Troubles before Triumph: An Ode to the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets on the 40th anniversary of their final WHA championship

Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.

***

It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.

Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.

“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”

I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.

So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)

The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.

***

To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.

Morris Lukowich

This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.

The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.

There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.

Kim Clackson

Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.

“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”

It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.

“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”

Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.

“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”

“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”

Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.

“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”

That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.

***

Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.

The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.

It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.

Larry Hillman

It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.

It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.

It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.

Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.

It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.

“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).

“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”

Sudsy Sutherland

Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.

“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”

Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.

“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”

Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”

***

There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.

Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.

Fergy

Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.

“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”

Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.

“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”

***

It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.

More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.

I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.

“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”

I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.

“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”

***

There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.

Suitcase Smitty

By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.

He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.

“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”

Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.

***

Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.

We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”

Tom McVie

Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.

Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.

Examples…

On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”

Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”

After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”

Tom McVie in the champions’ changing room.

More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.

The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.

Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.

“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”

***

It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.

Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.

The Shoe

The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.

“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”

“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”

“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.

Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.

***

This was a WHA title that almost never happened.

The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.

There was a money dispute, you see.

The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.

So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?

“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”

The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.

“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”

The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.

As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.

***

Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.

Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.

Jacques Demers

“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”

Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”

Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.

“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”

That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.

***

Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.

If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.

“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”

Roscoe and Clacker

After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.

Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.

“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”

***

I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.

Bill (Magic Fingers) Bozak and four of the boys—Scotty Campbell, the Shoe, Luke and Roland Eriksson.

Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.

They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.

“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”

No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.

“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”

***

Michael Gobuty

Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:

  1. Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.

  2. The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.

  3. Fergy hired Tom McVie.

  4. The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

  5. Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.

The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.

Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.

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Let’s talk about Carolina Cornball…Grandpa Grapes…snack time for the Winnipeg Jets…clock ticking on CFL-CFLPA talking…no living wage overseas…Trump trumps Vlad the Bad’s eight goals…the Big One in tennis…baseball a yawn-a-thon?…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…

Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.

No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.

I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:

  • The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”

  • YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”

  • For the Win/USAToday: “Rooting for the Carolina Hurricanes is rooting for fun.”

  • NHL.com: “Hurricanes embrace fun, victory celebrations.”

  • Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”

I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.

More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?

Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless

At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:

“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”

Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.

Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.

So are we still having fun?

Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?

I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.

This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.

Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.

Nice to see Paul Friesen and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffo that Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.

Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.

Dani Rylan

On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.

It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.

So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.

Vlad the Bad

Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.

Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.

Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:

And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.

About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.

About deja vu all over again for Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets…tell us what’s “rotten” Mike…Kevin’s not making Hayes…a Finn for a Twig?…wrong about the refs…Canada’s colors…writing rubbish about women’s hockey…the Freep spending the NHL’s money…bravo to the delightful Kaitlyn Lawes…and a stubby bottle for Grapes

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and it’s a couch potato day to watch the Masters then les Jets…

Two games into Beard Season, I’d say Connor Hellebuyck and news snoops are even—he doesn’t like their questions and they don’t like his goaltending.

Connor Hellebuyck

The thing is, the questions aren’t going to get any easier or tamer, not as long as Hellebuyck has his head up his butt and refuses to accept the reality that the Stanley Cup playoff skirmish between his Winnipeg Jets and the St. Loo Blues is being determined in the blue paint, and he’s running a distant second in a two-man race.

Rather than suck it up and concede that he let the side down in a 4-3 Game 2 loss on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, Hellebuyck went all snot-nose when confronted post-joust by those pesky newsies.

He harrumphed that one query was “loaded” and he fielded another with this gem: “I really don’t like that question.”

Boo freaking hoo. You want jock journos to lob softballs? Try stopping the damn puck.

Jordan Binnington

Look, Hellebuyck didn’t play poorly in the first act of this best-of-seven National Hockey League playoff series. He was solid. Can’t lay the blame for the 2-1 loss on him, not after Kevin Hayes, Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov made out like the Three Stooges on Tyler Bozak’s decisive score. And, of course, the guy in the blue paint at the other end of the freeze, Jordan Binnington, was better. Lights out better.

As for what went down on Friday, though, that’s totally on Hellebuyck. He was atrocious. Someone should be ripping him a new one.

