-ever-after world. Ah, but tennis legend Maggie knows that’s pure Pollyanna. She acknowledges that she if forced to share oxygen with gays, and she likes it about as much as Donald Trump likes witch hunts and whistleblowers. So she scrunches up her prunish face and tells us that there are far too many lesbians on the women’s tennis tour, that they’re kin to Hitler and Satan, and that there’s a global-wide gay lobby similar to communism, whereby the LGBT(etc.) collective is trying to steal the minds of your children. And the Aussie Open plans to shower ol’ Maggie with hosannas next month? Sigh.

The Gender Bender Give Your Head A Shake Shield: To the tall foreheads in the ivory tower at World Athletics (nee International Association of Athletics Federations). They don’t think South African runner Caster Semenya walks, talks or looks femme enough to run against the other girls, at least not at 800 metres, so they argued (successfully) that Semenya is “biologically male,” even though their own decade-long poking and prodding of the Olympic champion’s body confirmed that she’s a she.

Dustin Byfuglien

The Flip Flop And Don’t Tell A Lie Laurel: To Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab.

Here’s what Mad Mike wrote about the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 17: “Not having another alpha male like (Dustin) Byfuglien around to compete with would make anyone breathe a little easier. And that’s a sentiment I’ve heard this year from several people around the team, and around the NHL. Byfuglien can be a polarizing individual, one who marches to his own beat and pretty much does whatever he feels like. On the ice, the Jets haven’t missed Byfuglien nearly as much as people thought. The absence of one former superstar on the back end may have been a surprising catalyst for some much-need change.”

And here’s what Mad Mike wrote on Dec. 26: “A healthy, well-rested and motivated Byfuglien could be a difference-maker, especially to a Winnipeg blue-line that has undergone no shortage of turnover. It could be the ultimate trade deadline acquisition—without having to give up any assets in the process.”

So, if you’re scoring at home, Big Buff was a disease on Dec. 17 but, nine days later, he became the cure for whatever might ail the Jets. Double sigh.

The D’oh! Boy Bauble: To Postmedia. This country’s rag trade goliath is, of course, best known for sucking up to Andrew Scheer, pinching pennies, destroying newspaper competition in the colonies, and kicking quality news snoops to the curb. But it achieved unparalleled levels of dopiness by anointing Vasek Pospisil top male jock in the True North. I’m sure young Vasek is a lovely lad. He smiles frequently. And he did boffo work for our side in Davis Cup competition. But he wasn’t our best dude tennis player (hello Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov), let alone the top jock.

The They Made Me Do It Scroll: To Scott Stinson, the National Post columnist. He was obliged to scribble an essay explaining Postmedia’s choice of Pospisil. I’m guessing Scott did so while holding his nose as he typed, which is a boffo trick on its own.

The Old Man Shouts And Waves His Fist At Clouds Cup: To Steve Simmons of Post Media Tranna. As usual, the year was a massive bitch-a-thon for Simmons. He bitched about Marcus Stroman not saying enough during spring training. He bitched about award winners making political statements. He bitched about Canadians not buying books written by his friends. He bitched about name-calling “idiots” on Twitter by calling them (you guessed it) “idiots.” He bitched about the subdued salute the Tranna Boatmen gave retired QB Ricky Ray. He bitched about Canadian Football League teams not making certain players available for chin-wags during the season. He bitched about Kawhi Leonard not saying thank you to enough people, or the right people. He bitched about Todd Bertuzzi being included in the Vancouver Canucks home-opener celebration. He bitched about Andrew Harris playing in the Grey Cup game. He bitched about Mitch Marner’s dad and agent. He bitched about Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo sitting Vlad the Gifted on Victoria Day. He bitched about TV talking heads growing mustaches for Movember. He bitched about scribes at The Athletic promoting their work, even as he promoted his own work and that of his Postmedia colleagues. Other than that, he was a happy camper.

And, finally, The Auld Lang Syne Trophy: To you. Happy new year to you all.

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.

About homophobia and the NHL…a Nobel Prize for Kyle Dubas?…no gay voices on Canadian sports TV…Fozzy Armstrong on Hockey Central…a Guinness for the all-St. Patty’s Day team and a lineup for Assiniboia Downs…WHA Jets were the real road warriors…a players share for Uecker…Wheels and Jumbo Joe…taking note of the WHL…and so long to a Twitter maestro

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy St. Patty’s Day to the Irish and Irish wannabes (and I plan on keeping my lifetime record of never drinking green beer intact)…

Morgan Rielly knew he didn’t say what he didn’t say. Others remain convinced that he did say what he didn’t say.

And, as social media exploded like a fourth of July sky, a mystery voice at a National Hockey League game last Monday became the most talked-about sound bite since Timothy Leary told kids in the 1960s to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

So was l’affaire Rielly much ado about nada?

Well, like most questions in life that don’t include a simple 1+1=2 answer, it depends on who you ask.

