About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…and other things on my mind

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

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.

 

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About party time in Zamboniville…no Big Bad Wolf waiting for the Winnipeg Jets this time…revisionist history…Josh Morrissey’s ‘accident’…English and History lessons from Don Cherry…the NHL’s top-sellers…’guts all over the place’…Roger Federer refuses to be Rafa’s clay pigeon…put that Genie back in the bottle…a hate Tranna campaign in the Republic of Tranna…and other things on my mind

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

It’s easy to get ahead of yourself today if you’re among the white-clad rabble of Giddy Town, heretofore known as Winnipeg, River City or the Peg (or the less-flattering Winterpeg, Win-a-Pig, Zamboniville, Tundra Town and the Town That Summer Forgot).

I mean, you just watched your hockey heroes open a big, ol’ can of whup-ass on the Minnesota Wild. The Jets were ruthless, like a kid pulling the wings off a housefly ruthless. They brought a bayonet to a knife fight. The Wild brought a handful of confetti. It was more one-sided than a father-son talk about the teenage boy’s pregnant girlfriend. So now that the Jets have disposed of Minny in five matches, you’re calling out the Nashville Predators. Bring ’em on, right? Then bring on the San Jose Sharks or Vegas Golden Knights, and whichever outfit has the misfortune of emerging from the east in the National Hockey League battle of attrition known as the Stanley Cup tournament.

It’s all good. Plan the parade route. Now. We’ll all meet at Portage and Main, right where Ben Hatskin started it all by signing Robert Marvin Hull 46 years ago come June.

Well, here’s what I have to say about that: You go, kids! Party hardy!

The Big Bad Wolf, in the form of Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky.

Yes, I realize the NHL Jets have been here before. Twice, in fact. But what did advancing to the second round get them? The Big Bad Wolf in the form of the Edmonton Gretzkys. Those parties were over faster than John Bowie Ferguson could finish one of his stinky stogies. But this one has a different feel to it, doesn’t it? There’s a sense of genuine optimism for a lengthy playoff run that didn’t exist in 1985 and ’87. Oh, sure, some among the rabble back then believed the impossible to be possible, but once they stepped outside the rose-colored tea room and removed their rose-tinted glasses, they saw stark reality in a blue-orange-and-white tidal wave of hall-of-fame talent. There is no Big Bad Wolf for these Jets, though. As they await their foe for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup tournament, I see no outfit they cannot conquer. That they should not conquer. This could last a while.

For those of you keeping score at home (and I really hope you aren’t), I was 36 years old when the Jets last won a playoff series. Do the math. On second thought, please don’t. Suffice to say, I was young and in my prime and, according to Howie Meeker, I didn’t know moonshine from racoon crap. Howie was correct, of course, but he could have been a tad more subtle in his criticism of my scribblings.

Kent Nilsson, Joe Daley, Silky Sullivan and Glenn Hicks celebrate another WHA title.

A chap named Simeon Rusnak put together a nice package on the Winnipeg Whiteout for Sportsnet last week. I just wish these interlopers would do some simple fact-checking before letting their fingers do the walking on a keyboard. “The Whiteout hit the Manitoba capital with the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the first-round matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild,” Rusnak writes. “Bell MTS Place is the epicentre of the storm, with 15,321 fans at every home game draped in white—a tradition that began in 1987 in the old Winnipeg Arena when the original Jets went to their first post-season.” Sigh. The spring of 1987 was the Jets’ sixth NHL post-season crusade, not the first. They had qualified in ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ’86. And, of course, the “original pro Jets” had six playoff runs and three titles in the World Hockey Association. People like Rusnak can take a crash course on the Jets’ beginnings by checking out Joe Pascucci’s excellent Legacy of Greatness feature on YouTube, or Curtis Walker’s Memorial Site.

Claude Noel: Fault No. 1.

Winnipeg Sun city side/political columnist Tom Brodbeck has also weighed in on the Jets, trumpeting the genius of ownership/management for turning a “battered and bruised” Atlanta franchise into a Stanley Cup contender “in just seven short years.” Say again? Seven short years? Cripes, man, George McPhee put together a Stanley Cup contender in Las Vegas in less than seven months. Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock did it in the Republic of Tranna in three years. Brodbeck also scribbles: “It’s very difficult to find fault with almost anything this franchise has done.” Really? I’ve got two names for you: Claude and Noel. That was the first “fault,” but certainly not their last (hello, Evander Kane). But, hey, revisionist history seems to be trendy during these heady days of the Whiteout.

Josh Morrissey’s ‘accident’.

Got a giggle out of Josh Morrissey’s take on the cross-check that took him out of les Jets lineup for Game 5 vs. Minny. “I watched the video afterward, and we’re battling in front of the net on the penalty kill, and I’m actually looking at the puck on the wall, trying to box him out,” he said. “I got my stick up too high on him. It was a complete accident. I would never try to do that.” If I’m ever on trial for a heinous crime, I won’t be calling young Josh as an eye witness for the defence. I mean, I watched the video, too. Morrissey and Eric Staal of the Wild were not “battling.” Staal laid neither a stick nor a gloved hand on Morrissey, who was not “looking at the puck along the wall.” He looked directly at Staal when he laid the lumber to the Wild centre’s neck. And to call it an “accident?” As if. Spilling a cup of java is an accident. What Morrissey did to Staal gets you locked up. But I admire the kid’s chutzpah.

Don Cherry

Don Cherry isn’t fond of the NHL playoff format. It “sucks,” he said from his bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada during the Tranna Maple Leafs-Boston Bruins tiff on Thursday night. I won’t quarrel with Grapes. He’s absolutely correct about the NHL post-season setup. I just wish he’d have made his case in English. I mean, listen to him: “It sucks as far as I’m concerned…guess ya can’t say that. Anyhow, it’s not good an’ I’ll tell ya why. These, one of these two teams, they should not, one of them should not be out—gone!—one of them will be GONE. It’s too good a too good a teams to be gone. It should be one an’ eight—top team I think against New Jersey—that’s the way it should be. Some day when it is, when it ain’t, you cannot have one of these two good teams OUT.” Yikes! And he’s been getting paid to talk for almost 40 years? That’s as daft as paying Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tell jokes.

Boston Bruins coach Don Cherry

Grapes has been on something or a roll lately. After Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins gave the Philly Flyers a 7-0 wedgie in the opening salvo of their series, the Lord of Loud told “you kids out there” that it’s bad manners to run up the score like that. “He (Crosby) should not be on when it’s 6-0. I always kept the score down.” Out of curiosity, I went on a fact-finding mission to determine if coach Cherry had, indeed, called off the hounds once a game was well in hand during his watch (1974-79) as bench steward of the Boston Bruins. I can report that not only is his nose growing, his pants are also on fire. Yes, Grapes stands guilty of a blatant Trumpism (read: big, fat fib). His Bruins were cutthroat. Check out some of their scores:

1974-75: 8-2 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 10-1, 10-4, 8-1, 12-1, 11-3, 8-0, 9-4, 8-0, 7-2, 8-2).
1975-76: 7-1 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 7-0, 8-1, 6-0).
1976-77: 8-3 playoff win vs. L.A.
(regular season wins: 8-1, 7-3, 7-3, 10-3, 6-0, 7-4).
1977-78: 6-1 playoff win vs. Chicago
(regular season wins: 7-3, 6-0, 8-2, 7-0, 6-1, 6-1, 7-1, 8-2, 8-1, 7-3, 7-2, 9-3, 7-2, 7-0, 8-3)
1978-79: 6-2 playoff win vs. Pittsburgh
(regular season wins: 8-2, 7-2, 7-3, 7-3, 6-1, 6-1, 7-4)…

So here’s some unpaid advice for “you kids out there”: Go to the kitchen and make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich as soon as Uncle Grapes opens his gob, because if you listen to him you’re apt to receive failing grades in both English and History.