What I find disturbing—other than Hellebuyck waving at the puck like a guy trying to flag down a cab—is his my-stuff-don’t-stink attitude, which is a haunting echo from last spring. A year ago, I remind you, he was out-tended by Marc-André Fleury in the Western Conference final vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, but he refused to accept that he had to step up his game.

Fleury and Hellebuyck

After Game 3: “(Fleury’s) obviously a big part of that team and playing very well, but I like my game, I like it a lot more. I like my details and I’m gonna keep chugging away.”

After Game 4: “I see a lot of posts at the other end. I don’t know if I want to call it luck, but things have gotta switch, it’s gonna come our way, I know that. I think it’s bad luck. Their goal is just the product of the puck bouncing the wrong way. The stars are aligning for them.”

After the series: “Maybe it was just the luck. I look back and I can honestly say I was playing the best hockey of my career in that series. I was very in tuned to the game. I felt the game a lot better than I have, and they got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

Right. The Golden Knights took les Jets out in five games because of four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet taped to the goal posts. It had nothing to do with Fleury outplaying Hellebuyck by a considerable margin. As if.

So what we have now, kids, is deja vu all over again.

Binnington, a rookie, is outplaying Hellebuyck, but les Jets goaltender doesn’t see it that way. He only hears objectionable questions.

“Our details are right,” he insists. “We’re right there. It’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later it’s gonna go our way.”

Sure it will. Just like it did last spring vs. Vegas.

I’m not suggesting les Jets are a writeoff, down 2-nada as they move the series to St. Loo, but it doesn’t take a Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk or Marty Brodeur to understand that their only hope is better play between the iron. They were outgoalied in Game 1 (hey, that’s going to happen) and Binnington only had to be meh in Game 2 because Hellebuyck was waving at whiffle balls.

If les Jets goaler doesn’t show us his A-game in the Show Me State, I’d say Paul Maurice would be wise to call on Laurent Brossoit at the first hint of trouble. Is Coach Potty Mouth ballsy enough to turn to his backup? I doubt it, but he might have no choice.

Wonder how Hellebuyck will like the questions then.

I thought by now that Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab would have filled us in on what’s “rotten” about les Jets. But no. He just tosses out lines like Winnipeg HC is “rotten to the core” and he cites “multiple sources” then leaves us to guess what his “multiple sources” are telling him about the undoing of the local hockey heroes. “Myself and fellow Free Press hockey writer Jason Bell have heard from multiple sources that things are anything but rosy with this group,” he wrote slightly more than a week ago. He later added that les Jets were “appearing to come apart at the seams.” There can be just two reasons why Mike Mac refuses to give us the poop on any in-house bickering: 1) It’s fiction; 2) he’s afraid to rattle cages. In either case, that reporting is as shabby as Hellebuyck’s Game 2 goaltending.

Kevin Hayes

Interesting that McIntyre also has chosen his scapegoat if les Jets don’t fix what’s wrong vs. St. Loo—Kevin Hayes. He tells us that Hayes isn’t contributing enough offensively, with points in just seven of 20 matches to close the season and zero in the playoffs. That’s a fair critique. It’s evident that he’s no Paul Stastny. But the Jets aren’t down 2-nada because of Hayes’ failings. It’s about goaltending. If anybody needs to be fitted for a pair of goat’s horns, it’s Hellebuyck.

Jim Matheson of Postmedia Edmonton proposes that the Oilers send their first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2019 NHL entry draft and forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Jets in barter for Twig Ehlers. Sorry, Matty. Never going to happen. The Jets don’t need another under-performing Finn and I don’t need another player whose name I can’t spell.

Craig Button

This from Craig Button of TSN: “I believe the NHL officials are the best on the planet, I think they rarely make mistakes.” Earth to Craig! Earth to Craig! You might want to watch film from Game 2 of the Boston-Tranna playoff series. You might also want to check out the replay of Micheal Ferland’s hit on Nic Dowd in the Carolina-Washington skirmish. A bum to the body got Ferland booted. Sorry, man, but the skunk shirts are making more mistakes than your local meteorologist.

At least the zebras did the right thing and sent Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs to his room for a crosscheck to Jake DeBrusk’s melon. Brian Burke called Kadri’s hatchet job a “selfish, senseless act.” Yup. Now we’ll see if Sheriff George of the player safety department will do the right thing and ground the Leafs centre for the remainder of the series.

