About Bo Levi up next for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…no hocus-pocus from Coach Mikey…cheap shots to the head and apologies from the CFL commish…musings of a couch potato…Maple Leafs bias in the national media…the Winnipeg Sun ignoring local sports…getting squat for players who do squat…and bitching about the boss

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…

It took Mike O’Shea five years to win a playoff game. The question is: Can he do it three times in 15 days?

I don’t see why not, because there isn’t an outfit in the Canadian Football League that’s performing at a higher level than Coach Mikey’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who’ve now been on the correct end of the scoreboard in their past six skirmishes of consequence.

Oh, sure, the local lads should have had a less-difficult time of it with the Roughriders on Saskatchewan’s barren tundra on Sunday, because Gang Green entered the fray sans starting quarterback Zach Collaros. But who among the rabble is inclined to quibble when their football heroes will still be playing in the back half of November?

Bo Levi Mitchell

In dispatching the offensively challenged Riders, 23-18 at Mosaic Stadium, Winnipeg FC booked passage to the northwest quadrant of Calgary, where Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stampeders lie in wait in their barracks on Crowchild Trail. At stake is bragging rights in the West Division and, most significant, a date vs. the eastern rep in the final match of the year.

I don’t believe it’s going out on a limb to suggest the Bombers defensive dozen will face a much sterner test on Nov. 18, because Mitchell is no Brandon Bridge. He can actually fling the football more than five yards down the field. And watch it land in one of his receiver’s hands.

Let’s face it, the Riders offence is inept. They try to win a knife fight with a handful of confetti. A glass of tap water has a more powerful kick. And that’s with either Bridge or Collaros at the controls.

Mitchell, on the other hand…let’s just say Bo Levi is a been-there, done-that QB with a chip on his shoulder the size of Chris Walby’s dinner plate, and I’m sure he’d like a second Grey Cup ring before swanning off to a National Football League outfit. If, of course, that’s the career path he chooses once his obligation to the Stampeders has been fulfilled.

None of that is to say Winnipeg FC shouldn’t bother to show up at McMahon Stadium next Sunday. Mitchell doesn’t wear a big, red S on his chest and, as evidenced by faceplants in the past two CFL championship jousts, he’s certainly beatable in large games.

Do the Bombers have the right kind of kryptonite to neuter Mitchell? Well, as stated, I don’t see anyone better than the local lads right now.

More to the point, when the two sides last met, on Oct. 26, the Bombers delivered a 29-21 wedgie to the Stampeders, a rather arrogant, uppity group that’s accustomed to getting their own way at this time of the year (until the Grey Cup game, of course).

The thing is, Mitchell and pals lost their way just as the Bombers were finding theirs in late-season skirmishing, and that makes for an intriguing West Division final.

Mike O’Shea

So, when Winnipeg FC took hold of an 11-point lead on the Roughriders—less than five minutes from time—I confess that I found myself thinking, “What goofy thing will O’Shea do to screw this up?” Turns out Coach Mikey played it straight all day. He kicked the ball when he should have kicked the ball, he gambled when he should have gambled. No smoke and mirrors. No hocus-pocus. No sorcery. Just straight-ahead, snot-bubble playoff football in the wind, the snow and the bitter cold on the Prairies. What a concept. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean he’s saving the magic act for Calgary?

Does Jackson Jeffcoat take us for fools? I mean, the Bombers defensive end felled Bridge with a nasty headgear-to-headgear wallop at the end of proceedings Sunday, then he had this to say to news snoops: “I didn’t feel like there was any head contact. I came in with my shoulder. My job is to sack the quarterback and hit him.” What a total load of hooey. It’s the same load of BS that Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions delivered a couple weeks ago when he took out Collaros with an illegal hit to the melon. Willis wasn’t flagged by the zebras (it took a coach’s challenge and a verdict from the command centre) and Jeffcoat’s crime went unpunished. Unless, of course, you consider more apologies from CFL commish Randy Ambrosie for shoddy officiating to be suitable punishment. Well, sorry, but that isn’t good enough. Careers are at risk with these blatant fouls

Couch Potato

Snippets from a day on the couch watching three-down football: Hamilton Tiger-Cats 48, B.C. Lions 8—will all those “experts” who’ve been squawking about the CFL’s “unfair” playoff system now put a sock in it? What we have now works just fine. And please don’t tell me it would have been different had the East Division semifinal fray been contested at B.C. Place. The Tabbies would have waffled ’em in a sandlot, a parking lot, or on any other patch of earth you’d like to choose…Why oh why were the blah, blah, blah boys on TSN so shocked that the Ticats trampled the Lions. “I don’t think anyone saw this coming,” said Jock Climie. Actually, some of us did. I was convinced the Tabbies would win this cat fight handily, and even wrote that B.C. QB Travis Lulay wouldn’t finish what he started. He didn’t. I realize the Lions went 6-3 in the second half of the season, but I thought it to be fraudulent…What a horrible way for Leos head coach Wally Buono to bow out. The hall-of-fame coach deserved much better from his players…Henry Burris’ Grey Cup ring is obscene. I’ll never understand why anyone would want to wear a doorknob on his hand…Is there some sort of fashion challenge among the boys on the TSN panel? If so, why don’t Matt Dunigan and Rod Smith join in? I mean, Burris and Stegall look mighty fine. The other two not so much…If we’re talking human mascots, I’ll take rassler Ric Flair of the Ticats over Drake of the Tranna Raptors any day. The Nature Boy is a goof-off, but his shtick is kind of comical in a WWE-scripted sort of way. Drake is just annoying. All together now—Woooooooooo!…I wonder if it’s possible for TSN sideline gab guy Matthew Scianitti to talk without waving his right hand in front of the camera. And is he actually as serious as he seems to be?

