Let’s talk about The Big Reveal on Matt Nichols in tweets…Kyle Walters’ ‘smart phone’…the over/under with Chris Streveler at QB…hey, Kyle, what about Aaron Rodgers?…CFL head counts…Puck Finn’s ‘hard feelings’…beef jerky and Mitch Marner…and Bianca’s coming out party

Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and any CFL team that hasn’t lost a starting quarterback isn’t trying hard enough…

This Matt Nichols thing has had chins wagging and thumbs jerking since last Thursday, and I really can’t recall there ever being so much ballyhoo about a right arm in River City.

The Golden Boy tosses a right haymaker at Sugar Ray.

At least not since Golden Boy Donny Lalonde sent a shiver into Sugar Ray Leonard and knocked him to the canvas in their 1988 title tiff.

At any rate, after keeping the severity of Nichols’ owie on the QT for three days, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers came clean with The Big Reveal on Monday, and I found it interesting how the boys on the beat in Good Ol’ Hometown spread the tidings via their twitchy Twitter thumbs.

10:19 a.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Bridge, Willy could figure in Blue Bombers’ plans—update on Matt Nichols later today.”

11:48 (Ted Wyman): “He’s not in a practice jersey but Matt Nichols just walked into Bombers practice. No sling or anything like that on his throwing arm.”

11:53 (Bob Irving): “Matt Nichols is on the field watching practice. Arm hanging loose at his side. Which does not mean the injury is any less serious. O’Shea will share more after practice.”

Matt Nichols as observed by Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun.

11:55 (Ted Wyman): “Here is Bombers QB Matt Nichols walking to practice field. Was keeping his right arm at his side but have seen him moving it around a bit. Hands on hips etc.”

1:10 p.m. (Jeff Hamilton): “Matt Nichols is looking at weeks before he is back playing. Bombers are looking for various options for rehab, with hope of return asap. He’s played through serious injury before but with plenty of season left, and with/team 7-2, want to be sure he’ll be ready down the stretch.”

1:27: (Ted Wyman): “Matt Nichols will go on the 6-game injured list and be evaluated over that period. Mike O’Shea expects him to be ready to play in 4-6 weeks.”

1:28 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks he hopes to see Nichols play.”

1:28 (Ted Wyman): “No surgery necessary for upper body injury for Nichols. Bombers will look to bring in another QB in next couple weeks. Chris Streveler will be starter in Edmonton on Friday and for the foreseeable future.”

1:30 (Jeff Hamilton): “Bombers HC Mike O’Shea says 4-6 weeks before Nichols is re-evaluated. So 6 weeks minimum before he plays.”

Chris Streveler at the controls.

So now that we know the arm “hanging loose at his side” limits Nichols to tasks no more strenuous than putting “hands on hips etc.” until at least the end of September, we direct our attention to Chris Streveler and wonder and speculate what might become of a 7-2 Winnipeg FC outfit that, at present, looks down on all it surveys in the West Division of the Canadian Football League.

Streveler is a blood-and-guts QB, built from the I-think-I’m-a-middle-linebacker, Matt Dunigan mold. Only he’s about a foot taller. Matty never saw a brick wall he didn’t want to take on, and I don’t imagine we’ll see Streveler performing with a safety net too often. Even if instructed to do so. He’s already had more head-on collisions than a crash-test dummy and actually seems to enjoy running into immovable objects with arms, legs and a bad attitude.

But, as Doug Brown outlines in an excellent piece in the Drab Slab, Streveler will require more than his hell-bent-for-leather tendencies to keep the Bombers in the first-place discussion. This is, after all, a passing league and he’ll be required to fling the football as often as not. Oh, and stay in one piece while doing it.

I don’t have to remind you that Nichols is the latest starting QB added to a body count that now numbers seven, and if Streveler gets too reckless the next option is greenhorn Sean McGuire.

Mind you, GM Kyle Walters has been working the phone in search of a QB with some savvy.

That’s good to know, but if old friend Drew Willy is the best he can dredge up we’ll know it isn’t a “smart” phone.

Drew Willy and Matt Nichols.

When last seen in River City, Willy had a tendency to bounce the ball to his receivers, which, as it happened, worked out well for Winnipeg FC because it forced head coach Mike O’Shea’s hand. He turned the ball over to Nichols, who went about the business of beating the Eskimos in E-Town in his first whirl behind centre. In a nifty bit of irony, that’s also Streveler’s starting point on Friday night.

So what’s the over/under on Ws with Streveler behind centre in the next 5/6 skirmishes? Three? Sounds about right. Play .500 football while Nichols is in the repair shop and it’s still game on. Anything less and a crossover playoff spot comes into play. I’m all about the glass half full right now, though. As Dunigan might say, I believe Streveler can “get ‘er done, young man.”

Aaron Rodgers: Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play.

Hey, come to think of it, there’ll be a fair country QB in town this week. Maybe GM Walters can convince Aaron Rodgers to stick around after the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders have conducted business at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Now that would be a “smart” phone.

The Pack and Raiders go through the motions on Thursday night, and if the over/under on the head count for the NFL dress rehearsal is 20,000, I’ll take the under. At the prices they’re charging, I really don’t think there are more than 20,000 danged fools in Good Ol’ Hometown.