Pet Peeve: Whose idea is it to drape our international shinny sides in black unis with red trim? That’s just wrong. Planet Puckhead is red and white. Those are the colors on our flag, and that’s what our women should have been wearing in their World Hockey Championship semifinal skirmish vs. Finland on Saturday. The regrettable color scheme wasn’t the reason for our ladies losing 4-2 (Suomi goaltender Noora Raty gets credit for that), but they looked unCanadian. Donate those threads to a thrift shop and get back to red and white.

Perhaps we should have seen the Canadian ouster at the worlds coming. I mean, the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League had to prey on our players’ minds, and how do you keep your focus fully on the task at hand when you don’t know what you’ll be coming home to once the final buzzer sounds? Hey, I’m just spitballing here, but the fall of the CWHL had to be a weighty distraction in the Canadian camp over there in Finland.

Well now, look who’s suddenly passing himself off as a friend of women’s hockey—Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Suggesting that the Finnish victory over Canada is a positive development for the distaff game (I agree, it is), he wrote: “For far too long, we’ve wanted to see the game and the sport expand.” What a complete phony. This is the same dude who once delivered this commentary: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this charade of imbalance.” That’s right, Simmons has wanted women’s hockey to be abolished, not expanded. So I say Postmedia has let him write his rubbish “for far too long.”

Got a giggle out of a Winnipeg Free Press editorial under the headline “Women’s hockey deserves NHL support” last week. Among other things, the opinionist submits that the “cash-rich NHL has a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues from its ravenous fan base. It has a vested interest in growing the game, regardless of the gender of its players. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion. When our best female hockey players return home from Finland, the NHL should be waiting to greet them with news of a brighter future rising from the ashes of a troubled past.” I don’t know about you, but I find it laughable that a for-profit business like the Drab Slab advocates government subsidies for media outlets and, indeed, hopes to feed at the welfare trough, yet it’s telling another business, the NHL, how to spend its profits. That’s rich.

Kaitlyn Lawes

The mooks who do the voting for Canada’s athlete of the year will never anoint a curler as our top jock, because too many news snoops see Pebble People as a bunch of hubbies, brides and kids getting together for a family frolic at the local club on a Wednesday night. But they do things right in my home province. The very likable Kaitlyn Lawes has been named the best female athlete in Manitoba, and it had to be your basic no-brainer. Kaitlyn copped Olympic and world titles in 2018, and she did it while being an absolute delight.

And, finally, I think perhaps Donald S. Cherry was sampling a bit too much of the sponsor’s product prior to his Curmudgeon’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada last week. After a promo for Budweiser’s new Copper Lager, Grapes had this to say“I’m tellin’ ya, I went out and bought some, and it is terrific. I love the horses, I love the bar we drink in…the color I’m not too crazy, but…I’ll tell ya one thing, it sure goes down PRETTY GOOD. Aaaaaand, don’t forget the stubby bottles. Stubby bottles. Canadian. Cana…that’s us. Canadians. Stubby bottles.”

About the absence of a women’s game for Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead…nobody does it better than Ron MacLean…the Great Wall of Oil…the NHL salary cap hell…Espo didn’t ‘move his feet’…a QB in Lotus Land…a menage-a-gridiron in the CFL…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I don’t see my name on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, so I guess I’m not going anywhere…

How can you tell that Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead is a big deal?

Because it isn’t every weekend that Sportsnet dispatches octogenarian gasbag Donald S. Cherry and his setup man, punster Ron MacLean, to the frigid flatlands.

Normally, of course, the Yin and Yang of Saturday shinny are confined to quarters, which is to say they’re tucked away in a cozy, modest Hockey Night in Canada studio in the Republic of Tranna, far removed from the frost-bitten colonies.

But there they were Saturday on location in Speedy Creek, which, according to the tiny town’s tourism spin meisters, is “where life makes sense.”

It certainly made sense that Saskatchewan and, specifically, Speedy Creek would serve as the centrepiece for Hockey Day, because it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than pucks, prairie and a wind chill reading of minus-30.

Speedy Creek is Prairie-speak for the wonderfully named Swift Current, a welcoming, convenient stopping-off point just a hop, skip and a slapshot west of Pile O’ Bones (that’s Prairie-speak for Regina) and east of the wonderfully named Medicine Hat. It has been the breeding ground for numerous National Hockey League luminaries, such as Patrick Marleau, Adam Lowry, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, Joe Sakic, Terry Ruskowski, Sheldon Kennedy, Geoff Sanderson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz.