Blake Wheeler

Eastern media dweebs like Damien Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star argue that our national sports networks and national newspapers don’t show bias toward the Tranna Maple Leafs.

That, of course, is like saying Fox News doesn’t favor Donald Trump.

I mean, Blake Wheeler of the Winnipeg Jets had five points in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Friday night. Five-point outings in the National Hockey League are as rare as Trump cozying up to a CNN reporter. Any CNN reporter.

But what was the main story on the TSN website the following morning? You guessed it—les Leafs getting goals from six different people in a win over New Jersey Devils. Ditto on the Sportsnet website. Top story on the National Post sports page was the Leafs’ win. Ditto the Globe and Mail.

Wheeler? His remarkable effort was relegated to “Oh, by the way…” coverage.

But, hey, there’s no Tranna bias.

As much as it pains me to say, I feel obliged to mention that the Winnipeg Sun is getting good and properly paddywhacked by the Winnipeg Free Press on coverage of local sports stories that don’t involve the Jets or Bombers. Using the respective Saturday editions as an example, the Drab Slab went all-in on the Winnipeg High School Football League Division I and II finals. It also had a piece on the possibility of a Western Hockey League franchise relocating in Good Ol’ Hometown, plus a byline article on the Canadian mixed curling championships at the Fort Rouge Club. And the tabloid? Nada. We could read an entire page on Tranna Maple Leafs broadcaster Joe Bowen (like, who in River City gives a damn?), and another full page on an Ottawa news snoop being shooed away at the boarding gate for the Senators’ charter flight to Tampa (again, who in Pegtown gives a damn?), but there was nary a word on any of the games on local playgrounds. Ignoring the two local high school grid skirmishes is not only shameful, it’s irresponsible.

Let’s be clear on something: The blame for the Sun ignoring local sports that operate on the periphery doesn’t fall at the feet of its three-man staff. The Torontofication of local rags is strictly a Postmedia call, and something I forewarned about 2 1/2 years ago when they merged eight newsrooms across the country and booted 90 journalists to the curb. “My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle,” I wrote of the little sports. “I fear the worst.” The worst has arrived and that, too, is a shame.

What was Mike McIntyre going on about in the Drab Slab the other day? “A franchise that prides itself on the draft-and-development model can’t keep cutting players such as (Marko) Dano loose with absolutely no return and expect not to feel it down the road,” he wrote. McIntyre prattled on about the grave danger of les Jets losing luminaries such as Dano, Alexander Burmistrov and Joel Armia for squat. Oh, puleeeeze. First of all, none of the three were drafted by les Jets. Dano was a Columbus Blue Jackets pick, Armia was plucked by the Buffalo Sabres, and Burmistrov was a holdover from the Atlanta Thrashers. Second, what did he expect any of that trio to fetch in barter? Burmistrov did nothing but skate in circles during his time in Pegtown. Dano wore street clothes, sat in the press box and ate popcorn. Armia, while a useful worker, proved to be the cost of business in the move to rid Winnipeg HC of Steve Mason’s burdensome contract. Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff couldn’t have gotten a bag of pucks for either Burmistrov of Dano. In no way is the departure of any of these players a game-changer. They weren’t worth squat, and neither is McIntyre’s argument. The column should have been spiked.

And, finally, it’s about that Uber thing whereby seven members of the Ottawa Senators trashed talked assistant coach Martin Raymond: What, none of us has ever bitched about our boss?

Advertisements

About three Sundays in November…the CFL playoff format…the Prairie Football League…news snoops snubbing Mike Reilly…the Gott Guzzle…the Golden Boy and Sugar Ray…the high price of Looch’s one goal…passing on $300 million…and bravo to Paul Edmonds

The usual Sunday smorgas-bored…with an extra-large helping of three-down football…

Okay, right off the top, let’s read the tea leaves and see how it’s all going to shake down when the large lads grab grass and growl in today’s two Canadian Football League playoff skirmishes.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Saskatchewan Roughriders: Gang Green will require at least two touchdowns from its defence and/or return teams, plus five field goals to have any hope of beating Winnipeg FC. That isn’t going to happen. The rout is on. Blue Bombers by 17 (or more).

B.C. Lions at Hamilton Tiger-Cats: The better quarterback wins, and that’s Jeremiah Masoli, even if he won’t be playing catch with Speedy B. Travis Lulay will start for the Leos, but he won’t finish. Tabbies by 14.

Is there anything more compelling in Canadian sports than three-down football’s fall frolic? I think not. Fifteen days, five sudden-death games. It doesn’t get any better than what the CFL delivers for three successive Sundays in November.

As if on cue, Messrs. Hue & Cry have been in full voice since the close of the CFL’s regular-season business, demanding a dismantling of the current playoff format in favor of something more equitable.