The boys and Kate Beirness on TSN did some tall talking about “close to a sellout” at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna for last Thursday’s skirmish between the Argos and E-Town Eskimos. Official head count: 16,490. Number of empty seats: 8,510. Only in The ROT (and on TSN) would a nearly half-empty stadium be considered “close to a sellout.”

There is, mind you, glad tidings drifting out of The ROT. As unlikely as it might seem, the Argos are the only CFL outfit showing an increase in attendance over 2018. Go figure.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab just won’t let it go. He insists on beating the Winnipeg Jets’ “fractured changing room” drum, this time as it relates to Patrik Laine. The young winger and restricted free agent recently made some empty remarks about his National Hockey League future, saying, “You never know where you’re going to play next year. I’m just prepared for anything.” Puck Finn added that he’s “got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg” and offered a few more benign tidbits that didn’t total a mole hill of substance. Yet here’s Mad Mike on the matter: “No doubt there’s also some lingering hard feelings over how last season played out, both on the ice and within the dressing room.” My goodness. Instead of reading between the lines, fly to Finland like Chris Johnston of Sportsnet did. Or pick up a phone and dial Laine’s number. Ask him directly if he’s PO’d about anything that went on in the Winnipeg HC boudoir. Then report the facts. Otherwise, shut the hell up about it.

The overrated(?) Mitch Marner.

You’ll have to excuse Mitch Marner if he feels a sudden urge to piddle on Andrew Berkshire’s Corn Flakes. I mean, to hear the numbers nerd talk about the Tranna Maple Leafs winger on Sportsnet 590 The Fan, you’d swear that young Mitch is to hockey what beef jerky is to fine dining. Marner “might be the most overrated player in the NHL.” Marner is “not the guy driving the bus on that line. It’s John Tavares.” And “Is Mitch Marner better than Timo Meier? I think most people in Toronto would say yes but data says no. Meier’s actually significantly more productive.” Well, I haven’t held a slide rule in my hands since struggling mightily with high school math at Miles Macdonell Collegiate, but no amount of nerd-produced numbers from Pie Chart Boy will convince me that a 66-point man (Meier) is “significantly more productive” than a guy (Marner) whose 94 points were bettered by only 10 players last season. Marner had more assists than Meier had points, for cripes sake. Berkshire, whose fancy stats, graphs and pie charts also clutter up the Drab Slab sports pages, can cherry pick all he likes and put greater value on one number over another, but I’ll take 94 over 66 every time. At the rink or in math class at Miles Mac.

I think the most telling comment Pie Chart Boy made re Marner and other unsigned NHL restricted free agents was this: “I don’t know how NHL executives view these guys.” Exactly. He doesn’t know.

Bianca Andreescu at her Indian Wells coming out party.

And, finally, here’s something that’s just stone…cold…stupid: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna writes about our girl Bianca Andreescu’s chances at next week’s U.S. Open in Gotham, suggesting, “This could well be the young Canadian’s coming out party as a professional.” Good grief. What was Indian Wells? What was the Rogers Cup? A couple of meh moments that no one noticed? Look, after you’ve won a tournament that includes the elite 75 female players on the planet (Indian Wells), then re-up with a win at the Rogers Cup in The ROT, there’s no longer any need for introductions. They know who you are. Our teen sensation won’t catch the field, the media, or the rowdies at Flushing Meadows by surprise. Bianca had her coming out party five months ago at Indian Wells, so either Simmons educates himself or he has to stop scribbling about women’s sports.

Let’s talk about Mayor Brian Bowman bailing on the Blue Bombers…split screens and Benny on TSN…Sleepy Joe and Wile E. Coyote…CFL head counts…the Roger and Novak show…Simona Halep beating the bully…and fond memories of local tennis

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and you won’t find any aces in here but there are plenty of double faults…

So, Brian Bowman wants the City of Winnipeg to wash its hands of the Blue Bombers.

Mayor Brian Bowman

Was it something they said? Is it that 28-year, no Grey Cup parade thing? Someone at City Hall doesn’t like Mike O’Shea’s sideline look? Whatever the case, surely we can work this out, even if it means convincing Coach Mikey to shop at Mr. Big & Tall instead of finding his game-day attire on the racks at Sally Ann’s.

Personally, Coach Mikey’s t-shirt-and-shorts chic has never bothered me. I look at him as Coach Grunge. You know, the way Neil Young is the Godfather of Grunge.

Come to think of it, perhaps Neil Young will be Mayor Bowman’s next target. No more official bragging about the Sugar Mountain kid skipping school at Kelvin High to earn his musical chops hither and yon with the Squires, Buffalo Springfield, CSNY and Crazy Horse. Who wants to be bragging on a high school dropout as a homeboy? Let the Republic of Tranna claim him.

And, hey, while he’s at it, maybe Mayor BB can order favorite citizen Kenny Ploen deported back to Lost Nation, Iowa. After all, it’s been more than half a century since K.P. had a hand in bringing the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown.

Mind you, Mayor BB wouldn’t know much about that. He wasn’t around in the late-1950s and early-1960s, when Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Choo Choo Shepard, Zazu, Kid Dynamite and the large lads in Blue and Gold won championships like kids collected bubble gum cards of their Canadian Football League heroes.