Don and Ron

So, ya, it was a great fit and Hockey Day seemingly had it all, including the on-site star power of Don and Ron, Canadian television’s longest-running bromance since Wayne and Shuster.

There was, however, one notable exception—the package did not include our best women in action. And that made no sense on a show from a town “where life makes sense.”

Oh, sure, there were numerous references and interviews about the distaff side of our great game during the 12-hours marathon on CBC and Sportsnet, and they parachuted Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall into Speedy Creek for some glad-handing and chin-wagging during the four-day festival. But that carried the waft of forced tokenism and nothing more.

Hockey Day is supposed to be our annual celebration of all things puck, and the women’s game is supposed to be a happening “thing,” especially given the upbeat chatter since Kendall Coyne Schofield’s jaw-dropping skedaddle a fortnight ago at the NHL all-star showcase. So how could they leave the Canadian Women’s Hockey League out in the cold, figuratively if not literally?

It was a glaring, inexcusable omission. Kind of like organizers of the Grammy Awards telling female singers they’re welcome to attend the show but they can’t perform. Stay in your lane, ladies.

I don’t know what, if any, obstacles prevented Sportsnet from including the Tranna Furies-Montreal Canadiennes afternoon skirmish, but I do know they should have moved mountains to get that game on air.

Dick Irvin

That snub aside, Hockey Day delivered some truly wonderful, Kleenex-worthy stories, and it reminded us how good Ron MacLean is. I’m quite uncertain how he isn’t anointed our country’s top broadcaster every year, because nobody does it better. Not even James Duthie. It was also nice to hear the legendary Dick Irvin’s voice. I’ll go to my urn convinced that Irvin and Danny Gallivan were the best hockey broadcasting tandem ever.

Tough viewing choice for the afternoon game, Habs vs. Leafs or Connor McDavid flying solo vs. the San Jose Sharks. I started with McDavid, but quickly switched to Montreal-Toronto because the Edmonton Oilers are a total fire drill.

The Great Wall of China has been a work in progress for more than 2,000 years, only a week or two longer than the Oilers rebuild.

There’s nothing wrong with the Oil that someone like David Poile or the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff couldn’t cure. Trouble is, Poile already has a job. Ditto les Jets bird dogs. So the Oilers are stuck with Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky. Good luck with that.

With so many NHL outfits about to enter salary cap hell, I’m inclined to suggest they ought to scrap the thing. I mean, why should a club like les Jets be penalized just because they have better talent snoops than most? Alas, there’d be no franchise in Good Ol’ Hometown without a salary ceiling, so it stays.

Eugene Melnyk

Bytown Senators bankroll Eugene Melnyk vows to spend close to the cap between 2021 and ’25. Until then, he’ll continue to squeeze nickels, tell fibs and order his players to stay away from Uber.

Anyone still believe there’s a goaltending controversy with Winnipeg HC? Didn’t think so. After watching Laurent Brossoit give the royal wave at pucks with his left hand in les Jets’ 5-2 loss to the bottom-feeding Senators in Bytown, I’m convinced he has a hole in his catching mitt. Apparently the Senators are, too.

There’s no danger of les Jets missing the Stanley Cup runoff, but there is a danger of them failing to secure home-ice advantage. And I don’t see them going the distance without an extra game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in every playoff series.

Mike McIntyre and the Drab Slab’s obsession with Patrik Laine continues without any signs of a retreat. In the past two weeks, Mike M. and Jason Bell have combined to scribble seven stories on the Jets bewitched, bothered and bewildered winger, none of which told us anything we don’t already know. Yo! Boys! It’s no longer news that Puck Finn isn’t scoring. It’s only news the next time he makes the red light flash.

Mike M. described Puck Finn’s playmaking skills vs. the Senators as “impressive.” I must have nodded off when that happened. I mean, other than a nifty pass to set up Bryan Little for a score, Laine handled the biscuit like it had cooties.

Puck Finn

Some deep, penetrating analysis (not!) on Laine’s struggles from Donald S. Cherry and Mike Johnson. The Lord of Loud used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday to tell us this: “Somebody better give Laine a smack. This is his contract year. Get going kid! I know ya got 25 goals, but he’s done nothing. Give him a smack.” Earlier in the week, TSN’s Johnson advised us that Puck Finn has to start “moving his feet.” Oh, please. “Moving his feet” has become the worst cliché since “our backs are against the wall.” Phil Esposito scored 76 goals one season without moving his feet. Difference is, Espo was willing to go into the dirty area in front of the net and gobble up Bobby Orr’s leftovers. Laine, meanwhile, plays on the periphery and Dustin Byfuglien is no Bobby Orr.