They note, correctly, that the 8-10 Tiger-Cats have been rewarded with a home game at Timbits Field in the Hammer, even though the Lions were 9-9. The Edmonton Eskimos, meanwhile, also finished the regular session with a 9-9 record, yet there they are with their noses pressed against the window, peeking in at all the fun that’s about to begin in the runoff to the Grey Cup.

They’re right. It doesn’t seem fair.

One of the pundits, Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun, suggests the CFL toss the West-East division structure onto the scrap heap. Lump all nine outfits into one group, top six advance to the playoffs. Well, okay, let’s do that. Here’s how it looked at the finish of the 2018 season:

Calgary 13-5
Saskatchewan 12-6
Ottawa 11-7
Winnipeg 10-8
B.C. 9-9
Edmonton 9-9

So, the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders would earn first-round byes, leaving these two games: Edmonton vs. Ottawa; B.C. vs. Winnipeg.

Let’s take it one step further and say the Eskimos were to eliminate the Bytown RedBlacks. That would leave Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Edmonton. Welcome to the Prairie Football League.

You think anyone in the Republic of Tranna would be watching? Anyone in Bytown or Steeltown? Anyone in Quebec? Anyone east of the Manitoba-Ontario boundary?

Alienation of Eastern Canada, most notably the large Southern Ontario TV market, is the risk the CFL takes if it eliminates its traditional geographic makeup. Two consecutive November Sundays of football played only on the frozen tundra of the Prairies would be a ratings doomsday.

If the game isn’t already dead in The ROT, that would surely kill it.

The CFL has featured two all-Prairie Grey Cup games in the past 17 years—Winnipeg and Calgary in 2001, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan in 2007. Where do those two matches rank for TV ratings this century? You guessed it—at the bottom of the heap. Here are the gory details.

2009 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6.1 million average (English and French TV)
2010 Montreal-Saskatchewan 6M
2012 Calgary-Toronto 5.8M
2002 Montreal-Edmonton 5.2M
2011 B.C.-Winnipeg 4.6M
2013 Hamilton-Saskatchewan 4.5M
2003 Edmonton-Montreal 4.4M
2015 Ottawa-Edmonton 4.3M
2017 Toronto-Calgary 4.3M
2014 Hamilton-Calgary 4.1M
2006 B.C.-Montreal 4M
2005 Edmonton-Montreal 4M
2004 Toronto-B.C. 4M
2016 Calgary-Ottawa 3.9M
2008 Calgary-Montreal 3.65M
2007 Winnipeg-Saskatchewan 3.5M

(Note: The 2012 game had a 5.5 million average audience on TSN, making it the most-watched Grey Cup ever on English TV.)

The most-compelling argument against a revision of the playoff format is, of course, the end result. Supposedly inferior outfits from the East Division have won the large game the past two Novembers, so let’s not talk about it until a western club actually proves it’s best when it really matters.

Mike Reilly

Question in Double Jeopardy: In whose universe does the guy with the best numbers not rate as the most outstanding player in the CFL? Answer: What is the Football Reporters of Canada, Alex?

Oh, yes, the boys and girls on the beat snubbed Mike Reilly, instead giving the West-East MOP nominations to quarterbacks Bo Levi Mitchell of the Stampeders and Jeremiah Masoli of the Ticats. That despite the fact the most basic of stats indicate the news snoops are misguided.

Head-to-head-to-head, here’s how the three QBs stack up:

If you were to base that on a 3-2-1 point system, the final scorecard would read: Reilly 16, Mitchell 11, Masoli 10.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say the news snoops have some explaining to do.

So, O-lineman Jon Gott of the Bytown RedBlacks turned a football game into a tailgate party by chug-a-lugging a tall can of beer after a touchdown, and now the CFL has banned booze from TD celebrations. The new get-tough, anti-debauchery policy also includes drugs. Players are not permitted to light up a joint and pass it around in the end zone. Apparently that would be one toke over the line.

Sugar Ray and the Golden Boy

Has it really been 30 years since Donny Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard exchanged haymakers at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas? Yup. Sugar Ray scored a ninth-round KO over Winnipeg’s Golden Boy on Nov. 7, 1988, but our guy got in some good licks before biting canvas. Lalonde floored Leonard in the fourth round and was actually ahead on one judge’s scorecard when they got off their stools to begin the ninth. I covered that tiff for the Winnipeg Sun alongside my favorite boxing scribe, Tom Brennan, and my most vivid recollection is of Sylvester Stallone’s annoying voice rising above 13,000 others. “First Vinnie! First Vinnie!” was his ringside plea/instruction to Vinny Pazienza every time Roger Mayweather boxed one of his ears in a bout on the undercard. Alas, Rocky Balboa’s pleas went unrewarded. His guy Vinny lost on a decision. Bob Dylan was also on site, but I never heard or saw him. I sometimes wonder if he saw me.

Just wondering: When are the New York Islanders supposed to start missing John Tavares? Do they even notice that he’s gone?

The Looch

Also wondering how that Milan Lucic thing is working out for the Edmonton McDavids. Isn’t $6 million a season supposed to buy you more than one goal and four points in 16 games? The lumbering Looch’s contract is by far the worst in the National Hockey League.