By the time Mayor BB squeezed out of the womb, those legends were long gone and so were the Bombers’ glory days.

Mayor Steve Juba: Friend of the Bombers.

But I’ll tell you who could have filled him in on those “best of times”—Steve Juba, one of his predecessors in the mayor’s office. Trouble is, Steve left us in 1993, so he isn’t available for a fireside chat with the present-day Hizzoner. If he were, no doubt Mayor Steve would regale Mayor BB in what it was like back in the day. You know, when the mayor of all the people actually embraced the connection between city and Winnipeg FC.

True story…

Once upon a time, the Bombers held a Blue and Gold intersquad game during training exercises. It was a huge deal. Anywhere from 17,000 to 19,500 locals would make their way to the real-grass football field on Maroons Road to take in the annual frolic, and I was among the east-side rabble on the night of July 21, 1960.

The opening kickoff tumbled near the Gold goalline, whereupon a return man scooped it up and began to skedaddle toward the right sideline. He had the awkward gait of peg-leg pirate and the giddyup of a sloth, but admirable escapeability. Would-be tacklers flung themselves at him in desperation without success, and he made it untouched to the far 35-yard stripe before an unknowing skunk shirt ruled him out of bounds.

I describe the game official as “unknowing” because the fix was in. The return man, you see, was Mayor Juba and the pre-arranged script had him lugging the kickoff back for a touchdown. Alas, someone forgot to clue in the sideline official. Didn’t really matter, though. Mayor Steve had punked the audience.

Three years later, a Blue and Gold game official ejected Kenny Ploen and receiver Farrell Funston when they connected for a TD. On the first play from scrimmage. The rabble howled in protest, demanding that Ploen and Funston be reinserted to the fray. They hadn’t paid $2 a pop to see some clown in a striped shirt turf two of their heroes. Upon closer inspection, however, it was discovered that the man in stripes was…you guessed it, Steve Juba. Yup, once again, Mayor Prankster had pulled one over on the Big Blue masses.

It was fun stuff. And a charming, folksy chapter in the historic bond between city and football club.

Yet, given his druthers, Mayor BB is inclined to bail on the burg’s beloved (well, aren’t they?) Blue Bombers. He’s not interested in the City of Winnipeg occupying a seat on the board.

Mayor Steve must be spinning like a lathe in his cold, Blue and Gold grave.

One thing to keep in mind about Winnipeg FC: It isn’t a community-owned operation. No one owns the football club. It’s community-run.

A couple of words on TSN’s innovative(?) split screen/live mic thingy during the Bytown RedBlacks-Montreal Alouettes skirmish on Saturday: The worst. We were forced to watch Antoine Pruneau and Henoc Muamba do absolutely nothing on the left side of our flatscreens for a dozen or more plays, while squinting at the right side of the screen to see what the other 22 players were doing. I’m all for new-fangled gadgetry, but this was a colossal failure. And, since I can’t afford a 70-inch TV, I hope this experiment goes the way of the Indian head test pattern (Google it, kids).

Mike Benevides

Kirk Penton, as always, delivered the good stuff in his CFL column for The Athletic last week, and it included this gem from a former coach: “It was great to see one of us (coaches) on TSN. Benny (Mike Benevides) sounded like what he is—a solid football guy. He understands our game. He picks up the keys to the game and explains them. Without him, the rest of that group is no different than watching Entertainment Tonight Canada. A lot of expensive clothes and a lot of talk about nothing.” Burn! Personally, I find Benevides uppity, if not flat-out arrogant. He doesn’t talk as much as he lectures, as if the former players on the TSN panel are still in film study. Benny could spend a bit more time in wardrobe, too. He’s not smoooooth like Milt Stegall. But, then, who is?

Anyone have a clue what’s going on in Montreal? Or maybe this is a better question: Does anyone in Montreal have a clue, period? I mean, the Alouettes are a welfare case (read: no owner); they play in a half-empty house; they fired head coach Mike Sherman on the eve of the CFL season; now they punt GM Kavis Reed after twin Ws leveled their record at 2-2. Strange bit of business. But here’s where it gets Rod Serling/Twilight Zone weird (cue the creepy music)—they’ve handed the keys to the shop to Joe Mack. That’s like giving Wile E. Coyote another stick of dynamite. Nothing good will come of it.

Sleepy Joe

Blue Bombers loyalists can tell the Larks all about Sleepy Joe and how he believed a brittle Buck Pierce was a better option at quarterback than Mike Reilly in 2013. It took present-day GM Kyle Walters more than three years to find his way out of the rubble that Sleepy Joe left behind, but we still feel an after-shock every now and then.

Sorry to report that attendance across the CFL is not on the rebound. The numbers continue to plummet everywhere but Calgary, and it’s gotten so bad in the Republic of Tranna that they don’t bother to take a head count. I agree. That’s unacceptable. After all, how long does it take to count to 100? Maybe they can bring in the Army to do it for them.

Novak Djokovic

Sports theatre doesn’t get much better than what played out on Centre Court Wimbledon on Sunday, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer knocking the fuzz off tennis balls at the All-England Club. Five sets, tiebreaker in the fifth, three ‘breakers total…bloody brilliant. And dare I say, the loser in this historic 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 tussle was the better player most of the afternoon. It’s just that Djokovic won the points that mattered most in claiming his 16th Grand Slam title, and that included fighting off two match points against Federer’s serve.