Morgan Rielly and Kyle Dubas

Many took to Twitter to suggest (rather dismissively, abruptly and rudely) that it matters not if Rielly or any player/fan shouted “faggot” or “rag it” or “maggot” during a Toronto Maple Leafs-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish at Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. “They’re just words. Don’t be such a snowflake. Get over it, you annoying SJWs. Move on.”

Media pundits, meanwhile, have lauded les Leafs Harry Potter doppelganger GM, Kyle Dubas, and Rielly for stepping forward to confirm the young defenceman’s innocence, rather than push the mute button and allow the tempest to expire of natural causes. They insist that the hastily organized Dubas-Rielly joint session of meet-the-news-snoops was a “teaching moment.”

If so, I’m having trouble determining what lesson was learned.

As a member of the LGBTQ collective, you see, I lean a keen and attentive ear toward any dialogue dealing with gays and homophobia in sports. Call it my “queer” ear, if you will. And it’s often what I don’t hear that catches my notice because, yes, words are important.

The one word I didn’t hear from Dubas in his more than 16 minutes of chin wagging was “accept.”

Make no mistake, the GM scored when he talked sincerely about providing a “safe” and “welcome” environment for gay, bisexual and transgender fans at les Leafs’ lair. He added that any player grappling with his sexual orientation can “feel safe here, they can be themselves here.”

Dubas did not, however, say a gay player would be universally “accepted” in les Leafs boudoir. He couldn’t.

Dubas, you see, cannot get inside the heads and souls of the men who occupy the changing room, any more than Geoff Molson could get inside the heads and souls of his Montreal Canadiens when he issued similar sentiments in 2014.

“Not only with our team, but also with our fans,” the Habs bankroll told news snoops when asked if his storied franchise was prepared to embrace a gay player. “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Any opportunity to be inclusive is a good one, and that starts from the top down.”

Nice thought, but a Habs skater with anti-gay leanings might not be so keen to share the bunker with a guy who shares his bed with another dude.

That said, it’s apparent by Rielly’s thoughtful responses to queries last week, also his documented support of the LGBTQ collective, that he would “accept” a gay teammate without condition. But what of his fellows in the blue-and-white linen of les Leafs?

Consider:

  • In autumn 2015, USA Today asked 35 NHL players if they would accept an openly gay teammate in the changing room. One said no. Small sample size, I know, but if we do the math that means there were at least 21 anti-gay members of the NHL Players Association. I’d submit the true number is higher. Even if not, how many sit in les Leafs’ lockerroom?

  • In January 2014, TSN ran a terrific documentary on the NHL and gays. They reached out to 12 teams across a nine-month time frame, seeking players willing to discuss gays and hockey on the record. In the end, only three were willing to be interviewed on camera. That’s it. Just three of 750 players were comfortable discussing the gay issue and homophobia. If they can’t even talk about gay men, how can they accept them?

Again, Dubas gets full marks for initiating the discussion last week, but if it was a “teachable moment” I’m still uncertain what I supposedly learned. Given that Molson said the same thing five years ago and nothing has changed, it was same old, same old.

I’m always fascinated when straight male sports scribes and talking heads weigh in on the gay/homophobia issue. They really can’t offer anything of substance because, well, they aren’t gay. So they simply recite the standard blah, blah, blah about offensive words, often punctuating their commentary with “this is 2019,” as if that proves they know where it’s at. Which explains why many of them inverted the Rielly situation, turning it into a testimonial to the Maple Leafs’ rapid response rather than the likelihood that someone shouted “faggot” during an NHL game. Dubas was lathered in lavish praise, and I’m surprised the talking heads and essayists stopped short of nominating him for a Nobel Prize. But, hey, Nobel nomination forms aren’t distributed until September, so there’s plenty of time to get his name out there.

Unless I missed it, neither TSN nor Sportsnet brought an LGBTQ voice on air to discuss the developments in l’affaire Rielly. They’ll recruit “experts” to dissect everything from Auston Matthews’ bowel movements to Mitch Marner’s eating habits, but they aren’t interested in a gay voice when homophobia is the hot-button topic. What, they don’t know any gay male athletes who’ve been in homophobic dressing rooms? Or do they think gay guys don’t speak English? Trust me, when the subject is homophobia in hockey, the last people I want to hear from are meatheads like Nick Kypreos and Colby Armstrong, who delivered about five minutes of total gobbledygook on Hockey Central At Noon.

The Fozzy Bros.

Speaking of Colby Armstrong, I must confess that he’s begun to grow on me, perhaps because I like the Muppets and he’s got a Muppets kind of head—you know, really thin-to-no lips, goofy grin, interesting nose, eyes that seem to spin and rotate. I think perhaps Colby and Fozzy Bear were separated at birth. That’s the ticket—Fozzy Armstrong.