So this is the world we now live in: A guy who plays a kid’s game for a living feels comfortable turning down $300 million and no one bats an eyelash. I don’t know what’s worse, Bryce Harper snubbing his nose at the $300 million the Washington Nationals had put on the table, or the fact another Major League Baseball outfit will offer him more money.

Good guy Paul Edmonds

And, finally, a big tip of the bonnet to good guy Paul Edmonds, among the Manitoba Baseball Hall of Fame inductees for 2019. The radio play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Jets on TSN 1290, Paul earned his chops by trudging across the tundra with baseball’s Winnipeg Goldeyes for 19 years. That’s a lot of lonely hours on the lonely road. Now he flies hither and yon with les Jets. So, yes, he’s definitely earned his wings.

About a bummer night for the Winnipeg Jets…an amber alert for Puck Finn…Twig snaps his goal drought…Republic of Tranna media getting it wrong again…and much ado about nothing for NBC

If the Jets and Leafs are playing, it’s worth writing about…

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Paul Maurice

Bummer, eh? A 4-2 loss to the Tranna Maple Leafs wasn’t what you, your hired hands or the rabble were looking for on Wednesday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. But, hey, sometimes life bites.

Like, it must really bite for Puck Finn right now. I mean, Patrik Laine looks as lost as a guy trying to find a crosswalk at Portage and Main. He plays five-on-five hockey like a milking cow plays the piano. Clumsy? It’s like he’s skating with a sawed-off peg leg he borrowed from Long John Silver. If he doesn’t find his game soon, you’ll have to issue an amber alert for the kid.

What’s that you say, Coach PoMo? You really don’t know what to do with Puck Finn?

Puck Finn

Well, here’s a thought: Don’t ever, under any circumstances, play him on the left flank again. Except on the powerplay, of course. I’m not sure what you were thinking when you had him skate with the Winnipeg Jets big dogs—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—vs. les Leafs, but a card-carrying democrat would be a better fit at a Trump rally.

The good news is, you and Puck Finn have ample time to figure this thing out. You’re only 10 games into the National Hockey League crusade, so eventually the light will go on, figuratively and literally.

You know, like it finally did for Twig Ehlers.

I don’t know what you told the boys after two periods on Wednesday night, Coach PoMo, but I have a hunch you went all potty mouth on them. That’s what a hockey coach did back in the day, you realize. If his team was soiling the sheets—which your Jets surely had done through 40 minutes—he’d blister them and peel some paint off some walls with language not suitable for the dinner table or mixed company. They’d have first-degree burns to their egos.

Twig Ehlers

What’s that? What do I know about back in the day? Listen, Coach PoMo, I was watching hockey 10 years before your mama wrapped you in your first diaper. Hey, I’m an old lady. Old enough to share my apartment with two dozen cats and not notice. Trust me, I’ve seen some things, including hockey when bodychecking was allowed.

But I digress. It’s about Twig Ehlers.

Whatever message you conveyed to the fellas in those gawdawful aviator blue unis during their second recess apparently registered with Twig. It wasn’t just that he scored for the first time in 27 assignments, he played like he was a bit PO’d.

I think Laine needs to play like he’s a bit (or a lot) PO’d, Coach PoMo.

Anyway, Twig’s goal was the sole positive takeaway from a bummer of a night. But, hey, you get another crack at les Leafs in the Republic of Tranna on Saturday night.

You know what we called Saturday night back in the day, Coach PoMo? Bath night. Yup, we’d get ourselves freshly scrubbed behind the ears, then hunker down to watch les Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens on our black-and-white TV screens. The Habs and Leafs usually cleaned up in those days, too. Won the Stanley Cup 13 times in 14 springs (1956-69).

They’re thinking that way in The ROT again, Coach PoMo. Silly people. You and I both know that your Jets are the best bet to hold a Stanley Cup parade in Canada.

It would help, of course, if you could do something to spruce up Puck Finn’s game. But, like I said, there’s ample time. And I don’t think anyone’s prepared to throw the kid out with the bath water just yet.

Just to refresh, Twig Ehlers and Puck Finn combined for 73 goals last season. Today they have four, all three of Laine’s coming on the powerplay. Thus, they’ll need to average a goal a game between them to match their 2017-18 total. Tall order but doable.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

I think it’s swell that folks hither and yawn have noticed les Jets, but I wish wordsmiths and natterbugs in The Republic of Tranna would get their facts in order before spewing nonsense about Good Ol’ Home Team.

Consider, for example, old friend and genuinely good guy Lance Hornby’s recent take on Winnipeg HC:

“Bobby Hull’s record $1-million deal in their second season of 1972-73 angered the NHL establishment—led by Harold Ballard—and got the Golden Jet booted off Team Canada while truly stirring anti-Eastern sentiment,” the Postmedia Tranna scribe scribbles. “Hull inspired two other 100-point players, Christian Bordeleau and Norm Beaudin, but the big bang was a year later, when the Nordic invasion of Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Velli Pekka-Ketola and Heikki Riihiranta occurred.”

Wrong. The 1972-73 crusade was the Jets’ first, not their second, in the World Hockey Association. The “big bang” of the Swedes and Finns, meanwhile, followed two seasons later, not one.