Marc Moser

Play-by-play call of the week, if not forever, was delivered by Colorado radio guy Marc Moser on Friday night after Sven Andrighetto scored to keep the Avalanche alive with a 2-1 win over Nashville: “I can’t believe it! This has gotta be one of the gutsiest clubs in the National Hockey League! Pure guts! They got nothing but guts! Every guy with three big, ol’ cow hearts, two pancreases and five stomachs! Guts all over the place!” There’s nothing to say after that, except someone please call maintenance for a cleanup on Aisle 5—there’s guts all over the place!

Auston Matthews

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (after the Maple Leafs had been beaten 3-1 by the Bruins in Game 4 of their playoff series): “This was the night when the future of the Leafs—building around Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander—didn’t seem to be a very sound approach.” Good grief. Who would Grandpa Simmons prefer they build around? Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler and Rocky Saganiuk?

I note that Auston Matthews’ jersey was the top-seller in the NHL this season. Simmons demands to know the name of the imposter wearing Matthews’ No. 34 in Game 4. (Just so you know, after the Leafs centre on the top-seller top five were Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Marc-Andre Fleury and King Henrik Lundqvist.)

Roger Federer

No doubt Roger Federer has earned the right to pick and choose when and where he plays his tennis, but still…skipping the entire clay courts season? Again? How much of Federer’s allergy to red clay is about preserving his 36-year-old body for Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and how much of it is about his competitive juices? It seems to me that the 20-time Grand Slam champion has conceded he’ll never win at Roland Garros again—not with nemesis Rafa Nadal in the French Open field and healthy—so why waste time and energy on preliminary events on the red clay of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome? Can’t win, won’t play. I’m sorry, but it’s not a good look for the “greatest of all time.” Again, Federer gets the benefit of the doubt, but it still smacks of surrender. He prefers not to be Rafa’s clay pigeon.

Genie Bouchard

Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Genie Bouchard is taking time out from her many photo shoots to help Canada in its Federation Cup tie vs. Ukraine this weekend in Montreal, and it seems our tennis diva hasn’t let her world 117 ranking bring her down a peg or two. In a presser prior to the event, a foreign reporter led into his question by telling Genie it was “a privilege” to share the same oxygen as the one-time Grand Slam finalist. To which she replied: “It’s nice of you to say that. It would be nice if our local press said that to me as well.” Someone needs to put that Genie back in the bottle.

So, there was a hole in roof at Rogers Centre, home of the surprisingly adept Blue Jays in the Republic of Tranna. Hearing that, I immediately thought of the Beatles tune Fixing a Hole, which is one of the tracks on their second-best album, Sgt. Peppers. Then I learned there were between 200 and 300 holes in the roof, which brought to mind a lyric from A Day In the Life: “Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.” It’s also from Sgt. Peppers, the Fab Four’s best work next to the incomparable Revolver.

Mike O’Shea and his short pants.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers showed an operating profit of $5.1 million last year. There’s no truth to the rumor that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is insisting that the Canadian Football League club use a chunk of the surplus to purchase head coach Mike O’Shea a pair of long pants.

So, after attracting less than 14,000 people per game during the 2017 CFL season, the Tranna Argonauts are convinced they now know the secret to getting more fannies in the pews at BMO Field—a hate Tranna campaign. “We want to create a sense of rivalry,” says Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment guru Jerry Ferguson. “If you’re from here, you love us and if you’re not from here, you hate us.” That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Yo! Jerry! You’ve got it butt backwards, man. The rest of the country has had a hate-on for the Republic of Tranna since the beginning of time. How do you think we market our games?

About an Officer and a world champion…thank you notes from Jill Officer and Vic Peters…dumb hockey prophets…no Calder for Connor…transparency from hockey scribes…an Irishman and booze…Mac and Martina…what about Tricky Dick and Leo the Lip?…and other things on my mind

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

Jill Officer has yet to utter the R-word. Retirement. She insists she’s just taking “a step back.”

Well, okay. If she says so.

I mean, Officer can define her retreat from elite curling with the terminology of her choosing, but she wept openly last month after going public with her decision. You don’t cry if you’re staying. You cry when you’re leaving.

Thus, there’s no escaping the fact that we have arrived at the end of an era. An unparalleled era.

Thelma and Louise

Officer, of course, has been playing Thelma to Jennifer Jones’s Louise since…well, since about the same time the fictional Thelma and Louise were on the lam, leading cops on a catch-us-if-you-can romp across America. That classic chick flick arrived on the big screen in May 1991. Curling’s two J Girls united shortly thereafter, and foes and friends have been chasing them ever since.

A quarter century. Who stays together that long? The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Homer and Marge. Mick and Keith. Fish and chips. That’s about it.

Here’s some time perspective: One of the J Girls’ teammates on the Canadian rep at the world women’s championship in North Bay the past week, fifth Shannon Birchard, wasn’t even in her mama’s womb when Officer and Jones first joined forces. The outfit’s third, Kaitlyn Lawes, had yet to begin grade school.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

And it’s been quite the trip that skip Jen and second Jill have taken us on since that day in the early ’90s when the teenage Jones pulled the teenage Officer aside for a chit-chat by a Coke machine at the Highlander Curling Club in Winnipeg, whereupon they forged a partnership that has produced provincial (nine), Canadian (seven), Grand Slam (15), world (two) and Olympic titles. (Did I mention it was an unparalleled era among Manitoba curlers?)

Following Canada’s drama-drenched 7-6, extra-end victory over Sweden (brilliant game) on Sunday, there’ll be two curtain calls for the 42-year-old Officer in Grand Slam of Curling competition, then she’ll ease away, making only cameo appearances for the world-champion Jones team, which includes lead Dawn McEwen and will add Jocelyn Peterman to throw second stones next season.

This world title was the ideal, also appropriate, way for Officer to leave the big stage. One final run for glory. One final crown. And a perfect (14-0) storybook ending.

It was a beautiful thing.

Vic Peters

Terrific Jill Officer story from Paul Wiecek, longtime curling scribe and now columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press: “For the longest time, she would come to every major curling event the Jones team was competing in with these little chocolate curling rocks she’d buy at Morden’s in Winnipeg before she left. She’d tie a little ribbon around those chocolate rocks and attach a thank you card. And then, win or lose, Officer, who was a TV reporter back in the day, would come up to the media bench at the end of those curling events and hand those cards and chocolates to the reporters who’d been covering her team, just to thank us for the coverage. You know who else I covered over the last three decades who gave me a thank you card? Nobody.” I can relate. After covering the 1997 Brier in Calgary, I received a thank you card in the mail. It was from the late, great Vic Peters, his bride Deb, and their kids, Elisabeth, Kassie and Daley. That card sits atop my bookcase, 21 years after the fact. Curlers are wonderful and Peters, who left us almost exactly two years ago to this very day, was a total treat.