Sir Alec Guinness

My personal all-St. Patty’s Day team: Kathy Ireland, St. Patrick Roy, Patrick Ewing, Danica Patrick and Patrik O’Laine. Oh, and Sir Alec Guinness, of course. No St. Patty’s Day is complete without a Guinness.

If the ponies were running at Assiniboia Downs, the ideal St. Patty’s Day card this afternoon would include a Pot O’ Gold Stakes race with this field: Lookin At Lucky, Lucky Debonair, Irish War Cry, Smokinpaddylassie, I’ll Have Another and Flat Drunk. And, yes, those are the names of actual race horses.

So, the Winnipeg Jets recently completed their longest junket of the NHL season—10 days, four games. Drab Slab scribe Mike McIntyre described it as a “doozy.” Well, Mike Mac doesn’t know from doozy. During their 1978-79 World Hockey Association championship crusade, the Jets had a tour of duty in February that had them play 10 games in 16 days (eight on the road, including five in a row). Now that, my friends, is a doozy.

Bob Uecker

Interesting to note that the Milwaukee Brewers voted play-by-play broadcaster and funny guy Bob Uecker a full players share ($123,000) after the Major League Baseball playoffs last October. Hmmm. For the record, the Jets did not vote me a full players share after their final WHA title in 1979. No problem, though. I didn’t need the $57.48 at the time. Mind you, I could use it today now that I’m a pauper. (By the way, Ueck donated his $123,000 windfall to four different charities.)

Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet tells us that Blake Wheeler’s contract extension, which kicks in next season at $8.25 million, is “money well spent by the Winnipeg Jets.” He knows this how? Well, because of Joe Thornton. Dixon figures if Jumbo Joe can score 82 points as a 36-year-old, so can Wheels. Good luck with that. I’m a big fan of Blake Wheeler (the player, not the boor who believes news snoops are pond scum), but if he’s an 82-point guy at the butt end of his five-year deal, I’ll eat a hockey puck and wash it down with raw sewage from the Red River.

The Kootenay Ice play their final game in Cranbrook this afternoon, then they become the Winnipeg Ice (please, change that name). So if anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown is looking for the skinny on the Western Hockey League, take note: The go-to website is old friend Gregg Drinnan’s blog Taking Note. Nobody does the WHL better than the Greaser, who earned his nickname while writing about fast cars, Bison Dragways and people like Big Daddy Garlits for the Winnipeg Tribune.

And, finally, sad to hear of the passing of Randy Turner, longtime scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press. Never got to spend much time with Randy (different newspapers, different beats, I skipped town), but I do know he was one of the good guys. And a funny guy. He was a Twitter maestro. Ashley Prest wrote a wonderful tribute piece on Randy in the Drab Slab.

About the Toronto Argonauts being no laughing matter…CFL shrinkage…a mad hatter at bluebombers.com…pigskin prayer power…when Michael Sam was the man…CFL power rankings…greybeard golf…and other things on my mind

One fried egg-and-cheese sandwich on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

It has occurred to me, and many others, that we might be witnessing the death throes of the Toronto Argonauts—the franchise, if not this year’s on-field product.

BMO Field when Toronto FC is playing.

I mean, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s motto is “Bringing The World To Its Feet,” but very few of those feet are parading to BMO Field. Unless, of course, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco and friends are having a kick-about.

Oh, yes, they love their footy in the Republic of Tranna. Red-clad, scarf-wearing locals traipse to BMO Field whenever Toronto FC is in frolic, and it matters little that the level of play in Major League Soccer isn’t a match for the English Premier League, the Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy, or Spain’s La Liga. Fitba is a “happening” in the ROT, and the Reds are averaging 26,591 customers this year, marginally down from a 27,647 head count in 2017.

The Argos, on the other hand, they’re a “happening” like the Don River is the Pacific Ocean.

BMO Field when the Argos are playing.

How sparse are the audiences when the Boatmen are grabbing the real and fake grass at BMO Field? I’ve seen more circus clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle. The winner of the 50/50 draw at the last home game was later seen asking Yonge Street panhandlers for spare change.

We tend to joke about stuff like that because, let’s face it, cracking wise about The 6ix is what those of us who dwell in the colonies do. The ROT is always good for cheap laughs, whether it’s Drake making an ass clown of himself at a Raptors game, Premier Buck-a-Beer promising cheap suds, or the Maple Leafs’ 51st annual retooling season.

This Argos business, however, isn’t yuk-it-up material. Not if you’re a fan of the Canadian Football League.

I started following three-down football in the 1950s. Most of my heroes wore the blue-and-gold linen of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but Dick Shatto, adorned in the double blue of the Boatmen, was among my favorite players. He was so smooth, and an impossibly handsome man. I remember reading about Tobin Rote, the gunslinger of a quarterback, and Cookie Gilchrist, the fierce and feared running back. I watched them intently, and with much admiration and awe, whenever the Argos appeared on the black-and-white screen of our rabbit-eared TV.