Nick Kypreos

Next we had Nick Kypreos weighing in on les Jets:

“Kyle Connor. Nobody’s really mentioned the fact that this guy is quietly gonna lead them in scoring—again,” he crowed on Hockey Central @ Noon on Sportsnet.

Wrong. Connor has never led the Jets in scoring.

Here’s Kypreos on Laine: “When it’s all said and done, this guy’s gonna end up with 30 goals again, easy. He’s not been used in Winnipeg as a No. 1 guy. Think about that for a second. If you really go and study his numbers…he’s been a second-line kinda guy his whole career, short career in Winnipeg. You kind of look at him and go “What happens if he was on another team and they use him like Ovechkin?’ So, maybe he only ends up with 28 or 30 goals this year. Maybe he does have that kind of secondary result off of that type of ice time. There’s some nights he’s played 13-14 minutes. He’s not an 18-to-20-minute guy and probably won’t be. He’ll always be in that kind of secondary…he’s a powerplay guy but he’s also secondary, you know, Ehlers, Little.”

Wrong. I don’t know what numbers Kypreos was talking about but, prior to the engagement with les Leafs, Laine spent an average of 16-plus minutes on the ice in the Jets first nine assignments, not 13-14. His low-water mark was 15:25. He topped out at 21:20. He was averaging 19 shifts per game. Against les Leafs, it was 22:23 and two dozen shifts.

You’ll have to forgive me if I fail to understand why some mainstream media made a large deal about NBC coming to River City to broadcast the Leafs-Jets joust. At best, it’s a footnote. Yet the Winnipeg Free Press came across like the Country Bumpkin Times by splashing it on the sports front, with a feature article by Mike McIntyre. The Winnipeg Sun, on the other hand, devoted exactly one sentence to The Peacock Network’s presence. The tabloid gave it appropriate play. The broadsheet lost the plot.

Department of Irony: On its website, the Freep trumpeted the McIntyre NBC piece as one of its Above the Fold features, yet in the actual print newspaper it ran the story below the fold. Go figure.

About therapy for the Tranna Maple Leafs jugger-not…the price ain’t right for Willy…boneheaded coaching in the CFL…Johnny’s still rotten and having a hissy fit…CFL power rankings down the stretch…Johnny Miller pulling the plug…Johnny Mo bidding adios…RiRi keeping her clothes on…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

The bloom is off the petunia in the Republic of Tranna.

We know this to be so because it finally has occurred to easily swayed news snoops in The ROT that Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr don’t actually skate with the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews

Turns out it was a case of mistaken identity. Auston Matthews is actually Auston Matthews, not No. 99. Morgan Rielly is actually Morgan Rielly, not No. 4. Les Leafs are actually a work in progress, not the 1980s Edmonton Oilers. Pond hockey is fun to watch but not actually sustainable. The juggernaut is actually a jugger-not! Who knew?

Certainly not the scribes and natterbugs in The ROT who’d been howling hosannas about Matthews and Rielly at a deafening and, yes, annoying volume. It was as if the two youthful Leafs had invented vulcanized rubber, the Zamboni and Coach’s Corner.

Alas, troubled times have arrived.

Les Leafs seemingly became National Hockey League d’oh! boys overnight. There were zero goals in a stumble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. There was one score in a faceplant vs. the St. Louis Blues.

Mike Babcock

In an attempt to dig to the root of these missteps, les Leafs, normally off duty on the Sabbath, were summoned and assembled yesterday. Not for a practice, though. This was what multi-millionaire head coach Mike Babcock described as a “reality therapy meeting.”

No word if Dr. Phil was brought in as a guest coach, or if Oprah was on standby with her couch.

So when les Leafs arrive at The Little Hockey House On The Prairie for their Wednesday night skirmish with the Winnipeg Jets, be gentle with them, kids. They’re in therapy, don’t you know.

Les Leafs, of course, come to town sans gifted forward William Nylander, who remains back home in Europe awaiting a contract offer he can’t refuse. I hope he isn’t holding his breath. I mean, let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that reports of the unsigned restricted free agent’s asking price are accurate. Hmmm, $8.5 million. That’s Leon Draisaitl money. Well, just because the Edmonton Oilers are stupid doesn’t mean the Maple Leafs have to be.

Mike Sherman

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Montreal Alouettes were down to their final play on Saturday afternoon, scrimmaging on the Tranna Argonauts’ 48-yard stripe, thus it was Hail Mary time in a 26-22 game. And what does Larks head coach Mike Sherman do? He yanks his starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel, and inserts a cold Antonio Pipkin behind centre because he had “fresh legs.” What exactly did Sherman expect Pipkin to do? Toss the football with his feet? Unless Johnny Rotten is incapable of flinging a football 50 yards, Sherman’s reasoning makes no sense at all. It was boneheaded coaching.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel showed us what he’s all about when he dashed away in a huff the moment Pipkin’s fresh legs failed to avoid the Argos’ pass rush and he was sacked on the final play in the Larks’ loss. No mingling with the boys on the field after the fact. No hand shakes or job-well-done words for his mates and foes. Just sprint and pout (his legs look real “fresh” as he ran away). Hey, I don’t blame the guy for being PO’d, but scurrying off in a hissy fit is a bad, spoiled-brat optic. And it confirms that Johnny Rotten is all about Johnny Rotten.

