Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.

This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.

And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.

So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.

One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.

2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?

3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.

Michael Gobuty

4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979.  As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.

Cal Murphy

5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.

6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.

8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.

10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.

11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.

12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.

13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.

15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.

17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.

Moosie Turnbull

18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.

19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.

20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.

21. Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.

23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.

Brian Dobie

24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.

25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.

27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.

Jennifer Botterill

28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.

29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.

Harvey Warner

30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.

31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.

Milt Stegall

32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.

33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.

Andy Van Hellemond

34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.

35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.

36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.

38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.

39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.

40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.

Sandy Riley

41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.

42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.

43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.

44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.

46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.

47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.

49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.

Let’s talk about shaking fists and yelling at clouds…Flames get a leg up on Jets and Rink Rat Scheifele…Elliotte Friedman’s chinny, chin, chin…Eric Trump, NHL ally…the Diversity Alliance has no diversity…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, no, I didn’t watch the Jets-Flames skirmish Saturday night, because that’s past my bedtime…

Online subscribers to the Drab Slab (guilty, yer honor) receive morning briefings from sports editor Steve Lyons, who advises us what we should be reading and what he’s been reading.

It’s a nice touch. Really. It is.

Steve Lyons

It can also be revealing, which was the case on Friday when Lyons recounted a telephone tete-a-tete with the junior man in his stable of scribes, Taylor Allen. The bossman directed young Taylor’s attention southwest to Carman, where the best senior golfers in Manitoba had been swinging the sticks. His mission: “Spin a yarn” on champions Rhonda Orr and Bruce North.

“I love doing these golf stories,” responded Taylor, “but I was just wondering, does anyone care about them?”

Well, this is going to come across as one of those cranky-old-fool-shakes-fist-and-shouts-at-clouds posts, but back in the day we never would have asked such a question, and I don’t say that to pooh-pooh young Taylor. He’s excused his naivité. After all, what would he know of back in the day?

So let me shake my tiny fist and tell you what it was like.

We covered golf (shakes fist). Lordy, did we cover golf. We covered it like it was equal parts papal election and JFK assassination. We wouldn’t merely do a folo on the Manitoba Seniors Championships two days after the last putt had dropped (shakes fist again). We’d drive down Hwy. 3 and not stop until we were at the Carman Golf & Curling Club for the first round. We’d also be there when the trinkets were distributed and the winners had retired to the 19th hole (stops shaking fist long enough to take a swallow of beer).

We’d do it because there’d be hell to pay if we ignored local golf. People cared. A lot (shakes fist).

Usually it was Steady Eddie Dearden on the beat for us at the Winnipeg Tribune, and either Bags Bagley or Knobby Beck for the Winnipeg Free Press, but all of us on staff were dispatched to the links for a variety of tournaments, and it wasn’t uncommon to find our copy on the sports front the next day.

Steady Eddie Dearden

I think we even covered something called the Toymakers Tournament (shakes fist, shakes head), but memory sometimes betrays me. The Toymakers might have been a curling thing.

Whatever the case, it wasn’t just golf that received the royal treatment. It was all local sports.

To jog my grey matter, I called up the final two editions of the Trib the other day, and here’s the local content in the sports section:

Aug. 26, 1980—Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, lacrosse, boxing, a father-and-son golf tourney, senior baseball, senior fastball, Assiniboia Downs, soccer, track and field, field hockey, motor sports, curling, senior hockey, orienteering (shakes head again).

Aug. 27, 1980—Bombers, junior hockey, fastball, soccer, motor sports, ladies golf, Assiniboia downs, baseball, basketball.

I should point out that those two editions included dispatches out of Saskatoon from the talented and delightful Lester (Ronny) Lazaruk, on assignment at the Canadian Senior Men’s Fastball Championships. Yes, we actually sent Ronny to Toontown to tell readers all about our Winnipeg Colonels and their ace hurler, a long, tall drink of water named Pallister, Brian Pallister. Name probably sounds familiar. As for Ronny, he liked it so much that he’s still there.