Doug Flutie

This is an equal-opportunity blog, folks. That is, any and all who do, say or write something stupid in sports are fair game for scorn, ridicule, rude laughter and no-insults-barred cheap shots. No exceptions. Sacred cows do not exist. Unless, of course, I harbor a special fondness for someone (hello, Tessa Virtue), in which case nary a discouraging word shall be written.

With that in mind, it’s only fair that I direct your attention to an analysis delivered prior to the first puck drop of the Winnipeg Jets current National Hockey League crusade. To wit:

It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian Prairies.”

And what goomer wrote that tripe? Guilty, yer honor. Yup, it was little ol’ moi. D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

But, hey, it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever scribbled. I once referred to the Major League Baseball all-star game as the “annual Fall Classic,” even though it’s played in July. And, of course, there was the time I mentioned something about Doug Flutie being nothing more than a fair-weather quarterback, only to then watch him win a Grey Cup game in a blizzard.

So, ya, Brain Cramps ‘R’ Me.

Connor McDavid

I find little or no consolation in the knowledge that the Edmonton McDavids and Flames fooled the majority of those who observe the goings-on of the NHL. I mean, seven of 16 “experts” at Sportsnet picked the McDavids to win the West. Fifteen of 16 forecast either the McDavids or Flames to finish with the highest points total among the seven Canadian clubs. Over at USA Today, the boys and girls on the beat had the McDavids finishing first in the Pacific Division, with Calgary in third. Yet, once the Stanley Cup tournament commences next month, the McDavids and Flames will have their noses pressed to the window, watching the fun from the outside. Sigh. The difference between me and the scribes/talking heads at Sportsnet and USA Today? They get paid to be dumb. I don’t. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna dates back to a Dec. 12 tweet, in which he wrote: “With four points tonight, @cmcdavid97 moves into 3rd in NHL scoring behind Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. McDavid be back in the scoring lead within 10 days, I figure, maybe sooner.” Connor McDavid moved atop the scoring chart on Saturday night, meaning Simmons missed the mark by 92 days, or three months. Yup, another guy getting paid to be dumb.

Kyle Connor

Going from dumb to dumber, we give you this headline from the Winnipeg Sun last week: “Jets Connor for Calder?” Oh, shut the front door! I like Kyle Connor. He’s been the second-best contributor named Connor on the Jets roster this crusade. So, I agree, the kid’s boffo. But the NHL’s leading freshman? As if. Donald Trump will give up golf, Playmates and porn stars before that happens. Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders is your top frosh. No debate. After that, it’s Brock Boeser and the rest. And it won’t have anything to do with Connor doing his thing in out-of-the-way Winnipeg. “Everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” says Jets captain Blake Wheeler. Road apples! Dale Hawerchuk didn’t go under the radar. Teemu Selanne didn’t go under the radar. Barzal will win because he’s had the better rookie season, to date by 29 points.

Sweeney Odd

Lest we forget, the Jets have Don Sweeney to thank for Connor’s 28 goals, because the Boston Bruins general manager passed on the University of Michigan winger on three consecutive shout-outs during the first round of the 2015 NHL entry draft. Odd bit of business, that. Sweeney Odd, we hasten to add, also overlooked Barzal and Brock Boeser to instead claim Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn. So let’s do the math: The trio of Connor, Barzal and Boeser have combined for 77 goals and 178 points this season. The three guys the Boston GM swooped in on have contributed 14 goals and 39 points to the Bruins’ cause. Difference: 63 goals, 139 points. Sweeney Odd gets to keep his day job, though, because his club is already selling playoff tickets.

Humpty Harold Ballard

So, it only took the Professional Hockey Writers Association half a century to do what they’ve been demanding of everyone from Clarence Campbell to Harold Ballard’s parole officer since forever—full disclosure. Oh, yes, in recent balloting, 81.3 per cent of the jewels of puck journalism agreed that voting on the NHL’s annual year-end trinkets ought to be made public. PHWA vice-president Frank Seravalli of TSN declared this “a big moment.” I hope he didn’t pull a muscle patting himself on the back. I mean, if 81.3 per cent were in favor of complete transparency, 18.7 per cent still prefer the process be kept hush-hush. In other words, they don’t have the balls to defend their choices for the Hart, Norris, Lady Byng, Masterton, Calder, Selke and Smythe nick-nacks. If ever there was a vote that should have been unanimous, that was it.

Best lip service of the week comes from Tranna Blue Jays manager John Gibbons: “My experience in this game is that sometimes it’s better to be smart than stupid.” Sometimes? You only want to be unstupid sometimes? Tells me it’s gonna be another long baseball season for the Tranna Nine.

Rory McIlroy

If Rory McIlroy had his druthers, the ‘P’ in PGA Tour would stand for Prohibition. Yup, McIlroar wants them to turn off the taps at golf tournaments. “I think they need to limit alcohol sales on the course,” he said after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational last weekend. Imagine that. An Irishman calling for a ban on booze. St. Patty is spinning. But McIlroar is serious. By his measure, too man fans are getting banjo’d, Magooed, gee-eyed and jarred at PGA events. “It used to be you bring beers on the course, but not liquor,” he went on. “And now it seems like everyone is walking around with a cocktail. So I don’t know if it’s just people walking around with beers in their hand, that’s fine.” Ya, we all know that no guy drinking beer has ever gotten loud, obnoxious and blethered. Slainte, Rory.

Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe

So, Martina Navratilova is having herself a proper, little hissy fit after learning how much the BBC stuffs into John McEnroe’s pay envelope ($210,000-$280,000) for flapping his gums during the Wimbledon fortnight. The tennis legend is “not happy” and “it’s shocking” that Johnny Mac earns 10 times the $27,000 she collects. “It’s still the good old boys’ network,” she says. “The bottom line is that male voices are valued more than women’s voices.” Get a grip, girl. You’re both getting paid by the word, and McEnroe never shuts the hell up.

Seriously, although the BBC is guilty of gender pay inequity, the McEnroe-Navratilova situation isn’t a he-she thing. It’s a talent thing. He’s the best tennis talker. Is he 10 times better than her? That can’t be measured, but I’ll submit he’s superior by a considerable margin. His work load is also considerably heavier. Look, Al Michaels reportedly earns $5 million per year to talk football on NBC. His sidekick, Cris Collinsworth, collects $1 million, or thereabouts. They sit in the same broadcast booth, for the same length of time; they watch the same players and the same game. Yet one hauls in $5 mill and the other $1 mill. It’s the same 5-1 ratio with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over at Fox Sports. Nothing to do with gender.

And, finally, I’ve heard little quarrel about the Canadian Football Hall of Fame class of 2018—Hank Ilesic, Scott Flory, Baron Miles, Brent Johnson, Frank Cosentino, Paul Brule and Tom Hugo.