Alexander Ovechkin is now the highest-scoring Russian in NHL history with 1,182 points, which works out to a 1.119 per-game average for the Washington Capitals captain. Coincidentally, 1.119 was also Ovie’s blood-alcohol reading during his summer-long Stanley Cup celebration.

Mike Reilly

I don’t know if Mike Reilly is an adventurous guy, but if he’s looking for a challenge—and if he doesn’t mind playing in front of empty seats—he’ll sign with the Tranna Argonauts when the Canadian Football League livestock auction begins on Tuesday. But word from the left flank of the nation suggests the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback is heading for Lotus Land and all those empty seats in B.C. Place Stadium. If true, it isn’t surprising on a number of levels, not the least of which is Vancouver’s proximity to Reilly’s offseason home in Seattle. It is, however, shocking that GM Ed Hervey has convinced Leos skinflint bankroll David Braley to part with $700,000. It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Braley’s wallet that wide open.

Will Reilly’s return to B.C. translate into ticket sales in the Great Wet West? I have my doubts. I live in Leos Land and I hear more chatter about the Seattle Seahawks than three-down football.

Randy Ambrosie

Another busy week of global hobnobbing for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who now has signed more treaties than the Sioux Nation. For those of you scoring at home, Commish Randy has crawled into bed with Mexico, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Finland, and it’s believed his menage-a-gridiron will soon include Dutch Holland and the gang that organizes the annual New Year’s Day Toilet Bowl at Blossom Park in River Heights. Those boys are in their 80s now, but Commish Randy expects them to attend the Foreign Flag Combine in March.

So what do we call three-down football now? The CMGASND2FFL? And if gay guy Michael Sam makes a comeback with the Gentille Alouettes, does it become the CMGASND2FLGBTQFL?

I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a whole lot better about Commish Randy’s off-season handiwork if it included the letters CBA, as in Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mike Riley

Old friend Mike Riley is coaching San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, and Dan Barnes tells us all about the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward in an excellent piece for Postmedia. Mikey says he “loved” Good Ol’ Hometown, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning the Bombers after their most-recent Grey Cup conquest (if you can call more than a quarter of a century ago “recent”). Those 29 years without a CFL title? I blame it all on Mikey for getting out of Dodge.

And, finally, I note that the jersey toss is once again in vogue in Edmonton Oilers country. Wouldn’t white towels be more appropriate?

About Ugly Bowl 53 and a tit-for-tats halftime show…dinosaurs in the NHL broadcast booth…Connor McDavid and the Helicopter Line…the skinny on women’s curling in Manitoba…there goes Johnny…foreigners and three-down football…the Winnipeg Blue Bombers boss lady…and let’s play ball

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you thought Super Bowl 53 was a bore, wait until you read Smorgas-Bored 187…

Adam Levine

Brief takeaways from the National Football League championship skirmish: Julian Edelman’s beard gives new meaning to the term “winning ugly,” don’t you think? I mean, it was the only thing uglier than the New England Patriots’ win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday…Final score: Patriots 13, Maroon 5, Rams 3…I don’t know how the Las Vegas bookies made out on Super Bowl wagering, but Adam Levine of Maroon 5 lost his shirt…Officially, Levine did not have a wardrobe malfunction during the halftime show. He was simply flashing his tats as opposed to Janet Jackson flashing her tit. I guess you could say it was tit-for-tats…Just wondering: Am I allowed to use the word “tit” on a family blog?…I’d like to write more about Super Bowl 53, but I think I’ll do what the Patriots and Rams did most of the day—drop back and punt.

Nick Kypreos

Contrary to popular belief, the dinosaur is not extinct. They are very visible, very vocal and you can find them flapping their gums on Hockey Night in Canada and/or Sportsnet.

Let’s start with Meatheadosaurus Nick Kypreos, who, just scant days ago, was seen and heard bellowing about Connor McDavid, suggesting the Edmonton Oilers captain take his hockey stick and “Send a message. Jam it down (an opponent’s) throat.” If that means a suspension for the National Hockey League’s most-dynamic offensive talent, “I don’t care. So be it.”

Same goes for Auston Matthews, the Tranna Maple Leafs highly skilled centre.