Simona Halep

I must confess, while watching the very likable Simona Halep give bully Serena Williams a good and proper rag-dolling in the women’s final on Saturday, I kept wondering if tournament officials would be required to dial 911 and call for a SWAT team to restore law and order. That is, I expected Williams to dig into her bag of angry theatrics and take the event hostage, much like she did in losing last year’s U.S. Open to Naomi Osaka. Thankfully, she brought her prim and proper manners to the English party. But she’s still a bully.

Halep worked a mere 56 minutes in winning her title. Djokovic needed four hours and 57 minutes to get the job done v. Federer. Each champion received a winner’s purse of $2.95 million. Any complaints about pay equity? I hope not.

Since Federer claimed his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003, it’s been same old, same old on the men’s tour. Only 10 men have won a major. That’s it, just 10 in 17 years. Between Swiss maestro Federer, Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, they’ve collected 54 of the 65 majors, which is insane. Meanwhile, on the women’s side, there have been 24 Grand Slam champions in the same time frame.

Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club

I’m partial to tennis because it was my favorite beat at the Winnipeg Tribune. I spent countless enjoyable hours courtside at both the Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club and the Canoe Club through most of the 1970s, and I have fond memories of people like Rick Borland, Judy Peake, Jo and Jack Brown, Eleanor O’Gorman, the Campbell sisters, Glen Booth, Jim Matthews, Al Skaletar, George Kylar, and so many others. So it pains me that the Winnipeg Sun would choose to ignore the National Bank Challenger tournament, which wrapped up at the WLTC on Sunday. The Drab Slab, meanwhile, did it right with young Taylor Allen’s feet on the ground through the entirety of the event.

And, finally, here’s something for the Winnipeg Jets rabble to chew on, and I’m guessing some might not like the taste:
Jordan Binnington salary: $4.4 million.
Connor Hellebuyck salary: $6.166,666 million.
Stanley Cup rings: Binnington 1; Hellebuyck 0.
Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

About the Winnipeg Jets at the halfway mark…Acts II and III of the NHL season…Chevy’s next move…trading Puck Finn for Matthew Tkachuk…the awfulness of Twitter and NFL replays…’oddly compelling’…Yahoo searches…and sharing oxygen with the giants

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if NFL replay guys don’t know a catch from a fumble or where to place the football, how are we supposed to know?

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

They have arrived at the midway mark of their regular-season crusade where many of us figured them to be—atop the Western Conference table—but they seem to be something of a tease.

Clearly among the National Hockey League elite, they go about their business in a very workmanlike manner, determined and purposeful, yet it’s as if they’re holding something in reserve, offering only hints of what might be.

They have strut, but they fall noticeably short of cock-of-the-walk arrogance, which is a good thing. It’s as if they know they’re damn good, but they also seem to know they aren’t damn near good enough.

Perhaps that’s the lesson learned from their dizzying ascent and subsequent comeuppance in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, when they were found to be a brick or two short of a load and eventually bowed to the upstarts from Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.

Let’s face it, the NHL season is a three-part play: Act I is October-November-December hockey, Act II is January-February-March hockey, Act III is the beast known as the playoffs. You can get by with good in Act I. You need to up your game in Act II. Only great is acceptable in Act III.

And lest there be any doubt, it has become all about Act III for Winnipeg HC, not the regular season.

Puck Finn

Given that our hockey heroes have stared into the maw of the playoff beast, it follows that they surely recognize what lies in front of them will be contested at a higher in-your-face intensity. The grit quotient required to achieve the most favorable playoff seeding is amped up. It takes Blake Wheeler kind of grit. Does Winnipeg HC have enough of it? Well, every time I see Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine floating aimlessly about the freeze, I think not. Then I see Mathieu Perreault busting his hump along the wall and I think, “Ya, man, that’s how it’s done. Puck Finn take note.” Never thought I’d say it, but les Jets need more Perreault and less Puck Finn.

Chevy

Forty-one games in, I harbor the same concerns that I had in early October—centre ice and defence. I didn’t expect general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to tinker with his roster pre-Christmas, but, as I wrote before they dropped the puck, he’ll have to do something before crunch time. I don’t think this Jets outfit is as good as the group that bowed out vs. the Vegas Golden Knights last spring. Mind you, at least one pundit begs to differ. “I think it is. (They’re) very much as good as last year,” says TSN talking head Mike Johnson. Except he then mentions the need for an upgrade at—you guessed it—centre ice. “Ideally” Bryan Little would be on the third line and Chevy would go out and grab someone to slide into the No. 2 slot. “That’s the one spot the Jets might want to try and address,” Johnson suggests. So if I’m hearing him correctly, Johnson figures les Jets are as good as before, except they aren’t. Sure. And Milan Lucic is the same beast he was in 2011, except he isn’t.

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Hightlight of les Jets’ first 41 skirmishes for me? Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. They just keep getting it done. And, unlike a lot of folks, I’m not convinced that Scheifele is the most valuable player on the Jets. I still say it’s Wheeler.

Question to ask yourself, Part I: Would you trade les Jets roster even up for the Golden Knights roster? I wouldn’t either, so why did Vegas get to the Stanley Cup final last spring and why does it have more wins and points than Winnipeg HC today (after a horrendous start to the season)? Could the reason be found behind the bench? Just asking.