That’s why it pains me to see an ocean of unoccupied seats at BMO Field on Argos game nights/days.

In their 2017 crusade, the Boatmen attracted an average of 13,913 customers. This year the head count is worse—12,836 average, with a low-water mark of 10,844 for a visit from the Bombers. That’s cringeworthy, also alarming, and the hit to MLSE’s bottom line must be substantial.

I’ve never completely bought into the argument that the CFL absolutely needs the ROT to survive, and I’m confident that western football can exist without it. I will, however, submit that the three-down enterprise is much better with a robust Argos franchise in the mix. It would be a shame if MLSE chose to tap out.

After all, if not for the Argos, what would we have to laugh about in the summer and autumn? Oh, that’s right…there’s always the Blue Jays.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet posted this tweet last week after 35,623 folks showed up at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton for a showdown between the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders: “A crowd of less than 36,000 is the biggest in the CFL this season and is considered a big success. My goodness, this league has shrunk.” Well, yes and no. Toronto and Montreal certainly have shrunk significantly, both in attendance and size of facility. The rest of the CFL, not so much. High tide for CFL attendance arrived in 1978, when the league averaged 31,879. The Montreal Alouettes and Argos led the way with 54,471 and 46,545, respectively. This year, they’re down to 17,861 and 12,836. That’s 36,610 customers lost in Montreal and 33,709 in the ROT. That’s what you call shrinkage.

Matt Nichols and mad hatter Ed Tait.

Good bit on Bombers QB Matt Nichols by young Eddie Tait of bluebombers.com. I’m not sure if the highlight of the piece is the tale Nichols tells about almost being stuck with a huge restaurant tab while a member of the Dallas Cowboys, or young Eddie’s lid. He’s really rockin’ the funny hat. You might want to check it out.

Kirk Penton continues to crank out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic, and last week one of his insiders (a coach or GM) had this to say about the Argos switching from James Franklin to McLeod Bethel-Thompson at starting quarterback: “I have no idea if this played a role in it or not, but Franklin has a different personality. He’s not your average guy. It makes me wonder if the players have adopted him or not. He’s hugely religious.” Why would religion be part of the equation? The great Pinball Clemons is a man of deep faith, and I don’t ever recall it being a problem in his time as a player or coach with the Boatmen.

Michael Sam

It’s three years ago tomorrow that Michael Sam became the only openly gay man to perform in a CFL game. Playing rush end for the Montreal Alouettes against the Ottawa RedBlacks, he was on the field for just 12 plays, making no tackles and, quite frankly, looking as out of place as the Pope in a pub. One week later, the former St. Louis Rams draft pick walked out on the Als, citing mental health issues, and never played another down on either side of the border.

The morning after Johnny Manziel made his disastrous CFL debut, TSN had nine videos of the Alouettes QB on its main web page. Sportsnet had one. But, hey, who’s counting?

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (7-0): The beat goes on.
2. Edmonton (5-2): Three wins vs. West outfits.
3. Winnipeg (4-3): Three wins vs. East outfits.
4. Saskatchewan (3-4): Terrell Owens anyone?
5. Hamilton (3-4): Alouettes were just what the doctor ordered.
6. Ottawa (4-3): Talk about coughing up an ugly hairball.
7. B.C. (2-4): Got screwed by a zebra, but still not good enough.
8. Toronto (2-5): What a comeback. Too bad no one cares in the Republic of Tranna.
9. Montreal (1-6): Getting worse in either official language.

Phil and Tiger

Apparently, the hokey Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson mano-a-mano, greybeard golf challenge will take place on American Thanksgiving weekend. Just what everyone will need. Another turkey.

Max Domi says the Montreal Canadiens have the “pieces it takes to win,” in the upcoming National Hockey League crusade. And he would know this how? He spent the past three seasons playing in the Arizona desert, where the Coyotes did nothing but lose.

Mark Stone

In the WTF department, the Ottawa Senators have agreed to pay Mark Stone $7.35 million to play right wing in 2018-19. That’s $1.75 million more than captain Blake Wheeler earns with the Winnipeg Jets. It’s $1.225 million more than les Jets pay Rink Rat Scheifele. How does Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff convince his players to sign on the cheap? Is he Reveen, the great hypnotist? Does he have damning photos? To date, only one player, Jacob Trouba, has had the strength to ward off Chevy’s mystic powers. Hard to figure.

Just wondering: Is it possible for Murat Ates of The Athletic Winnipeg to write an article on the Jets without mentioning salaries and advanced stats?

And, finally, I notice I have 312 followers on Twitter, a revelation that begat this simple question: Why? I mean, I wouldn’t follow me. But if you’re one of the 312, merci beaucoup. If you aren’t one of the 312, I don’t blame you.