One dissenting voice, however, comes from Steve Simmons (I know, what a surprise). He wonders why Tricky Dick Thornton, the all-purpose player with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Tranna Argonauts in the 1960s and early ’70s, and Leo (The Lip) Cahill, former head coach and general manager of the Boatmen, continue to be snubbed.

It’s a shame and overdue because both were significant to the success of the Canadian Football League and for reasons I’ve never ascertained, have been pushed aside on an annual basis,” he writes.

I agree with Simmons on Thornton. Makes no sense. Ya, sure, he was a non-conformist. He wore his hair long, he wore an earring, he had a Fu Manchu mustache, he wrote poetry and sucked up to the media. But he also played every position but percussion in the symphony orchestra. And played them all exceptionally well.

As for Cahill, he was a charming, colorful character but a career .500 head coach. He never won the Grey Cup.

About the Winnipeg Jets landing a big fish…mortgaging the future…adios to curling great Jill Officer…a media hissing contest…Damien’s “shitty” tweet…dumb talk on TSN…a tear-jerker in Yankee pinstripes…and other things on my mind

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

Paul Stastny. For real?

The Winnipeg Jets actually pried Paul Stastny away from the St. Louis Blues? And they didn’t have to twist his arm? No fuss, no muss, no whinging about mosquitoes, spring flooding, crime, potholes, brown tap water and the Arctic winds at Portage and Main?

Something doesn’t add up here.

I mean, nobody goes to Winnipeg. Except on a dare. Or unless they’ve lost a bet. Cripes, man, even the premier of the province, Brian Pallister, gets out of Dodge as often as he can.

Winnipeg circa 1950s.

I think Billy Mosienko was the last hockey player who went to Winnipeg voluntarily. That was in 1955, when the locals were still riding around in streetcars. Mosie had an excuse, though. Pegtown was his ‘hood. He knew all about the potholes, Arctic winds and skeeters the size of a Zamboni, so they weren’t going to scare him away.

But there’s no explaining this Stastny thing. Except to say he must have missed the memo. You know the one. Certain members of the San Jose Sharks sent it out earlier this National Hockey League season. River City is cold. River City is dark. And don’t even think about WiFi service. You want to text a friend? Here’s your carrier pigeon, kid.

Paul Stastny

The thing is, a lot of us know Winnipeg isn’t the backwater burg most folks make it out to be. It’s a boffo place. And the winters don’t seem quite so long, dark and cold when les Jets are putting on the ritz at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

Will Stastny’s willingness to disregard his no-trade clause influence others to regard Good Ol’ Hometown as a favorable destination? Perhaps not, but it’s worth revisiting something general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said last summer, scant seconds after convincing goaltender Steve Mason and defenceman Dmitry Kulikov that River City is an NHL hot spot.

Ultimately,” he said, “when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win.”

Yup.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Prior to last Monday’s NHL trade deadline, TSN natterbug Jamie McLennan had this caution for Cheveldayoff and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “You never want to mortgage the future. There’s no weaknesses whatsoever in this lineup. All you can ask for really is health. You want Adam Lowry back. You want Jacob Trouba back. I believe this team is built to go on a Stanley Cup run. They’re that good. But, if you want to tinker at the deadline, add some depth, add a little Stanley Cup experience, absolutely, but do not mortgage the future with those young players.” So, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy surrendered college kid Erik Foley, their first-round pick in the 2018 entry draft and a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 for Stastny, plus a fourth-rounder this year for rearguard Joe Morrow. Did they mortgage the future? Nope.

Now that the Buffalo Sabres have rid themselves of the headache known as Evander Kane, what do they have to show for the original deal with les Jets that sent the sometimes wacky winger to upstate New York? Not much. If my math is accurate, here’s how the February 2015 trade now shakes down: Winnipeg has Tyler Myers, Joel Armia, Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and a sixth-round pick in the NHL entry draft this summer (for Drew Stafford); Buffalo has Zach Bogosian, Danny O’Regan, Jason Kasdorf, a conditional pick in 2019 (first or second round) and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. It’s still a total fleece job by Cheveldayoff.

With the exception of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, I can’t think of a partnership that’s lasted as long as Jill Officer and Jennifer Jones. What’s it been? Twenty-three years? Twenty-four? Thus, when Officer announced her intention to retreat from full-time competition next season, it was a big deal. She’s one of the most-decorated curlers in Manitoba history, with nine provincial titles (two in Junior), seven Canadian titles (one in Junior), one Olympic Games gold medal, and one world championship. Only six women have played in more games at the Canadian Scotties than Officer. And there’s a park named in her honor in North Kildonan. All that and, unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Sun completely ignored the story. Shame, shame.

The Sun’s snub of Officer is the latest example of the tabloid’s near-total abandonment of curling coverage by local scribes. The Sun didn’t have a reporter on the scene at last month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Penticton, nor does it have feet on the ground in Regina for this week’s Brier. Coverage is being handled by Terry Jones of Postmedia Edmonton and Murray McCormick of the Regina Leader-Post. By way of comparison, the Winnipeg Free Press continues to do it the right way. Melissa Martin was in Penticton and Jason Bell is in Regina. And the Freep posted the Officer story on its website at 11:05 a.m. Friday, and followed with a video interview in the afternoon. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

Elliotte Friedman

Holy hissing contest, Batman! Broadcaster Elliotte Friedman, whose home base is the Republic of Tranna, went on Sportsnet 650 last week to discuss the steaming mess of dog hooey that is the Vancouver Canucks, and it turns out that it’s the media’s fault. Also the fans’ fault. Everybody’s to blame except the team president, Trevor Linden, and the GM, Jim Benning.

“I see your market right now and I think it’s a really brutal place to be,” Friedman said. “These guys feel like they are under siege…like they’re getting torn apart by wild dogs.”

He described the situation in Vancity as “toxic” and “edgy” and “nasty” because of the media.

Ed Willes

Not surprisingly, Vancouver news scavengers and opinionist sprung into action, including old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia.

“Why would Elliotte Frickin’ Friedman care so passionately about the Vancouver market, and why would he launch such an impassioned defence of Linden and Benning from The Big Smoke?” Willes asked. “Fair questions, yes? As for the answers, we’d suggest they lie somewhere in the towering arrogance of Toronto’s media titans and the uncomfortable relationship that exists between ‘insiders’ and their sources. Friedman is a made man in that world but his information sometimes comes at a cost. Consider his radio diatribe a down payment on his next scoop.”

Ouch.

Totally dumb tweet of the week comes from Damien Cox of the Toronto Star and Sportsnet: “Remember the old days when independent media used to ask serious, critical questions when NHL expanded. Now there’s mostly just cheerleading. Yay, Seattle, look how many tix you sold. Yay, more shitty teams, more diluted NHL hockey. It’s a sad thing.” Ya, those Vegas Golden Knights are a real “shitty” team, Damien. But, hey, if it makes you happy, perhaps we can go all the way back to the six-team days when goaltenders played with their bare faces hanging out and Charlie Burns was the only NHL player who wore a helmet.