Matthew Tkachuk

Question to ask yourself, Part II: Would you trade Laine even up for Matthew Tkachuk? I think I might. All that glitters with Puck Finn is goals. The rest of his game? Meh to disastrous. Tkachuk, on the other hand, brings a more complete package, including serious snark. Just turned 21, he’s already an assistant captain with the Calgary Flames, and I don’t think Keith’s kid takes a shift off, let alone a month. He has the kind of jam you need in the post-season, and his 49 points tower over Puck Finn’s 32. Nobody’s saying Chevy coughed up a hairball in choosing Puck Finn second overall in the 2016 NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers, but, based on career growth to date, Tkachuk might have been the better choice. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.

Latest sign that the world has gone stark-raving mad: Cody Parkey flubs a field goal attempt that eliminates the Chicago Bears from the National Football League playoffs, and he receives death threats on Twitter. That’s some kind of scary stuff.

I’m a big fan of replay in sports. I’m not a big fan of replay officials. I mean, some of the decision-making in Sunday’s NFL wild-card skirmishing was as ridiculous as the gown Lady Gaga wore to the Golden Globe Awards gala. (Seriously. The train on that thing was longer than most of the passes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson tossed.)

Kawhi Leonard

This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country.” I really wish sports scribes working in the Republic of Tranna would stop telling those of us who live in the colonies what we’re thinking. It’s rude and offensive. I read all of Canada’s major dailies, and I don’t see any of our flowers of jock journalism (outside The ROT) writing about Leonard or the Raptors. Leonard and the Tranna Raptors are not a topic of conversation where I live. Of the athletes most searched on Yahoo! Canada in 2018, Leonard is nowhere to be found. Genie Bouchard is there. Brooke Henderson is there. Erik Karlsson is there. But not Kawhi Leonard. Among the top 10 sports searches, the Raptors fell into the seventh slot, behind soccer’s World Cup, the Tranna Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Leonard and the Raptors are a “thing” in The ROT. Nowhere else.

Genie Bouchard

If we do have a most “oddly compelling” athlete, it has to be tennis diva Bouchard. I mean, aside from flashing a great amount of flesh in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she did nothing of note in 2018. She’s short on charisma and seemingly long on sourpuss-ism. So how is it that she was the second most-searched athlete on Yahoo! Canada, behind only Tiger Woods? I guess it’s not how many tennis matches you win that counts, it’s how many pieces of clothing you remove. Here are the Yahoo! Canada search lists for ’18:

Overall
Donald Trump
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Justin Trudeau
Meghan Markle
The Canadian dollar
Doug Ford
Melania Trump
World Cup
Winnipeg Jets

Athletes
Tiger Woods
Eugenie Bouchard
Serena Williams
LeBron James
Cristiano Ronaldo
Brooke Henderson
Erik Karlsson
Conor McGregor
Ronda Rousey
Roger Federer

Sports
Word Cup
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Winnipeg Jets
Edmonton Oilers
Montreal Canadiens
Tranna Raptors
Vancouver Canucks
Australian Open
U.S. Open (tennis)

matty
Matty

And, finally, as a follow-up to comments I made Sunday about old friend Paul Friesen’s superb, thoughtful and touching piece on legendary broadcaster Bob Picken in the Winnipeg Sun, I must mention how fortunate and blessed I was to have worked with, and against, some of the men from what Paul F. described as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. It was a treat and privilege to rub shoulders with Pick, Jack Matheson, Don Wittman, John Robertson, Hal Sigurdson, Jack Wells, Don Wittman et al. I certainly didn’t belong in their class, but it was kind of them to share the classroom with me.

About Rink Rat Scheifele and the Hart Trophy…Lites out for Dallas Stars…Humpty Harold Ballard’s harrumphing…Fergy hurling B. Hull under the bus…firing the coach mid-game…dumb Canadians and dumber Americans…and wrinkles in the broadcast booth

The final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and congratulations to all you men out there who began your Christmas shopping at 3 p.m. on Christmas eve and managed to finish before closing time at the mall. You are a credit to your species, such as it is…

Rink Rat Scheifele

It is with more than a smidgen of skepticism that I note the well-meaning boys on the beat have begun to pump Rink Rat Scheifele’s tires.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun describes him as “a bona fide Hart Trophy candidate.”

Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press writes: “If the Jets maintain their altitude in the NHL standings, the 26-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., simply must be in the Hart Trophy conversation as the most valuable player.”

Bell’s accomplice at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, joins the hallelujah chorus by scribbling, “No doubt Scheifele is a contender right now for the most coveted trophy in the sport.”

Connor McDavid

Yes, it’s all rah-rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for the Good Ol’ Hometown hero.

Trouble is, I have yet to hear the “Mark Scheifele for MVP” rallying cry from beyond Manitoba’s boundaries. Mostly, the Winnipeg Jets centre is mentioned in passing while scribes and broadcasters deliver gobsmacking praise for the work of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Ovie, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, John Gibson, Johnny Gaudreau and, of course, Connor McDavid.

I’m not saying the Rink Rat doesn’t belong in the conversation, understand. I’m just saying he isn’t feeling the love hither and yon.