About defining ‘Sedin stuff’…the toughest Swedes, Hedberg and Nilsson…two Swedes, one face, but not the face of hockey in Western Canada…cheering in the Winnipeg press box…Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston and a WHA title…Damien Cox scores a boffo Twitter burn on Randy Turner…talking up a Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna…lesbians on Hometown Hockey…an ace of a moment for grandpa and grandson Nicklaus…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Initially, a great many folks didn’t think Daniel and Henrik Sedin could pull it off.

They were too soft. Too timid. Too unsure. Too Swedish, which, for the less enlightened—like the xenophobic gasbag who occupies the bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada—was North American shinny code for cowardly.

Sedin twins

Indeed, after Braydon Coburn declined an opportunity to exchange knuckles with a rag-dolling Brandon Prust during a Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens 2015 playoff match, Don Cherry used his Coachless Corner soapbox to align the Swedes’ name with cowardice, saying, “I will never, ever, want one of my players acting like Coburn here. This is Sedin stuff.”

Well, okay, now that the twins have left the building, let’s try to define “Sedin stuff.”

Admittedly, I only observed them from a distance, but certainly the National Hockey League was better for having Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who took their final bow on Saturday night in Edmonton. They played the game as it’s meant to be played, the same way Jean Beliveau and Wayne Gretzky did. The same way Connor McDavid does, with an emphasis on finesse and flash over fists and felony. That’s “Sedin stuff.” Those who know them best, including news snoops tracking their every mirrored move through 18 years and 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, tell us they were better people than hockey players. Tall praise, given that the Sedins are Art Ross, Hart, Ted Lindsay and King Clancy Trophy recipients. That, too, is “Sedin stuff.”

What really should be celebrated is their strength, a commodity that is not one-size-fits all. Different athletes show it in different ways, some through brawn, others with their brain.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

The two mentally toughest players I ever met and covered were the Winnipeg Jets most-celebrated Swedes, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. They arrived together in the mid-1970s to join les Jets when the World Hockey Association was, on a certain level, a lawless frontier. Animosity born of xenophobia ruled the day and mayhem ensued on the ice. Hedberg and Nilsson were bludgeoned fore and aft by the heavy, wooden weapons wielded by envious, ill-mannered foes with an unreasonable dislike for foreigners. Their battered bodies featured every color of the rainbow, but the bruising wasn’t rainbow pretty. Through it all, Hedberg and Nilsson, both a class act, said nothing of the savagery, at least not on public account. They soldiered on, unwilling to acquiesce to the bullies and thugs and the BS. These were no “chicken Swedes.” They championed a cause and became champions.

Similarly, the Sedin twins have had to put up with a lot of crap, although from a different pile.

The masculinity of Daniel and Henrik often has been brought into question by rivals whose level of humor is on par with schoolyard adolescents, broadcasters who ought to know better, and fans who no doubt are devotees of Adam Sandler’s buffoonish movies.

Dave Bolland, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, called them “sisters” who “probably sleep in a bunk bed” in a radio interview. Not to be outdone, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars took to the airwaves and suggested the Sedins’ relationship was incestuous. Former New York Islanders general manager and TV talking head Mike Milbury called them “Thelma and Louise.” Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenceman working in the Florida Panthers tower of babble-on, labelled Daniel a “lowlife.” During one post-match dustup, Potvin said, “The Sedins are pointing fingers now. Normally they only use those fingers to lick the peanut butter off their bread.” (What the hell does that even mean?) Fans would arrive at the rink wearing t-shirts that read: SEDIN SISTERS 2 GIRLS NO CUP. A Finnish media outlet, Ilta-Sanomat, ran a tasteless piece that featured Sedin Sisters paper doll cutout figures with dresses and high heels. Etcetera, etcetera.

And how did the Sedins respond? By playing hockey. By beating foes the honest way. The Hedberg-Nilsson way. It’s the Swedish way. And that is “Sedin stuff.”

From the department of He Doesn’t Have A Freaking Clue, I give you Frank Seravalli. In an ode to the Sedins, the TSN senior hockey reporter describes the Swedes as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Good grief. Quick, someone give the man a copy of Western Canada for Dummies. I mean, there is no known word to describe that level of ignorance. It’s as daft as saying Don Cherry is the voice of Russian hockey. Yes, that dumb. As far as I can tell, (from the experience of living 99.9 per cent of my 67-plus years in Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria) there’s just one commonality between the rabble on the B.C. coast and the Prairie provinces—a healthy distrust of, and dislike toward, the Republic of Tranna. Otherwise, what happens in Vancouver stays in Vancouver, because few Prairie folk gave a rat’s patoot about the Sedins before they declared their intention to retire last week. They gave them a warm sendoff Saturday night in Edmonton, because that’s the way Prairie folk are, but make no mistake: The Sedins never were the face of the Oilers, Flames or Jets, and last time I looked each of those outfits is based in Western Canada.