“There’s times when I wish Auston Matthews would (fight),” Kypreos told the Starting Lineup on Sportsnet 590 The Fan last week. “There’s times when I think Auston Matthews hopefully gets that in his game, especially around the playoffs.”

So Kypreos would rather have talents like McDavid and Matthews on the shelf or in the penalty box. Interesting.

Brian Burke

Next up is Truculentosaurus Brian Burke, who used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday night to promote rough house hockey and fisticuffs. Noting that elite performers Steven Stamkos and Evgeni Malkin had thrown down on each other, the bombastic former general manager said, “You love it when blue collar players do their job, you love it even more when white collar players step into the mud.”

Then, showing video of the Calgary Flames and Washington Capitals mucking about at the end of a recent skirmish, Burke gushed: “This is playoff intensity in February. It’s fantastic. Our league needs this type of intensity to bring people in and get viewers watching. It’s a critical part of our DNA, it’s a critical part of what we sell. This is good stuff.”

Yes, by all means, let’s sell more goonery.

Don Cherry

Not to be outdone, Lordofloudosaurus Don Cherry weighed in on the Winnipeg Jets.

“The big thing about these guys, they stick up for themselves,” he grunted.

Cue the fight films.

“This is a beauty. This is a pretty good fight, I have to say,” he had to say while we watched video of Brandon Tanev chucking knuckles with Trent Frederic of the Boston Bruins. “These guys stand up for themselves and that’s why, on the road, at home, they never lose at home, at that’s one of the reasons they win.”

There are numerous reasons to admire les Jets, but Cherry chose to highlight their pugilistic prowess.

These, understand, are three of the most prominent voices in hockey broadcasting, and they’re all singing from the 1970s Broad Street Bullies songbook: Let’s have less finesse and more fisticuffs.

Heidi Klum

That’s like telling Heidi Klum to act more like Simon Cowell.

The NHL has never been younger, faster and more highly skilled. It’s because knuckle-dragging neanderthals have been eliminated from the game. Isn’t it time someone removed them from the HNIC panel and Sportsnet, as well?

Checked out the Oilers-Montreal Canadiens skirmish on Sunday morning, and Oil head coach Ken Hitchock sent out his Helicopter Line to take the first faceoff—centre Connor McDavid and no wings. Actually, he had Milan Lucic and Ty Rattie on his flanks, but that’s like making Usain Bolt run a 100-metre race with a Steinway piano strapped to his back. No way the Oil qualify for the Stanley Cup runoff if that’s their top forward unit, which means there’ll be no Hart Trophy for McDavid.

Is old friend Randy Carlyle still employed, or have the Disney Ducks handed him his walking papers? Can’t see him surviving the season.

Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones

Caught the women’s final of the TSN Skins curling event and a few things came to mind: 1) It’s strange watching the Jennifer Jones team play without Jill Officer throwing second stones; 2) Jocelyn Peterman is a most capable replacement for Officer; 3) the women’s field in Manitoba is incredibly deep, but the last three champion skips are imports—Tracy Fleury, Ontario resident; Jones, Ontario resident; Michelle Englot, Saskatchewan resident.

Now that I think about it, Adam Levine would be ideal entertainment for a Skins game.

Johnny Miller

No more Johnny Miller on NBC golf broadcasts. This weekend’s Phoenix Open was his final gig. So who’s the best color commentator in TV sports now, John McEnroe or Tony Romo?

Commish Randy Ambrosie continues to spread the Canadian Football League’s wings in foreign countries. First it was Mexico, and now he’s finalized a working agreement with German football. Yo! Commish Randy! Three-down football is foreign to folks in the Republic of Tranna, Quebec and B.C., too. What do you say you do something to prop up those failing markets?

Dayna Spiring

A week ago I mentioned how both newspapers in Good Ol’ Hometown were out to lunch when Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-year history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I wanted to know more about her, and couldn’t understand why none of the news snoop at the Drab Slab and Winnipeg Sun had picked up a phone to chat with her. Lo and behold, young Jeff Hamilton has done that very thing, and his feature on Dayna is excellent. Best takeaway on the Bombers boss lady: She isn’t shy about butting heads with CEO Wade Miller.

I must say the Drab Slab absolutely clobbered the Sun on the Kootenay Ice relocation story. It’s been a rout from the start.

And, finally, pitchers and catchers report to Major League Baseball training camps in less than two weeks. Does anyone know where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are?

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.