Mmmmmm, fast food.

Frankly, the Hart Trophy ought not be a talking point these days, but I suppose news snoops and opinionists were looking for something to write and gab about during the Christmas lull and before we embark on the dog days of the National Hockey League season. So, okay, let’s have at it. The most valuable player is McDavid. I mean, remove McMagnifique from the Edmonton Oilers lineup and the Oil would disappear faster than a Big Mac and a bucket of KFC on Air Force One. The same can’t be said about any of the other “candidates,” including Scheifele.

Jamie Benn, Jim Lites, Tyler Seguin

That wasn’t just a bus that Jim Lites hurled Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin under the other day. It was the entire Greyhound fleet. If you missed it, here’s what the Dallas Stars CEO had to say about his two top-salaried players (reader advisory: includes harsh language): “They are fucking horse shit, I don’t know how else to put it. We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done. These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager.” That, be advised, was after a win. Good grief, what does the guy do after a loss? Pluck the wings off house flies? Kick small dogs? Force his players to listen to Celine Dion albums?

Humpty Harold

The thing that surprised me about the Lites rant was the reaction from hockey pundits (hello Nick Kypreos) who can’t recall anyone in NHL management/ownership going off on a player.

What, they’ve already forgotten about Humpty Harold Ballard?

Not much pleased Humpty Harold, the cranky and cartoonish crook who once bankrolled the Tranna Maple Leafs. He harbored a particularly strong distaste for female reporters (“If they want to take their clothes off and talk to the players, fine. But I warn them they’ll have a lot more trouble getting out than they did getting in.”), and he had no patience for timid hockey players. He lashed out at his workers as frequently as a priest prays, and Humpty Harold’s harrumphing always was on public record.

Of Inge Hammarstrom, Ballard once said the slick Swedish forward “could go into the corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them.” Laurie Boschman, one of the nicest kids you could meet, was “soft” because he had “too much religion.” It didn’t matter to Humpty Harold that young Laurie had been laid low with mononucleosis and blood poisoning. Bosch, he reasoned, was a known Bible thumper, ergo a wimp. Not surprisingly, neither Hammarstrom or Boschman lasted long in the Republic of Tranna.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson

Closer to home, John Bowie Ferguson hurled Bobby Hull under the Greyhound early in the 1979-80 season, the Jets first in the NHL.

Hull, then 40, had come in from the cattle farm to end his retirement, and he struggled mightily due to rust and a wonky left shoulder. His personal numbers were modest (four goals, six assists in 18 starts) and the club functioned better without the Golden Jet in the lineup (6-7-1) than with him (5-10-3). So I called Fergy at home one night to get his take on Hull. Turns out it was a hot take.

“No, I don’t think Bobby has helped our hockey club at all,” the Jets general manager said with the bluntness of a sledge hammer. “Something is missing. He really is a very undisciplined hockey player and I don’t know if he can adapt. That freewheeling style would be fine if it was getting results. But it’s not.”

Hull never pulled on Jets linen again.

I recall one other public flogging, in the Western Canada Hockey League. Gerry Brisson, president and general manager of the Winnipeg Clubs, removed head coach George Dorman from behind the bench during the middle of a game! True story. It was November 1975. The Flin Flon Bombers were laying a licking on the Clubs, leading 4-1 through 40 minutes, and Brisson had seen enough. He therefore instructed Dorman to observe the final period from the pews in the old barn on Maroons Road, replacing him with the team trainer, Adam Tarnowski, who knew as much about coaching hockey as a cow knows about climbing trees. “I did it for shock value,” Brisson said after the fact. Didn’t work. His Clubs lost 5-2. More shocking than Dorman getting yanked in-game? He kept his job. That is correct. Brisson embarrassed the hell out of Dorman by forcing him to sit among the rabble, but he didn’t fire his coach. Go figure.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I believe we have arrived at the end of the annual, year-end trinket giveaway for Jocks and Jills in the True North Strong and Free, and the best of our best during the past 12 months—as decreed by news snoops from the left to right flank of the land—are golfer Brooke Henderson, fancy skaters Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir and moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury. Any arguments? You bet. The girls and boys at The Canadian Press got it right by naming Henderson and Kingsbury the top female and male athletes and Virtue/Moir the best team, but those who voted for the Lou Marsh Trophy coughed up a hair ball. Henderson, not Kingsbury, should have won.

Brooke Henderson

Here’s why we shouldn’t take the Lou Marsh Trophy seriously: It’s a total clown act. I mean, consider Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. He stumped for tennis player Daniel Nestor, who went 0-for-2018 and quit. Kelly’s boss, sports editor Shawna Richer, had a hissy fit when she couldn’t vote for a team (Virtue/Moir) as the winner of an individual award, so she left her ballot blank.

Then there’s Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. He squawked in support of Connor McDavid, Kingsbury and Marc-Andre Fleury (really?), and pooh-poohed any notion that Henderson should be declared our top athlete. Why? Because lady golfers just don’t rate.

“The LPGA Tour is primarily a one-country pursuit,” he said on TSN radio. “You look at the leaderboards every single week and it’s the same country and it’s the same golfers and it’s the same five or six women. It is so Korean dominated there’s not even any other country that competes, compares.”