An unidentified Canadian Football league coach or GM delivered this gem to Kirk Penton of The Athletic: “Manziel’s better than you think. No quarterback can win with that group of offensive linemen Montreal is putting out there.” Not true. Pipkin won two of four starts with the O-lineman that the Alouettes are “putting out there.” It’s just the 0-6 Johnny Rotten who can’t win with them.

Why is the CFL keeping the head count for the Als-Argos skirmish at BMO Field a secret? I mean, so what if you see more people at Chris Walby’s backyard BBQ? Give us the attendance figure already.

This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-4): Still the team to beat.
2. Saskatchewan (11-6): Where did that offence come from?
3. Winnipeg (9-7): Back to work this week.
4. B.C. (9-7): Winning for Wally.
5. Ottawa (9-7): A playoff bye for Bytown?
6. Hamilton (8-8): Losing Speedy B is huge.
7. Edmonton (8-9): Wholesale changes are a-coming.
8. Toronto (4-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-13): Yadda, yadda, yadda.

If you’re a parent with a child playing football, you might want to take a peek at the latest issue of The Manitoba Teacher, where you’ll find an excellent feature by one of my favorite people and former colleague Judy Owen. She gets into the safety measures local leagues are taking in an attempt to curb injuries, and Winnipeg Blue Bombers greats Chris Walby and Troy Westwood offer input. It’s good stuff.

Still no freshly minted sports columnist to replace the departed Paul Wiecek at the Winnipeg Free Press. I thought they’d have had someone in place the moment Wiecek walked out the door, because a sports section without a columnist is like a church without prayer. A pub without pints. Sinatra without a song. As good as the Drab Slab’s foot soldiers are in the toy department—and they are good—the section needs a lead voice. Someone to arouse the rabble. And I need someone to critique.

Johnny Miller

So, Johnny Miller plans to pull the plug on his golf analyst gig with NBC Sports after the Phoenix Open in early February next year. Shame. Although pompous, Miller is blunt and goes directly to the point. He’s never been afraid to ruffle feathers. He and tennis great John McEnroe are the two most honest game analysts/color commentators on sports TV. Apparently Paul Azinger will move into Miller’s seat at NBC. He’s good, but he’s going to hear a lot of “He’s no Johnny Miller” when he cushions his comments.

Johnny Mo

John Morris tells Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun that his hurry-hard days in men’s curling are done, and he’ll now focus on mixed doubles. That’s one of those good news, bad news things. It’s good that Johnny Mo will continue to curl, because he’s a colorful guy who knows how to fill news snoops’ notebooks and deliver quality sound bites. But, since mixed doubles is still in its infancy and sits on the periphery of the game, he won’t be as visible. So file that part of his decision under not so good.

The low-key, subdued farewell is among the quirks of world-class curling. Johnny Mo steps away from the men’s game and there’s no fanfare, even though he is among the most-decorated Pebble People of all time. Intense (sometimes to a fault) and combative, Johnny Mo did it all on the pebble. This is a hall of fame curler. His resumé includes multiple Olympic, world and Canadian championships and, of course, he collaborated with Kaitlyn Lawes to reach the top step of the podium in the inaugural mixed doubles event at the Winter Games in South Korea last February. But there will be no teary-eyed press gathering like we see when a hockey, football, baseball or hoops great bids adios. Legends like Morris, Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Elisabet Gustafson, Colleen Jones, Dugie et al go quietly into the night. Or to the broadcast booth. It’s the curler’s way.

And, finally, Rihanna apparently rejected an offer to headline the halftime show at next year’s Super Bowl, so we’re stuck with Adam Levine and Maroon 5. Personally, I’m not into either performer’s music, but I know whose wardrobe I’d like to see malfunction.

Giving thanks on Turkey Day in Canada

Turkey Day in Canada seems like the appropriate time to talk about gobblers in sports, but I’m going to give thanks on Thanksgiving Day instead…

Jennifer Jones

Thanks to curling and curlers. Real people. Regular working stiffs who just happen to have better draw weight than the rest of us. Easily the most pleasant, most obliging athletes to cover.

Thanks to Jennifer Jones. Give or take Jeff Stoughton, Dugie, Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters, she’s the best curler ever produced in Manitoba. I know all about the nasty Cathy Overton-Clapham business, but it’s one of those things people should have let go of years ago. I don’t understand why Jones hasn’t felt universal love from the rabble. She’s always struck me as a lovely young woman.

Thanks to the Canadian Football League. I was born and raised on the Prairies and weaned on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of Kenny Ploen, the Lincoln Locomotive, Zazu Pitts, Choo Choo Shepard, Kid Dynamite and Tricky Dick Thornton. So I care.

Thanks to the Bombers. See above.

Thanks to the Winnipeg Jets. I no longer reside in Good Ol’ Hometown, but I know how long and harsh the winters can be. (I believe I still have some frost bite from the winter of 1998-99.) The Jets can’t change that, but they do provide locals with a delightful diversion while waiting for the deep freeze to disappear. And, for transplanted Peggers like myself in Canucks country, they’ve become a source of pride.

Thanks to newspapers. I can’t recall the last time I actually held some fish wrap in my wrinkled hands, because I get my daily dose of the rag trade on the Internet. I unfailingly call up the two River City sheets in the small hours each morning and (usually) enjoy the scribblings of the boys on the beats at both the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun. I don’t always agree with what’s written, how it’s written, or how it’s displayed, but I’m grateful that Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe, Jeff Hamilton, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell, Mike Sawatzky et al are there to detail the goings-on in the toy department.