Urban Bowman

Sad to hear of the passing of former Winnipeg Blue Bombers (interim) head coach Urban Bowman. Had many enjoyable chin-wags with Bowman during his time subbing for Cal Murphy, who was away getting a new heart. Urban had a folksy, cowboy charm that made him the Bum Phillips of the Canadian Football League, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear him talk of chickens, cattle and such instead of Xs and Os. He did, mind you, have one memorable quote about football. “We’re going to breathe our nasty breath on those folks,” he said prior to a playoff game. “Yes, sir, we’re going to breathe our nasty, bad breath on those folks.” Urban was a good man…with bad breath.

So, I’m watching Pardon the Interruption on TSN the other day and the boys, Keith Olbermann and Tony Kornheiser, are gasbagging about Johnny Manziel potentially getting a second chance in the National Football League. “Why not?” asks Olbermann, who’s all in on the return of Johnny Football. “He’s a misdemeanor case.” That’s what we’re calling woman beaters these days? A misdemeanor case? Is there some sort of TV rule that says you must be a complete goomer to talk sports? I mean, two weeks ago NBC gab guy Mike Milbury referred to former Los Angeles Kings defenceman Slava Voynov’s brutal assault on his wife as an “unfortunate incident.” Now a man putting the boots to a woman is a “misdemeanor case.” Clearly, the culture of misogyny extends from the clubhouse to the old men in the press box.

Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig

Watched Pride of the Yankees the other day. A total tear-jerker. But I got a kick out of the “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech Gary Cooper delivered at the end of the movie. “I have been given fame and undeserved praise by the boys up there behind the wire in the press box, my friends, the sportswriters,” Coop said in his role as New York Yankees legendary first baseman Lou Gehrig. An athlete’s “friends?” Sportswriters? That has to be the biggest fib on the face of the earth.

Let’s give Rosie DiManno big points for honesty. In her wrap from South Korea, the Toronto Star columnist admits that the Olympic Games of Snow and Ice Sports is about “sports some of us only cover every four years but, of course, feign instant expertise at.” Totally true. And it showed, especially with the guys who attempted to cover curling. Dave Feschuk of the Star, for example, wrote about curling guru “Russ” Turnbull, but the late Moosie’s actual name was Ray. And Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail prattled on about Rachel Homan burning a rock when it was actually one of the Canadian skip’s opponents who inadvertently touched a stone while sweeping it into the rings.

Clara Hughes

And, finally, this week’s Stevie-ism from the ever-bombastic Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “The list of all-time Canadian Olympic greats is not particularly long. In summer, you start with Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey and turn somewhere to Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle and lately Penny Oleksiak. In winter, there is a place for Cindy Klassen and Catriona Le May Doan and Marc Gagnon and Hayley Wickenheiser and a few others.” Excuse me? Clara Hughes, the only Olympic athlete to earn multiple medals in both Winter and Summer Games, doesn’t qualify? Her two cycling (bronze) and four speed skating (gold, silver, two bronze) medals aren’t enough? Sorry, Stevie, but any list of Canada’s great Olympians has to begin with the smiling redhead from Winnipeg.

 

 

 

About a Barracuda on the judge’s bench…those surprising Winnipeg Jets…same old, same old from Grapes…a pot calling a kettle white…kid stuff in Vegas…Box Car Willie Belichick…grappling with the idea of a new football league…women’s tennis…Roger Federer’s arms…and other things on my mind

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

I can’t help but weep when I hear the many victims/survivors of diabolical Larry Nassar tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the predator doctor when they were sweet, innocent little girls with dreams of Olympic Games gymnastics glory.

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, the Barracuda.

So it’s damn straight that I gave a fist pump and let loose a mighty “hell ya!” when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina booted Nassar’s sorry ass back to a jail cell on Wednesday, saying, “I just signed your death warrant” as she tacked 40-175 years onto the 60-year sentence the defrocked doctor is already serving on a child pornography conviction.

The lady judge rocks. Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis rocks. Investigative journalists Marisa Kwiatowski, Tim Evans and Mark Alesia at the Indianapolis Star rock. The 156 women who appeared in a Michigan courtroom to confront Nassar with victim-impact statements rock.

And now Nassar can pound rocks. Or whatever it is that sexual predators pound behind bars.

Judge Lance Ito

Watching Judge Aquilina sentence former U.S. Olympic gymnastics/Michigan State University doctor Nassar, I couldn’t help but think the outcomes of the original O.J. Simpson (Judge Ito) and Oscar Pistorius (Judge Thokozile Masipa) murder trials would have been different had she been on the bench. It’s little wonder Judge Aquilina’s nickname while serving in the Michigan Army National Guard was Barricuda. She’s a nasty bit of business, in a good way.

Quick question for those who insist that we keep sports and the real world separate: How is that possible when the real world refuses to stay out of sports? Nassar was the top medic for USA Gymnastics and the MSU women’s gymnastics teams. He sexually abused the girls. Sports, meet real world.

I woke up to a tsunami warning (true story) in the small hours of Tuesday morning, after a 7.9 shaker rocked and rolled offshore of Alaska, and I had visions of my high-and-dry, eighth-floor home in downtown Victoria being swamped and swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Turns out the ‘quake had all the bite of a Jimmy Fallon monologue. Yup, that tame. There’s more oomph in American beer. So, after review, the tsunami warning was overturned due to goaltender interference. Just like every goal scored in the National Hockey League this week.

Moving on to more pleasant matters, it seems that most times I look up the Winnipeg Jets are winning another game. Who saw that coming? I mean, okay, at the commencement of their current crusade I figured Team Draft & Develop for a wild-card playoff spot. At best. But first place? In the NHL’s toughest division? There was a better chance of the Paid Pinocchio in the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dissing her boss Donald Trump for his take on immigration.

Here’s what I wrote re the Jets on Sept. 14: “It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.” D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!

I note that two members of the San Jose Sharks—Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun—have issued an apology for calling Winnipeg a “dark and cold” locale with no smart phones, WiFi or any other 21st-century gadgetry. Apparently, the mea culpa should arrive by Pony Express, carrier pigeon or Western Union telegraph in time for the NHL playoffs.

Don Cherry

This just in—Don Cherry doesn’t like Europeans. Who knew? In related news, dogs don’t like cats, Donald Trump doesn’t like the FBI, and Taylor Swift isn’t fond of Kim, Kanye or Katy. Seriously. Grapes needs a new script writer. Once again he’s dredged up his antiquated Cold War-era lament about Euros taking jobs away from homebrews, in this case on the rosters of Major Junior outfits across our vast land. “What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing,” says the resident curmudgeon/blowhard on the Hockey Night in Canada intermission feature Coachless Corner. “You’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in (the) Canadian Hockey League?’ No. I don’t.” Fine, Grapes, and while we’re at it let’s keep all those French kids in Quebec.

Kid Rock

Paul Wiecek offers some interesting thoughts on the NHL misreading the climate of the day by hiring Kid Rock as the intermission act for its all-star frolic this afternoon in Tampa.

The way the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has it figured, the two of them deserve each other because the NHL is whiter than a virgin bride’s wedding gown and Kid Rock’s neck is redder than a rooster’s wattles.