This is a guy who clearly does not have a clue, yet he has a vote. Here are some numbers from the LPGA Tour in 2018:

Wins by country: U.S.A., 9; South Korea 9; Thailand, 5; Canada, Japan 2 each; Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Sweden, Mexico 1 each.

Winners: 26 different champions in 32 events.

Multiple winners: 4 (Canadian, Japanese, Thai, South Korean).

Money leaders: Top 20—7 Americans, 5 South Koreans, 2 Thai, 2 Australian, 1 Canadian, Japanese, Spanish, English; Top 50—19 Americans, 10 Koreans; Top 100—34 Americans, 18 Koreans.

Clearly Henderson competes in a sport that is far more global than moguls skiing, and it is dominated by Americans moreso than South Koreans. These facts aren’t difficult to dig up, but Simmons has never been one to let facts get in the way of a misguided rant.

Oh, let’s not forget that the Postmedia chain of bare-bones sports departments anointed Henderson and soccer player Alphonso Davies as the top jocks in the land. Please give Postmedia CEO and noted skinflint Paul Godfrey a quarter and tell him to call someone who cares.

Serena Williams

Staying with the dumb and dumber theme, The Associated Press voters totally lost the plot in selecting Serena Williams and LeBron James as 2018 top jocks in Trumpland. Seriously. Exactly what did Williams do in 2018? Well, she put on a catsuit at the French Open and, a few months later, staged one of the most demonstrative, appalling, pathetic pity party’s in the history of professional sports. When not busy putting a horrible damper on Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open victory, Williams won zero tournaments and was 18-6 overall. Meanwhile, gymnast Simone Biles won gold (four), silver (1) and bronze (1) medals at the world championships. Like Williams, King James won zip, yet still got the nod over Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. The Mookster was the American League batting champion, the AL most valuable player, a Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. That’s the baseball version of a royal flush. But, sorry Mookie, that just doesn’t cut it. And I thought our jock journos had dumbed down.

Doris Burke

And, finally, I’ll end the final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year with a quote from ESPN hoops broadcaster Doris Burke: “I promise you I’m not having plastic surgery. I’m 52. I’ve earned every wrinkle on my face. I actually like my wrinkles. And guess what? There are a lotta 60-year-old men who have wrinkles, no hair, glasses, and nobody gives a damn. It’s about time that woman my age or above, if she chooses to go into her 60s as an announcer, she should be allowed to do just that.”

Merry Sportsmas! Will it be goals or lumps o’ coal for the Jocks and Jills?

Not the usual Sunday smorgas-bored today, kids, because Sports Santa is on his way to town and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he has tucked inside his bag for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department

GOAL: Wasn’t that a party that Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and their Winnipeg Jets accomplices threw last spring on their merry way to the National Hockey League semifinals? They fell seven victories shy of a Stanley Cup parade, but good times were had by all, especially the mosh pit on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

COAL: Frank Seravalli of TSN wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty, and he proved it by describing the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Ya, like Don Cherry has been the face of Mother Russia since the days of the Soviet politburo. Seravalli is a mook. A Philly mook.

GOAL: Brooke Henderson, the sweetheart of the golf rodeo. Delightful, charming and all those other good things we like in our athletes, Brooke earned two LPGA titles, including the Canadian Open, something no home-grown woman had done in 45 years.

COAL: Brad Marchand, the Boston Licker. The Bruins agitator just couldn’t keep his tongue to himself, twice mistaking foes for lollipops. Ugh. Beyond disgusting.

GOAL: Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris struck for Olympic Games gold in the quirky brand of curling known as mixed doubles. Kaitlyn, like Brooke Henderson, is an absolute delight, and Johnny Mo is both a great curler and a great quote.

COAL: TSN gets an entire coal bin for its shameful adulation of Johnny Manziel, on-again/off-again quarterback with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats/Montreal Alouettes. Let’s forget for a moment that Manziel once beat up and threatened to kill a woman and should not be allowed to play in the Canadian Football League. As a QB, he was dreadful. The absolute worst. Yet the talking heads on the TSN panel and in the broadcast booth created a Cult of Johnny. They were like teenage groupies, gasping in worship for their favorite lousy QB. Totally creepy.

GOAL: Tessa Virtue is another sweetheart and her fancy skating partner, Scott Moir, is a total hoser, eh? After striking gold twice at the Olympics in South Korea, Tessa had fans swooning while Scott went all McKenzie Brothers by tossing back pints of beer and getting glassy-eyed and noodle-legged during the Canada-U.S. women’s hockey game. Beauty, eh?

COAL: Phil Mickelson is a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater. After missing a putt at the U.S. Open, Lefty scurried after his still-moving ball like a donut-fueled cop in pursuit of a bad guy, then stopped the Titleist before it could roll off the green. He laughed and shrugged it off as no big deal, telling everyone to lighten up. What a drip.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Jill Officer, Kaitlyn Lawes, Dawn McEwen and Shannon Birchard got it done on the pebble. Together, they won a provincial curling title, a Canadian curling title, a world curling title, two Grand Slam titles, and an Olympic curling title. That’s the best haul this side of Santa’s bag of goodies.

COAL: Fans booed when Winnipeg Blue Bombers QB Matt Nichols appeared on a giant screen at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry to deliver a public service announcement against the evils of drunk driving. Are you kidding me people? Can you slink any lower than that? Who will you boo next? Rudolph if his red nose goes on the fritz Christmas eve? Shame, shame.