Thanks to the Athletic. A digital sports section, it’s become a gathering place for some very good scribes who either chose, or were obliged, to leave mainstream jock journalism. That includes my favorite football writer, Kirk Penton. (If only they’d hire more people to join Kirk on the CFL beat.)

Thanks to the Republic of Tranna. Yes, I’m grateful for big, bad TO. The (so-called) 6ix unites us out here in the colonies. Oh, there are a few misguided dissidents who actually root, root, root for the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Argonauts, Raptors and Tranna FC, but mostly The ROT outfits provide us with a laugh track. And it’s always good to laugh.

Black-and-white proof that the Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup.

Thanks to the ROT media. Such an annoying mob. Always mentioning the Leafs and Stanley Cup in the same sentence. Totally delusional. But, again, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because they provide more fodder for rude and/or smug laughter. (I’ve actually seen les Leafs win the Stanley Cup. Four times, in fact. But I was 16 years old the last time they did it and I’m guessing I’ll be ashes in a urn before it happens again.)

Thanks to TSN and Sportsnet. Some of the natterbugs drive me bonkers, most notably the gab guys on TSN (yes, I’m looking at you Rod Black and Glen Suitor). Their slobbering over TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel, is embarrassing and makes the viewing experience painful. But, hey, thanks also to the guy who invented the mute button on the remote, right? The point is, our two sports networks usually deliver the goods. If there’s something worth watching, chances are one of them is there.

Thanks to women in sports media. It’s a tough gig. Much tougher when you’re seen as nothing more than a Sideline Barbie. I’d like to see more female bylines and hear more female voices, but as long as the old boys’ network exists in print and on the air, it continues to be an agonizingly slow process.

Thanks to sports blogs and bloggers. Got something to get off your chest? No need to write a letter to the editor that gets slashed down to 100 words. Just create your own blog (guilty as charged). Or join a blog site like Arctic Ice Hockey, Winnipeg Hockey Talk, or HockeyBuzz. The writing on sports blogs is often more pointed and honest than what you’ll read in the mainstream.

And, finally, thanks to everyone who visits this silly blog. I’ll try to get better. I promise.

About 49 years from Day One at the Trib…good for Ted Wyman…good reads in the Drab Slab…a TSN WTF moment…CFL power rankings…Serena unhinged…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.

Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.

After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.

Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.

It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.

My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.

Butch Goring

There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.

But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.

Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?

Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.

Ted Wyman

A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.

Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.

So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.

Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…

1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking…

It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.

Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?

Novak Djokovic

For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.

About the Gang Green joke book…honk if you like Knuckles…Pip-Pip to Johnny Rotten…Rink Rat Scheifele better than Blake Wheeler?…playing shirts-and-skins tennis…tsk-tsk and tut-tut to Serena’s tutu…gospel singing…and other things on my mind

A Sunday morning smorgasbord on a lazy Labor Day weekend

In advance of this afternoon’s Pile O’ Bones Bowl betwixt the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in (rhymes with vagina), we share with you a few snippets from the official Gang Green Joke Book.

Q: How do you know when you’ve arrived in Regina?
A: The highway sign says “Paved Road Ends Here.”

  • The teacher couldn’t understand why Little Johnny wasn’t all geeked up about the Labor Day Classic between the Riders and Bombers.
    “It’s the biggest football game of the year,” she said. “Why aren’t you excited, Little Johnny?”
    “I’m not a football fan. My parents like curling, so I like curling, too,” Little Johnny replied.
    “That’s not a very good reason. What if your parents were morons?”
    “Then I’d definitely be a Roughriders fan.”

Q: What does a Riders fan call his tattered, old couch and living room chair?
A: Brand new lawn furniture.

  • Two Riders fans arrived at the big game and one said to the other, “I wish I’d brought my piano with me.”
    “Why would you bring a piano to the football game?” his friend asked.
    “Because that’s where I left the tickets.”

Q: What’s the biggest problem for Riders fans at a pie-eating contest?
A: The cows keep stepping on them.

  • Two buddies were walking in downtown Regina when one spotted a pair of Roughriders season tickets nailed to a telephone pole.
    “I think I’ll have me some of that!” one said to the other.
    “I can’t believe your good fortune!” his friend said excitedly.
    “I’ll say…I’ve been looking for a nail just like this for months now.”

Q: What did the Roughriders fan say when his wife gave birth to twins?
A: “Okay, cousin Doreen, who’s the other father?”

  • Five things you’ll never hear a Riders fan say:
    “I’ll meet you at the library.”
    “I’ll take classic literature for $1,000, please Alex.”
    “I feel
    soooooo underdressed in this John Deere t-shirt and ball cap.”
    “Johnny Cash! Johnny Cash! Is that all you can play on that damned jukebox?”
    “No pork rinds for me, thanks. I’m watching my waist.”

Knuckles Irving

I must join the Atta Boy Chorus and present today’s Happy Honker Award (apologies to Cactus Jack Wells) to Bob (Knuckles) Irving, who celebrates 45 years with CJOB by calling the play-by-play for the Riders-Bombers skirmish. Not only is Knuckles unequaled among Canadian Football League broadcast voices, he’s a lovely lad. One of the finest people I met during 30 years in mainstream jock journalism.