If the Confederacy had won the U.S. Civil War, America today would look a whole lot like an NHL hockey game,” Wiecek writes. “The NHL is not only the whitest professional sports league in North America—by a mile—it also has the whitest fans of any of this continent’s four major pro sports. Again, by a mile. If you’re anything other than white and heterosexual, you’re every bit as much of a minority sitting in the stands at an NHL game as Dustin Byfuglien is skating out on the ice. Hockey is played by white people, for white people.”

Canada’s newspaper sports writers are white, white, white.

This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle white. I mean, has Wiecek taken a look at press row in Canada (newspaper sports division)? Nothing but white, heterosexual, mostly male faces.

Full marks to the Freep scribe for calling out the NHL on the Kid Rock hire, because the guy has a fondness for the Confederate flag and a history of anti-gay/anti-transgender spewings. But Wiecek’s own business has all the diversity of…well, the white NHL.

Ask Wiecek to name all the black sports writers with whom he’s worked. Ask him to name all the openly gay sports scribes. None and none. Ask him to name all the women. Two. I worked at five different dailies. I recall one non-Caucasian colleague. Just one. In 30 years. I worked with only four females scribes. In 30 years. I worked with zero openly gay sports scribes. In 30 years.

At least the NHL has some African-American players. But blacks and gays can’t even be called a minority in Canadian newspaper sports writing, because they simply don’t exist.

So, signature scrawl is now restricted to kids in Sin City. That’s right, only kids 14 and under are allowed access to Vegas Golden Knights players for autographs at the NHL club’s practice facility, City National Arena. Adults need not apply. Seems it’s a safety measure, because grown-ups were “pushing kids out of the way” and kids were “running into the street.” My question: Why would a grown man want another grown man’s autograph? Except, of course, to profit. In which case, he should get a life.

Box Car Belichick

Yes, kids, you can grow up to look like Box Car Willie after spending a night sleeping on a slow-moving freight train and still become a five-time (do I hear six?) Super Bowl-winning head coach. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots remains the ultimate example of a man not letting success go to his clothes, so the next time a cynic takes a cheap shot at Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward Mike O’Shea for his “goofy shorts,” show him this pic of Belichick, taken scant seconds after his Patriots had won their eighth American Football Conference title on his watch.

Vince McMahon

Grappling guru Vince McMahon made it official last week, advising us that his aborted and gimmicky XFL from 2001 will reboot in 2020, sans the WWE-scripted shtick and the up-the-skirt cheerleader cams. Vince is going legit—from sleazy to squeaky clean—and he vows to hire only boy scouts (“Even if you have a DUI, you will not play in the XFL.”). He’ll order players to stand during the national anthem. He wants games to be completed in two hours or less. He wants us to “reimagine” football. Okay, I reimagine football in 2020 without Vince McMahon.

McMahon’s no-bad boys statute seemingly rules out Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback who likes to brawl in bars when he isn’t beating up women. So let’s see…the National Football League has washed its hands of Manziel and the not-ready-for-prime-time XFL wants no part of him, yet the Canadian Football League is eager to welcome him with open arms. What part of embarrassing does CFL commish Randy Ambrosie not understand? (For the record, if Manziel shows serious interest in the XFL, bet the mortgage money that McMahon will turn a blind eye to his rap sheet.)

Caroline Wozniacki

For those who insist that there’s no depth in women’s tennis, the past five Grand Slam events have produced five different champions—Serena Williams (Australian Open), Jelena Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), Sloane Stephens (U.S. Open) and Caroline Wozniacki (Aussie Open). Five events, 13 months, five different champions. The men, meanwhile, have produced two different champions in that time frame—Roger Federer (three titles) and Rafael Nadal (two). I suppose an argument can be made that the universe would have unfolded differently for the women had mama Serena not been away having a baby, but that isn’t necessarily so. After all, she won just one Slam in 2016. Might have been the same last year. The point is, there’s intrigue on the women’s side.

Is there anything more cruel in sports than what Simona Halep and Marin Cilic were forced to endure after losing their respective Aussie Open singles championship matches this weekend? She battled Wozniacki for three hours less 11 minutes, he 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer for three hours and three minutes. Then, after being vanquished, they likely just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Alas, they were required to loiter on court for the parting-gifts ceremony and boring speeches that seemingly droned on longer than the matches…then make a speech and smile…then listen to the victor’s speech and smile…then pose for photos and smile. Half an hour later, they were permitted to depart and lick their wounds (which, in Halep’s case, meant a retreat to the hospital for IV treatment). Like I said, cruel.

Rafa Nadal

This week’s notable quotable: Before meeting his Waterloo vs. Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal was rocking the sleeveless look at the Aussie Open. The guy’s got guns. Serious guns. Which did not escape the notice of commentator Jim Courier, who, during a courtside gab session about Rafa’s fashion statement, asked Swiss maestro Federer if he’d be following Nadal’s lead and show us his pipes. “That’s not gonna happen,” a laughing Federer said, glancing quickly at his chicken arms. “You know why? My arms are not like his arms. It’s pretty simple.”

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, taking a cheap shot at the XFL: “Did anybody out there ask for another football league? Anyone?” I have a better question, Stevie: Does anybody in the Republic of Tranna know they have a professional football team? Anyone?

About a tone deaf NHL and Kid Rock…Birchard curling with royalty…the CFL QB carousel…Aaron Rodgers’ new main squeeze…the XFL part II…an unfunny Farrell…Freddy calling ’em out in Tranna…media coaching the Maple Leafs…a “brazenly” gay figure skater…so long Red…and a few other things on my mind

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

Kid Rock

Kid Rock isn’t feeling the love.

Except, of course, from Jeremy Roenick, whose unfiltered voice and scatter-gun twaddle have increased in volume and mockability, if not temperament, since the end of his days as a National Hockey League worker who once informed disgruntled fans that they can “kiss my ass.”

Kid Rock,” says Roenick, “is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet.”

He didn’t say which planet, but one could posit that, as a music critic, Roenick makes a swell hockey analyst, although the latter would be a matter of viewer appetite.

The point is, amidst the hurried and harsh pooh-poohing of the NHL for its hiring of rapper/rocker/rockabilly/country guy Kid Rock for the intermission gig at the Jan. 28 all-star frolic in Tampa, Roenick’s is the voice of a lone wolf howling amidst the din of dissent.

I’m a huge Kid Rock fan. I love his music,” confessed the NBC gab guy. “It’s a great get.”

Perhaps not such a “great get” if it’s about more than the music, which, based on the intense social and mainstream media screeching that his appointment has inspired, it seems to be with Robert/Bob/Bobby Ritchie.

Here’s what I know about Kid Rock:

Kid Rock and Pam Anderson

He’s filthy rich (about $80 million worth); he fancies himself as a beer-swilling, crap-kicking, womanizing American badass who’s been known to wrap himself in a Confederate flag; he likes to play with guns; he tosses out F-bombs like confetti at a wedding; he wears hats and sunglasses and is street chic scruffy; if there existed a period when he held relevance as a musician it surely ended about 10 years ago, basically the same time he and his ex-bride, Pamela Anderson, established some sort of record by exchanging wedding vows three times in one summer and filing for divorce 122 days later; he professes to have no problem with same-sex marriage but there’s a history of anti-gay/transgender diatribe that includes this nugget he once delivered to The New Yorker: “I don’t love anybody who acts like a fuckin’ faggot.” (The New York Times is “a little bit gay,” Twitter is “gay” and rap-rock is “pretty gay.”)