GOAL: Barry Trotz, a local boy who made good by coaching the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup. The former Dauphin Kings and University of Manitoba bench maestro was out of work shortly after swilling beer from Stanley, but he landed safely on Long Island, so it’s all good.

COAL: If Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star wasn’t blaming victims for cyber bullying, he was describing the Vegas Golden Knights as a “shitty” team. Well, that “shitty” team reached the Stanley Cup final. Mr. Smarm was a creepy irritant on Hockey Central at Noon, although I haven’t seen him taking up space on the gum-flapper this season. Perhaps a suit at Sportsnet finally wised up.

GOAL: Andrew Harris of the Bombers earned himself another Canadian Football League rushing title.

COAL: Darian Durant stiffed the Bombers on the eve of training camp by promptly retiring, then kept the $70,000 signing bonus he’d been paid. Bad form. Truly lame. Sort of like many of the passes he threw in his final season in the CFL. So, hey, good riddance.

GOAL: Former Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons offered this quote during another trying season for the Tranna Nine: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Somewhere Yogi Berra is nodding in approval.

COAL: I’m not sure you could mine enough coal to stuff into Steve Simmons’ Christmas stocking. The Postmedia Tranna print hitman totally trashed mixed doubles curling (he presented fiction as fact) at the Olympics, he totally trashed team fancy skating at the Olympics, he totally trashed Pedro Martinez’s induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, he totally trashed Marc Savard for not returning phone calls…basically, his entire year was a trash-a-thon. He really is Grandpa Simpson at the keyboard.

GOAL: Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals went into party-animal mode with Lord Stanley, dragging him hither and yon while acting like drunken curlers. Apparently they ran out of booze, so they agreed to start playing hockey again in October.

COAL: Serena Williams staged a different kind of party—a pity party at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The former world No. 1 woman came completely unglued in the final vs. Naomi Osaka and attempted to turn her temper tantrum into a crusade for motherhood and gender equality. In reality, she simply behaved like a spoiled-brat loser that no mother could be proud of.

GOAL: Chris Streveler came out of nowhere and gave rise to the possibility that the Blue Bombers have actually unearthed their QB of the future.

COAL: Postmedia has completely destroyed the Winnipeg Sun sports section for readers interested in local clubs not named Jets, Bombers or Goldeyes. If you aren’t one of the big three, you no longer exist. Instead, Sun readers are force-fed a steady diet of copy on athletes and teams from the Republic of Tranna, pro rasslin’, UFC, sports betting, fantasy sports, etc.

GOAL: Winnipeg Free Press football scribe Jeff Hamilton’s podcast with Andrew Harris—The Handoff—was boffo stuff.

COAL: Randy Ambrosie kicked Jerome Messam out of the CFL after the running back was charged with voyeurism, but the commish allowed Johnny Manziel to play, even though he beat up a woman and threatened to kill her. As I have written: “What part of its own policy on violence against women does the CFL not understand?”

GOAL: Kirk Penton keeps cranking out the good CFL stuff for The Athletic.

COAL: Jock journos in the Republic of Tranna couldn’t stop slobbering over hip-hopper Drake at Raptors games. I haven’t seen that much drool since the day I brought a St. Bernard home for my kids. The press box in The ROT is groupie central. It’s really quite simple: Ignore Drake.

GOAL: Mike O’Shea, who doesn’t share warm-and-fuzzies with the media, gets high marks for this glib response in an exchange with a news snoop…

Do you have any plans for your bye week coming up?” the Bombers coach was asked.

I do…you’re not included in them,” he replied.

COAL: Mark Masters, a man, actually asked another man, Darren Cahill, to put the last year of Serena Williams’ life into context. Given that tennis analyst Cahill has never been pregnant or given birth (we won’t even talk about breast feeding), he could not possibly relate to what Williams had lived through. It was the dumbest question. Ever, ever, ever.

GOAL: Curmudgeonly Brian Burke is as grumpy as Scrooge with a toothache, as blunt as the business end of a hammer, and as harsh as turpentine. He’s also extremely insightful and a boffo addition to Sportsnet’s stable of gum-flappers. He even wears his necktie properly some nights.

COAL: The Houston Astros claim to have a zero-tolerance policy re domestic violence. Any man who strikes a women need not apply. Unless, of course, he can also strike out the side in the ninth inning. In that case, the Astros will overlook domestic violence and sign a relief pitcher like Roberto Osuna. When the disgraced former Blue Jays hurler imploded in the Major League Baseball playoffs, it was poetic justice.

GOAL & COAL: Dave Dickenson is a yappy, little lap dog, but Coach Chihuahua of the Calgary Stampeders also came up with a perfect description of the Bombers braintrust during one of his sideline squawk sessions—The Canadian Mafia.

COAL: TSN continues to trot out Dave Poulin as a hockey expert. Ya, and I’m Julia Roberts’ movie double. Any guy who leaves Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot is no expert, and Poulin’s no expert.

GOAL: A lot of people don’t like Bo Levi Mitchel. They reckon he’s too cocky and/or arrogant. Well, I like him. So much that I hope the Stampeders QB lands work in the National Football League.

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.