Frank Seravalli

If you’re wondering how a TSN reporter could make such a “D’oh!” statement, be advised Seravalli is not of us. He’s an American, born in Bucks County, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, and he was schooled there and in other eastern U.S. outposts. Clearly, he didn’t major in Canadiana. Still, that’s no excuse. I mean, the City of Brotherly Love remains his home base, and I’m guessing no Philly guy, including him, would be so dense as to suggest Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are the faces of northeastern U.S. hockey. Seravalli’s been to Western Canada. He knows the good people of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton identify with their own players, not two guys on the La La side of the Rocky Mountains. Get with the program, man.

This is rich. In the breezy Say What?! banter between Winnipeg Free Press sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, the former accuses Hockey Night in Canada gab guys Jim Hughson and Scott Simpson of being “homers” and waving blue-and-white Maple Leafs pom-poms when les Jets visited the Republic of Tranna last weekend. “Come on guys, try to refrain from cheering in the press box will ya?” Lyons scribbles. Yet his own guy, Wiecek, has become guilty of shameless pom-pom waving. He writes this of the Jets as they prepare to embark on the Stanley Cup crusade: “Yeah, we want the Cup. More than most, I’d venture. But what we need first is a playoff win. And then another. And another.” He’d like the Jets’ playoff run to last “hopefully weeks.” And “for once it feels like the sporting gods are working in favor of the locals instead of against us.” Us? Us? That isn’t a good look for a sports columnist. Nor for a sports editor who condemns others for cheering in the press box even as his writer does that very thing in print.

Look, I get it. Sports writers are human. Honest, some of them are. They have their favorites and it’s a more enjoyable gig when the locals are successful. I confess now that I wanted the Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a terrific bunch of guys. But the “we” and “us” and “hopefully” stuff has to be left to the rabble and blogs like Arctic Ice Hockey. Or even this blog. Mainstream scribes covering the team, on the other hand, are expected to operate from a platform of objectivity. Well aren’t they?

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Speaking of the WHA’s last act, in which the Jets delivered a championship to River City, this is what sometimes happens when people who weren’t there write history: Mike McIntyre of the Freep scribbled a lengthy piece about past Jets’ post-season activity and mentioned they received “contributions from the likes of Willy Lindstrom, Morris Lukowich and Peter Sullivan” in beating the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Gretzkys in the spring of 1979. While true, no review of the Jets’ third WHA title can have the ring of credibility without the mention of Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston. They were the driving forces. Ruskowski, who basically played the final vs. the Gretzkys with one arm, was an emotional force and led the team with a dozen assists, while Preston, a penalty-killing demon, provided 13 points and was saluted as playoff most valuable player. McIntyre’s failure to acknowledge them is a glaring omission on what went down that spring.

I’m still liking Jets captain Blake Wheeler and his 91 points to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. I have, mind you, slightly revised my personal top five: Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Blake Wheeler, Taylor Hall and Sidney Crosby.

Randy Turner: Burned

Really enjoyed a fun Twitter exchange between Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet and Randy Turner of the Freep.

Turner: “Personally, I’m rooting for a #NHLJets-Leafs Stanley Cup final just so Toronto fans can finally get some much-needed publicity for their hockey team.”

Cox: “Plus it’ll give Winnipeggers a chance to see what the Grey Cup looks like if they come to town for the series.”

Total burn for Cox. Brilliant. Love it, and I’m from Pegtown.

Dumbest headline and article of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “Thinking about past, and future, Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parades.” The piece is written by former Leafs general manager and Sportsnet chin-wagger Gord Stellick, a great guy who never should have been GM of the Leafs and never should have written that article.

Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette and Liv

The best from Sportsnet came in the form of a lovely Hometown Hockey feature on same-sex couple Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, and their baby Liv. I’d say we’re making progress when a national sports network doesn’t shy away from talking about married lesbian hockey players/coaches. It was a beautiful bit of work that dampened my eyes.

On the subject of getting teary-eyed, I thought bean counter Scott Foster playing 14 minutes of goal for the Chicago Blackhawks and shutting out the Winnipeg Jets would be the feel-good sports story of the year, but G.T. Nicklaus’s ace on No. 9 in the Masters par-3 tournament has moved to the front of my scorecard. Caddy G.T.’s ace brought grandpa Jack Nicklaus to tears. It was a magic moment.

Apparently, fighting fool Conor McGregor did something really stupid this week. In other news, dog bites man.

Wayne Gretzky

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: In a Twitter exchange with Heather Marginet re the NHL Hart Trophy, Simmons displayed a shocking lack of knowledge for a national sports columnist.

Marginet: “The 79-80 Oilers finished with 69 points. Significantly worse than this (current) Oilers squad. Gretzky was the Hart.”

Simmons (being sarcastic and dismissive): “They were so bad they played 13 playoff games that year—basically announcing their arrival as a team to reckon with.”