The Montreal Alouettes have now won two successive matches with Antonio Pipkin at quarterback. Would they seriously consider sending him back to the sideline and trotting out Johnny Manziel when they return from a bye two weeks hence? Only if ownership sticks its snoot into head coach Mike Sherman’s business and orders it. If so, shame on them.

Mike O’Shea

Some terrific stuff, as always, on the CFL from Kirk Penton of The Athletic. Among the insider (coaches/general managers) comments was this gem: “I took my daughters to see the movie Dumb and Dumber. Felt like I was watching it again when the Bombers were down by 20 points, with one minute left, and they still had (Andrew) Harris and (Matt) Nichols in the game (vs. Ottawa). What were Mike (O’Shea) and Paul (LaPolice) thinking?” Short answer: They weren’t.

One of the coaches/GMs also gave the talking heads on TSN a slap: “We all hear the guys on the panel because we have games on in the office, but we tune them out. If we do say something about what they’ve said, it’s seldom positive. It’s surprising how little some of them know but present as fact.” I think he’s looking at you, Milt Stegall.

Rink Rat Scheifele

So, the gab guys and scribes at Sportsnet put their noggins together and compiled a list of the top 100 National Hockey League players heading into the 2018-19 crusade. They had our guy, Rink Rat Scheifele, slotted in at No. 13, which is an odd bit of business given that he isn’t even the best player with the Winnipeg Jets. That would be the captain, Blake Wheeler, who came in at No. 19. Other local lads to crack the Sportsnet 100 were Puck Finn, No. 27, Big Buff, No. 38, Connor Hellebuyck, No. 64, and Twig Ehlers, No. 84.

Captain Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar and Sam Bennett of the Flames marched in the Calgary Pride parade on Saturday. Good on them.

Alizé Cornet

Sometimes you have to give your head a shake and wonder if this is 2018 or 1958. I mean, Alizé Cornet was assessed a code violation the other day at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, New York. Her heinous crime? Revealing an unrevealing sports bra. Oh, yes, after realizing she had put her top on backwards during a heat recess, Cornet stepped toward the shadows at the back of the court and, in two bats of an eyelash, she stripped the garment on and off. It took all of 10 seconds. If that. Chair umpire Christian Rask was having none of it. He slapped her with the code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct. Either he’s no fan of sports bras, or he didn’t get a good enough look. Whatever the case, he’s a fool. Male players peel off their shirts courtside as often as Genie Bouchard double faults, and nothing is said, even when they sit topless during the entirety of an end change. We have to get the fashion police off the tennis courts.

Genie Bouchard: No code violation, just plenty of money.

Alizé Cornet takes her top off at the U.S. Open and earns a reprimand. Genie Bouchard takes her clothes off for Sports Illustrated and earns thousands of dollars. Go figure.

Dumb headline of the week was found on the TSN website: “Bouchard is reviving her career.” Ya, Canada’s tennis diva Genie Bouchard made it all the way to the second round in Gotham, whereupon she bowed out to Marketa Vondrousova. Such a revival. Meanwhile, Mark Roe of TSN had a chin-wag with Sport Illustrated‘s Jon Wertheim, who informed us that “The tennis world, no question, is taking notice of her.” Basically, no one notices Bouchard unless she’s taking her clothing off for the SI swimsuit issue.

Serena Williams

I only have this to say about the tutu look that Serena Williams has been rocking at the U.S. Open—tut-tut and tsk-tsk. Sorry, the tutu is not my favorite look unless I’m at the Nutcracker or Swan Lake.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of female student athletes during 20 years as a doctor at Michigan State University, yet the NCAA has ruled that no one at MSU did anything wrong? There were zero violations? It gets a clean bill of health, so to speak? Ya, and Donald Trump has never told a fib.

Joe McCarthy

This why some jock journos should definitely stick to sports: Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet tweets, “This is an extraordinary time in US history. More than half a decade after McCarthyism, Russia controls the White House.” Half a decade? Try more than half a century. U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy went on his commie witch hunt in the 1950s and died in 1957, four years before Cox drew his first breath.

The results are in on amateur sports coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun for the month of August: Drab Slab 11.3 per cent of all articles were devoted to amateurs; Sun 1.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Drab Slab opinionist Paul Wiecek, who scribbled an essay in early July expressing his dismay and considerable umbrage over the nation’s unappreciation of amateur athletes vs. play-for-pay jocks, wrote 11 columns in 30 publishing days. The closest he came to acknowledging amateurs was a rant about rich parents. Combined in July and August, he penned 24 pieces in 59 sports sections. Zero were on amateur athletes or their teams. So I guess he’s right: Amateur athletes are unappreciated, especially by newspapers and sports scribes.

The Queen of Soul

And, finally, this has nothing to do with sports, but I must say that they really got after the gospel music at the Aretha Franklin memorial on Friday in Detroit. Mmm, mmm, that was some kind of fiiiiine singing. Haven’t heard anything that uplifting since the Barack Obama inauguration, where the Queen of Soul sang My Country ‘Tis of Thee. Wept then, wept Friday.