Anyway, readers were conditioned to opening either paper to find coverage of local sports of all stripes. We tossed a blanket over the community (shakes fist). We got to know the movers and shakers at the grassroots level, not just at the top of the food chain, and they often would thank us for coming out to their event. Imagine that.

Today, the Winnipeg Sun functions on the whims and dictates of the faceless, unknowing taskmasters at Postmedia, which is most unfortunate. If it ain’t named Jets, Bombers, Goldeyes or FC, they ain’t interested. The Drab Slab does a much, much better job, but coverage is still scant in comparison to back in the day. Today, for example, other than the Jets there isn’t a single local sports story in a five-page section. Not good.

I suppose there’s hope, though. I mean, young Taylor Allen told Freep bossman Steve Lyons that he enjoys covering local golf, and I say that warrants a fist bump rather than a fist shake.

It’s incredible, really, that Bruce North is still atop the leaderboard in Manitoba golf, albeit in a different age category. I recall editing Steady Eddie Dearden’s copy about Bruce winning this tournament or that tournament as a sprig in the 1970s, so good on Bruce.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve viewed numerous replays of the Rink Rat Scheifele-Matthew Tkachuk incident on Saturday night—from various angles and at different speeds—and I failed to see anything sinister. No question that Tkachuk’s right skate clipped the back of Scheifele’s left leg, but nothing I saw suggested it was a deliberate kick with intent to cripple. Meaning Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is off his nut or, most likely, he’s playing mind games when he accuses the Calgary Flames forward of a deliberate “filthy, dirty kick.” Tkachuk, to be sure, is among the National Hockey League’s high-ranking irritants and the Jets will be required to rein him in if they’re to survive their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifying skirmish, but I don’t believe there’s any Russian blood in him. The Russkies kicked. Good American boys don’t.

I had the Jets pegged to take out the Flames pronto. I actually thought they’d get out the brooms. Now, after Saturday’s 4-1 loss, I can’t see them winning three of the next four if the Rink Rat’s wonky left limb puts him in the infirmary for the duration. I know, I know. Winnipeg HC overcame other inconveniences during the crusade that was paused in March due to COVID-19, but losing your No. 1 centre is more than a speed bump.

Elliotte Friedman

There was much talk about the lengthy absence of David Pastrnak from Boston Bruins’ training camp, but he returned to the NHL club last week. Apparently they found him in Elliotte Friedman’s beard.

Friedman’s epic chin whiskers are so thick and unruly that O.J. plans to make them his next stop in the search for the real killers.

You know you’re on Planet Puckhead when the Twitterverse is abuzz about Friedman’s foliage and also explodes into a loud howl over which man is the bigger cad, Don Cherry or Ron MacLean. Both Grapes and Sideshow Ron were trending mid-week, and I’d call it a debate over who does and doesn’t belong on Hockey Night in Canada, except much of it was your typically toxic Twitter trolling. In other words, name-calling. Let me sum up the rabble’s to-and-fro in one sentence: Cherry is a zenophobic bigot and one woman wants to punch MacLean in the face. For the record, I’m fully against bigotry and the punching of faces, but I’m not an anti-beardite.

Donald Trump’s boy Eric tweeted his thanks to NHL players for standing during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner when they returned to the ice last week, but Hockey Diversity Alliance co-founder Akim Aliu was having none of it. “Yo, real talk Eric Trump, you’re the last guy the NHL and the hockey world want support from. It’s not real patriotism if you’re using it to divide us,” he responded on Twitter. Hmmm. Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was news when an athlete or coach took a knee during the national anthem. Now it’s news when they stand.

Based on numerous Twitter comments, Americans actually believe it’s near impossible to take a knee while attired in full hockey kit. Are they really that dense? Little kids do it, for gawd’s sake.

I was in a local watering hole Saturday afternoon and the grand total of two people, one wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey and both clutching Oilers face masks, came in specifically to watch their E-Town hockey heroes play the Chicago Blackhawks. They both departed after the Chitowners took a 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, there was considerable bustle (but no TV) on the patio. So much for the notion that people will go inside, and stay, to watch shinny on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon during the drowsiness of August.