As numerous people eagerly pointed out, Simmons was totally out to lunch. The Oilers, in fact, played just three playoff games that year, not 13. All were losses to the Philadelphia Flyers.

About drinking the Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid…a pity party…size doesn’t really matter…beer-league hockey and a bean counter…a losing MVP…Nathan MacKinnon for MVP…Shaq’s still PO’d about Steve Nash…women in the broadcast booth…and Le Grand Orange bids adieu

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.

But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.

Right to the very last drop.

Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”

In fact, it almost certainly was not true.

Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):

Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90
King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96
All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95
Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17
Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars15.

Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17
Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93
Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93
All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80
Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17
Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.

We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.

But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.

Go figure.

This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.

Blake Wheeler

Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.

Scott Foster shuts the door on Paul Stastny.

So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.

Al Rollins

Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.

If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.

I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.

How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.

Le Grand Orange

Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.

About racism, Winnipeg and Evander Kane…Puck Finn and the Great One…the Jets and the Nashville Model…the odds on Tiger…eyes on the Raptors…a girl in goal…Tebow time is over…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

See? Evander Kane was right all along.

He wasn’t the problem.

Blame the Buffalo cops, who slapped the cuffs on Evander Kane.

It was all those ungrateful, green-with-envy restaurant workers and (especially) those nasty racists in Winnipeg. And it was those young, gold-digging women in Buffalo who kept calling the cops and accusing him of sexual assault. And it was those same cops who clapped the cuffs on him—in broad daylight on a downtown Buffalo street, no less—and hauled his sorry butt to the hoosegow. They were white, ergo racist.

That’s why Kane never blossomed into the National Hockey League mega-star that so many of the faithful expected (hoped?) him to become.

Well just look at our old friend now.

Kane has landed in a city, San Jose, where (apparently) there isn’t someone wearing a white bedsheet and a KKK hood hiding behind every lamp post. The citizenry is, according to Paul Gackle of the San Jose Mercury News, recognized for “ethnic diversity and lefty politics.” Also significant: “Less than 30 per cent of its population is white.”

And—as if on cue—presto! Kane has his first NHL hat trick. Four goals in one game, in fact. Five in nine.

It’s great that San Jose is so diverse,” the former Winnipeg Jets/Buffalo Sabres and freshly minted Sharks winger told Gackle just last week. “I’ve heard nothing but positive things.”

Donald Williams Jr. leaving the courthouse with his mother.

I guess Kane missed the memo about Donald Williams Jr.

He was a 17-year-old black freshman and the victim of a chilling campaign of racism at San Jose State University. Three white dorm roommates terrorized Williams Jr., dropping N-bombs, calling him “fraction,” posting pictures of Adolph Hitler, flaunting the Confederate flag and, most alarming, they clamped a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck and told him they lost the key. That went on for three months. The white boys insisted it was a college prank and, alarmingly, a jury agreed, finding the roommates guilty of misdemeanor battery but clearing one on a hate-crime charge and failing to reach a verdict on the other two. Oh, did I fail to mention that it was an all-white jury?

I don’t recall anything like that happening at the University of Winnipeg or University of Manitoba.

Ironically, the Williams Jr. torment occurred in 2013, about the same time Kane was telling The Hockey News that much of the criticism directed his way in Winnipeg was “because I’m black, and I’m not afraid to say that. I do think that’s true. Absolutely.”

Indeed, Gackle writes about “the racial issues that Kane confronted with the Jets,” but he leans heavily on race and goes light on substance. That is to say, not once does he provide anecdotal evidence in his Mercury News article to support his supposition. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, Kane has never supplied one morsel of detailed testimony to confirm that racism was at the root of his trouble in River City. At best, he’s muttered about the horrors of “social media and that sort of stuff.”

That from a guy who once tweeted that Chris Bosh “looked like a fairy” during a National Basketball Association playoff game. Before delivering a mea culpa for that anti-gay slur, Kane scoffed at anyone who took offence, advising them that his comment was “real talk.” So, ya, he knows all about the sewage that pours out of people hiding behind a computer keyboard. He’s contributed to it.

Look, I don’t doubt Kane has experienced racism and/or bigotry on social media. What minority hasn’t? Try being a female jock journalist. Or gay? Or transgender.

None of this is to suggest racism doesn’t exist in Winnipeg. We all know it does. Bigotry too. I just think it’s time that Evander Kane stopped playing the race card and just played hockey.

San Jose State University students protest ruling in Donald Williams Jr. case.

The headline on Gackle’s article in the Mercury News was pure click bait: “Racism, Winnipeg and why the Sharks are a good fit for Evander Kane.” But, then, that’s what a headline is supposed to do. As for the writer, Gackle pointed out that racism isn’t “just a Winnipeg thing,” but he still wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way of his slanted story. He eagerly painted River City as a bedrock of racism and, at the same time, presented San Jose as lily white in soul, if not skin color, yet he not only ignored the aforementioned Donald Williams Jr. case, he also made no mention of a September 2016 circumstance, whereby swastikas and anti-semitic language were discovered in two resident halls at San Jose State University. That led to another investigation of a hate crime. Had Gackle included those two incidents, he had no story.