Much of which flies in the face of the NHL’s alliance with the You Can Play Project and the league’s Declaration of Principles, baring them both as so much window dressing.

Most of the time, our acts are passionate hockey fans,” says Steve Mayer, an NHL suit who must carry considerable corporate heft since he has an 11-word job title. “It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover.”

That is, as many have submitted, so very tone deaf on the NHL’s part. But, hey, isn’t that what you have to be to enjoy Kid Rock’s music? Tone deaf?

Shannon Birchard

Talk about winning the lottery. Shannon Birchard didn’t even have to buy a ticket and she hit the jackpot when Jennifer Jones and her Manitoba champions sent out an SOS asking the young curler to sub for third Kaitlyn Lawes at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, which slides from the hack next weekend in Penticton. We’re talking curling royalty here. Jones, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen are Canadian, world and Olympic champions. It’s like being asked to sing with Adele, Pink and Lady Gaga. Tough gig. Nerve-inducing gig. May Shannon’s butterflies flutter in perfect formation.

Darian Durant

I note that the Canadian Football League quarterbacks carousel is in full spin. For those of you keeping score at home, James Franklin has gone from Edmonton to Toronto; Zach Collaros wore out his welcome in Hamilton and made tracks for Regina; Kevin Glenn loaded up the U-haul in Regina and pointed it in the direction of Edmonton, his ninth CFL outfit; Josh Freeman, who hasn’t taken a snap since January 2016, hauled his hide off the unemployment line and skedaddled to Montreal; Darian Durant replaced Freeman on the unemployment line, then found his way to Winnipeg; and, of course, Johnny Manziel will be heading to a courtroom or rehab facility to be named later.

Let’s face it, no Winnipeg Blue Bombers loyalist wants to see Durant behind centre, because that means starter Matt Nichols is in the repair shop. Alas, few QBs get through a complete season in one piece, thus Nichols will be felled by an owie and we’ll be seeing Durant. If he can actually throw a pass to his receivers without the football bouncing two or three times, it’ll be a boffo signing.

Danica Patrick: Always in someone’s face.

On the subject of quarterbacks, an interesting social note: Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers is no longer dating actor Olivia Munn. His main squeeze now is GoDaddy’s in-your-face girl Danica Patrick, NASCAR’s departing, hot-headed diva who never knew a fender-bender that she couldn’t blame on someone else. Patrick never came close to taking a checkered flag in NASCAR, but she got into more scrapes than any of her fenders. Heaven help Rodgers if he accidentally puts a ding in the family SUV.

So, there are whispers that grappling guru Vince McMahon is toying with the idea of an XFL redux. How much fun would that be? Not much, if it’s as woeful and as blatantly sexist as the original go-round. Among other things, XFL Uno featured:

  • All eight teams were co-owned by McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment (nee Federation) fame and NBC.

  • They each dropped $35 million in the first and only season.

  • Former WWF fake fighter Jesse (The Body) Ventura was part of the broadcast crew. He also had a day job at the time—governor of Minnesota.

  • Play-by-play dude Matt Vasgersian was demoted from the main crew (after the first game) by McMahon for his reluctance to say something suggestive and sexist about cheerleaders’ outfits.

  • Another broadcast team consisted of WWF announcers Jim Ross and Jerry (The King) Lawler, who advised his partner during one game that “You’re here for the football, J.R., I’m here for the cheerleaders. Whoa! Check ’em out!”

  • McMahon once ordered a camerman to invade the Orlando Rage cheerleaders dressing room at halftime to “capture the essence of whatever it is they do” in there.

  • There was no coin toss to determine the opening kickoff. Instead, two players scrambled for the football.

  • Players received flat, per-game pay: Quarterbacks $5,000; running backs $4,500; kickers $3,500.

  • TV Guide listed the XFL as the third worst television show in history, behind only The Jerry Springer Show and My Mother the Car.

The unfunny Will Ferrell and the great Roger Federer.

Speaking of lame humor, actor Will Ferrell continues to be hopelessly unfunny. He hijacked a John McEnroe-Roger Federer courtside interview at the Australian Open tennis tournament last week, asking the following questions of the great Swiss champion:

Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Are you a witch or a vampire?”
“There’s a rumor in the men’s locker room that you love coming to play in Melbourne and your secret to fitness is that you only eat wombat meat. Is that true?”
“I know how much this crowd means to you, they’re an amazing crowd, but does it get annoying when they just scream ‘C’mon Roger’ over and over again?”

For his part, Federer played along and provided some witty answers, but it was embarrassing.

Frederik Andersen

There was mixed reaction when Tranna Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen called out some of his mates last week, saying, “We’ve got to figure out who wants to commit to playing for the team.”

Among those tsk-tsking the under-siege goaltender was the O Dog, Jeff O’Neill of TSN.

“I wouldn’t be happy with it,” he said. “We all know who he’s talking about…he’s talking about Jake Gardiner, William Nylander or Mitch Marner because he screwed up two games in a row. So if you have a problem with one of those two (sic) guys, clear it, clear the air in the dressing room after the game instead of going to the media when nobody’s around. If you remember, when Frederik Andersen got here last year, he stunk the joint out in October. This year he was terrible in October and not one person, not Mike Babcock said, ‘You know, it’d be nice if our goaltender gave us a save once in a while.’ They always said the same thing. They protected him. They said, ‘Frederik Anderson is our guy, we believe in him.’ And now there’s a target.”

But wait. Here’s Don Cherry:

“He said what had to be said,” maintained Hockey Night in Canada’s resident blowhard. “If nobody else was saying it, he said it and I don’t blame him. I’ve been waiting for somebody to say something like that. Call them out, get the guys out there. I don’t blame Andersen at all.”

I’m on Cherry’s side of the discussion. This world needs more athletes delivering juicy lip service.

Mike Babcock

Does Leafs bench maestro Mike Babcock appreciate all the coaching help he’s been getting from media in the Republic of Tranna? I swear, reading and hearing all the coaching expertise in print  and on air makes me wonder how Babs ever won the Stanley Cup, two Olympic gold medals, a world title, a world Junior title, a World Cup title and a college title without tapping into all that shinny brain power sitting in the press box at the Air Canada Centre.

Does anybody really believe the Ottawa Senators will move out Erik Karlsson? The Swede was the best hockey player in the world during last spring’s Stanley Cup tournament, but I wouldn’t rule out a trade, not with Scrooge McDuck (owner Eugene Melnyk) in charge of the purse strings. If Melnyk does deal Karlsson, he can fold the franchise and ship it to Quebec City.

The Seattle Kraken?

Apparently, there are 13 possible names for a Seattle NHL franchise: Totems, Seals, Cougars, Evergreens, Emeralds, Rainiers, Kraken, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Whales, Eagles, Firebirds and Renegades. (I Googled Kraken and discovered it’s a giant, multi-armed sea monster.) I like Sockeye, as in salmon, even though it isn’t among the registered trademark names.