Wayne Gretzky

Speaking of scribes and facts, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is dealing in inaccuracies when he writes this about Jets sophomore sensation Patrik Laine: “So what does (a contract) extension look like for a 19-year-old who has 41 goals in his second season in the NHL and has already scored more often at this point in his career than Wayne Gretzky?” Fact check: To date, Puck Finn has lit the lamp 79 times. He has 132 points. Gretzky, meanwhile, had 106 (51, 55) goals and 301 (137, 164) points in his first two NHL crusades. Thus, Laine needs 27 goals and 169 points in the Jets final 10 games to equal Gretzky’s totals. Just the facts, ma’am…just the facts. It’s not hard to look ’em up.

Mark Chipman: Following the Nashville blueprint.

Wiecek also makes the strong case that the Jets are modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks, but didn’t Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman make it clear from the outset that his franchise was using the Nashville Predators’ blueprint? Well, yes…yes he did. “That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg, that Nashville’s a team we’ve looked carefully at,” the Jets co-bankroll told news snoops in the spring of 2012. “They’ve done it methodically, they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.” As it turns out, Nashville South and Nashville North (in the hockey sense) soon might be arguing over Central Division bragging rights in the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament.

Tiger Woods

So, people are watching golf again now that Tiger Woods can get out of bed without taking a mulligan, and Las Vegas bookies are mightily impressed. So much so that LV SuperBook had Tiger listed last Wednesday as the 8-1 favorite to win next month’s Masters tournament. It’s a fool’s bet. As well as Woods performed in the recent Valspar Championship and in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, he won’t win an event that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson. That’s where my money would go.

Bond…James Bond

I’m advised that last Friday’s joust between National Basketball Association titans, the Tranna Raptors and Houston Rockets, was watched, in whole or in part, by 1.7 million Canadians. Never before have that many eyeballs been glued to Tranna’s hoopsters for a regular-season game. “The excitement for the Raptors is clearly building right across the country,” gushed Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet. I suppose we’ll have to take his word for it, but I’d like to see a regional breakdown of viewer numbers before I’m convinced that anyone west of Mississauga and east of the Ontario-Quebec boundary is watching the Raptors. Personally, I’ve never seen five minutes of a Raptors game. Mind you, I’ve never seen an episode of Star Trek or a James Bond movie, either, so perhaps I’ll add all three to my bucket list. If I had a bucket list, that is.

Stephanie Labbe

Canadian women’s national team keeper Stephanie Labbe is attempting to crack the roster of the Calgary Foothills, a men’s under-23 outfit in soccer’s Premier Development League. “I’m not a female soccer player, I’m just a soccer player,” she says. Unfortunately, even in 2018, that’s not how others will look at it. I mean, a rainbow trout can shout “I’m not a rainbow trout, I’m just a trout,” but fishers are still going to see a rainbow trout. The important thing—and all that really matters—is that management and Labbe’s fellow players treat her as “just a soccer player.” Bonne chance to her.

Tim Tebow

Is the Tim Tebow carnival sideshow on or off? “I think one day he will play in the major leagues. That’s my guess,” New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said of the football-to-baseball experiment. He added that Tebow graduating to his club’s Major League Baseball roster has become a “modest expectation.” Tebow then went 1-for-18 (.056) with 11 whiffs during seven Grapefruit League games with the Amazins. No word on whether the expectation has been downgraded from “modest” to “it ain’t never gonna happen,” but I saw the former Heisman Trophy winner twice this spring and it seems to me he’s a guy with a future as a college football broadcaster, not in Mets outfield.

Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

Canada’s reps at the world women’s curling championship are Jennifer Jones and her gal pals from the St. Vital Club in River City, and neither local newspaper has feet on the ground in North Bay. I’ve come to expect that from the Winnipeg Sun, which was truant at this year’s Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but I’m surprised that the Freep would give the worlds a pass. Especially since this is last call for the legendary hall of fame tandem of Jones and longtime second Jill Officer, who steps away from the team as a full-time curler at season’s end.

Euclid Cummings

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Don’t like the fact the CFL voids contracts after players are charged with a crime. Being charged is one thing. Being convicted is another. CFL shouldn’t play judge and jury here with people’s lives.” So, Euclid Cummings is facing two counts of sexual assault, one count of assault and one count of uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm, and Simmons believes the Canadian Football League is wrong for telling the B.C. Lions that the defensive lineman is persona non grata. I suppose we ought not be surprised. Simmons, after all, also believes Johnny Manziel, who beat up his former girl friend more than once, would be a swell addition to the CFL. Perhaps he’d like the three-down league to make room for Ray Rice as well.