Openly gay figure skater Adam Rippon is off to South Korea with the U.S. Olympic team next month, which inspired this headline on the Kaplan Herald website: “Adam Rippon is U.S.’s first brazenly homosexual man to qualify for Winter Olympics.” Hmmm. One of Canada’s pairs skater, Eric Radford, is openly gay and he’ll also be in PyeongChang. No word on whether he plans to be “brazenly” gay while there or just gay.

Red Fisher

I’ve admired a number of scribes from what I like to call the golden group of Canadian sports writers, foremost among them being the great wordsmith Trent Frayne, with whom I had the privilege of working in 1980-81. Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes, Jack Matheson, Scott Young and John Robertson were other giants when the NHL was still a six-team outfit. As was Red Fisher, longtime detailer of all things les Canadiens for the Montreal Star and Gazette. Red was a bit quirky (he refused to interview rookies) and a grump, but no scribe did hockey so well for so long as Fisher, who began working the Habs beat in 1955 and didn’t leave the building until 2012. He died at age 91 on Friday and Michael Farber delivered a terrific tribute to him in the Gazette.

This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Milos Raonic out in first round of Aussie Open. Lost in four sets to somebody named Lukas Lacko.” Sigh. Instead of looking up Lack’s form chart on the Association of Tennis Professionals website and advise readers that Raonic was beaten by a Slovak ranked 86th in the world, Simmons chooses to insult him. I swear, the more I read Grandpa Simmons the more I’m convinced that someone dropped him on his head when he was a kid.

About women in the broadcast booth…more male hangups…top five talking heads…taking a run at the president…double standards…say no to Shapo…and where’s Puck Finn?

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

I don’t know how much time I have left on the mortal coil. Could be a day, could be a decade or more.

Beth Mowins

Whatever the case, I hope I live long enough to experience that epiphanical moment when men—every last oinker of them—can actually follow the plot and realize and accept that they now share the toy box. With women.

I say that because ESPN had the (apparent) bad manners to foist the female play-by-play voice of Beth Mowins on viewers for the back half of the Monday Night Football twinbill and, judging by the outpouring of utter despair and unharnessed hostility from testosterone-fuelled lumps on bar stools and in man caves, you’d swear that U.S. President Donald Trump had just signed and issued an executive order demanding that all males 21 and older be de-nutted.

How dare ESPN! Does the World Wide Leader not realize that a penis is required to properly handle play-by-play in men’s sports? And it’s helpful if you can perform the Star, Spangled Banner by burp-singing and with arm pit farts.

What next, the lumps demand to know? Aliens in the booth? A “tranny” in the booth? Oh wait. One dude suggested Bowins is, in fact, a transgender babe trying to “sound like a guy.” Another lump asked, “Is there any question she’s a muffin muncher?” What’s up with the lesbian chatter, dude? Fanticizing about a menage-a-gridiron with the wife?

A man cave.

Actually, the wife (or girlfriend) is among the reasons the lumps get all frump-faced and go weak in the knees at the sound of a female voice doing football.

There’s a reason their hideouts are called man caves, you see, and I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you. But I will.

Picture this: Some poor sucker absolutely has to, has to, has to escape from the wife/girlfriend and her delicate female issues for a few hours, so he retreats to the man cave, cracks open a beer, rips into a bag of nachos, loosens his belt, burps and settles in to watch the Broncos and Chargers. And what’s the first thing he hears after Hank Jr. cranks out the Monday Night Football theme? A woman. In his ears for the next three hours. Game’s ruined. Night’s ruined. Shoot him now because both his ears are bleeding.

Well, listen up, dudes. You need a break from your wife/girlfriend that badly? I can think of two doors you can walk through: 1) a pub, 2) a divorce court. Take door 1) too often and I guarantee you’ll be walking through door 2) before long.

So suck it up, boys. This is the way of the 21st-century world. Care to join the rest of us?

There were two people in the booth for the Broncos-Chargers skirmish, one woman and one man. One of them was decidedly better than the other. It wasn’t the man, former National Football League coach Rex Ryan.

Danny Gallivan

Another hangup guys have about women behind the microphone for their macho sports is knowledge. Or, more accurately, their lack of knowledge. Apparently, you can’t be informative unless you’ve actually “played the game.” Excuse me? Refresh my memory, boys. How many games was it that Joe Buck played in Major League Baseball or the National Football League? How about Howard Cosell? Vin Scully? Were Danny Gallivan or Foster Hewitt ever on a National Hockey League roster?

My five favorite play-by-play guys…
1. Danny Gallivan: A cannonading drive.
2. Vin Scully: Painted pictures.
3. Don Dunphy: Mr. Boxing.
4. Dizzy Dean: He “slud into third” and “swang at the pitch.”
5. Harry Caray: Cubs win! Cubs win! After Harry died!

It’s about Jemele Hill, the ESPN SportsCenter dinnertime anchor who took to her private Twitter account to label the president of the United States a “white supremacist” and “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime.” You go, girl! Many have cried out for Hill’s ouster, including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who, oddly enough, earns a living by telling lies on behalf of the chronic liar who occupies the Oval Office in the White House yet she believes Hill ought to be punted for telling the truth. Or at least the co-anchor’s version of the truth. “(It’s) a fireable offence,” the liar’s liar squawked last week. How so? Because Hill assailed a president who believes it’s okay for wealthy and famous men to grab any woman “by the pussy?” Pure piffle.

Jemele Hill

Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press is among the constituents who believes Hill “should be fired” for using her ESPN position to spew political opinion. He calls it “bad journalism.” Hmmm. Twitter is journalism? Who knew? This is also the same guy who, from his sports soap box last month, wrote about “the sight of white supremacists openly marching through the streets of Virginia—they don’t even bother with white hood’s in Donald Trump’s America.” He also opined this: “After all the chaos, craziness and sheer madness of the first seven months of Trump’s presidency, nearly four out of every 10 Americans believe the guy’s doing a hell of a job. Just wow.” Is it just me or does anyone else see a double standard here? As for bad journalism, Wiecek might want to keep that in mind the next time he feels the urge to make an issue of Mike O’Shea’s “goofy shorts” and his “smirk.” Or when he blames the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach for any empty seats at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

Denis Shapovalov

Steve Simmons of Postmedia says Dennis Shapovalov should be in the conversation with Connor McDavid, Joey Votto and Sidney Crosby as Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. Excuse me, but what exactly has Shapavolov won this year? Oh, that’s right, a B-level tennis tournaments. Look, the kid had a great run at the Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open, but let’s not lose sight of the fact he fell short in each event. Shouldn’t we expect our top jock to have won something?

Interesting poll by Postmedia, whereby 25 of the National Hockey League’s top performers were asked to gaze into a crystal ball and forecast the events of the 2017-18 season. In the most-goals category, eight different players were predicted as winners of the Rocket Richard Trophy. None of the eight was named Patrik Laine. Must be that Winnipeg Jets no-respect thing. Go get ’em, Puck Finn!

Terrific piece on Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee O’Shea by young Jeff Hamilton of the Freep. Some funny stuff in there. The kid does top-quality work

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