Is it permissible to question the Hockey Diversity Alliance, or is that taboo? I mean, the HDA roll call is comprised of nine hockey players, all of them men of color. There are no Indigenous hockey players. There are no female hockey players. There are no gay hockey players. Which tells me it’s actually the Hockey Anti-Racism Alliance. And that’s a commendable cause. Racism is a pox. But so, too, is misogyny. Ditto sexism. And homophobia/transphobia. Do we not want to blot out all those blights? I think yes. So this would be my question for Evander Kane and the aforementioned Aliu: If it’s truly about diversity, why is there zero diversity in your diversity group?

If anyone has a clue what’s going on in the Canadian Football League these days, please dial 1-800-4-A-ROUGE immediately and ask for Commish Randy Ambrosie. He’d like to know, too.

I’m still not sold on Winnipeg serving as a hub bubble for a potential three-down season, because it would mean an invasion of Yankee Doodle Footballers numbering in the hundreds. Seriously. They want to welcome all those large lads from COVID Country? I’m hard pressed to think of a worst-case scenario, except maybe hiring Harvey Weinstein to do odd jobs in a sorority house.

If the Miami Marlins lose another player to a positive COVID-19 test, is there any truth to the rumor that Dr. Anthony Fauci automatically moves into the starting rotation?

If enough top players take a pass on the U.S. Open tennis tournament, will Serena Williams win by default and will it count in her career Grand Slam total? That might be the only way the former neighborhood bully can still beat the top women.

I always say if there’s something you do better than all others, do it. So Megan Rapinoe, who’s been flapping her gums ever since the Yankee Doodle Damsels lapped the field at the 2019 women’s World Cup of soccer in France, now has a talk show to call her own on HBO—Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe. If Megan sees the same America as a lot of us looking in from the outside, she should really have something to talk about in November.

Sarah McLellan

And, finally, couldn’t resist posting this pic of Sarah McLellan, hockey scribe for the StarTribune in Minneapolis. That’s Sarah in Edmonton after completing her required quarantine before covering the Minnesota Wild-Vancouver Canucks playoff joust. Take special notice of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s vast mountain vista in the background. It’s truly spectacular. Oh, wait. There are no mountains in E-Town. They only exist in Kenney’s propaganda machine.

Let’s talk about women’s sports and the media…tough times for Ponytail Puck…pigging out on Big Macs…the Barnum and Bailey Brier…Chevy’s sales pitch to free agents…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I sprung forward this morning and brought some random thoughts along with me…

I think TSN and Sportsnet are trying to fool us into believing they actually give a damn about women’s sports.

Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson and Kim Davis.

I mean, both of our national jock networks have devoted copious air to the distaff portion of the playground in the past week, featuring interviews with movers and shakers like Stacey Allaster, Kim Davis, Kim Ng, Cammi Granato and Kendall Coyne Schofield, and they’ve also given us retro peeks at moments of girl glory delivered by Brooke Henderson, Bianca Andreescu and others.

It’s been boffo stuff.

And tonight we’ll hear the all-female broadcast crew of Leah Hextall, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Christine Simpson work the Calgary Flames-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish on Hometown Hockey, something that—dare I say?—smacks of gimmickry and likely will have numerous men squirming and pressing the mute button on their remotes.

But here’s my question in the midst of all this rah, rah, rah about ponytail sports: Where are TSN and Sportsnet when it really matters?

You know, like when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League was in business. Like during the women’s Under-18 world hockey championship. TSN covering competition like the world shinny tourney or World Cup soccer are no-brainers, but to the best of my recollection Sportsnet broadcast the grand sum of two CWHL games before the operation bolted its doors last spring. I could be wrong. It might have been three. Meanwhile, TSN completely ignored the U18 event.

The National Women’s Hockey League, meanwhile, dropped the puck on its playoffs Friday night, but I haven’t heard a whisper about it on either network.

In the small hours of Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, I counted 136 news-related videos on the TSN website. The male sports v. female sports scorecard read 133-3 in favor of the dudes, and that included Justin Bieber practicing his shootout skills.

None of that’s surprising, of course, because numerous studies advise us that female jocks receive just two to six per cent of air time on sportscasts in the True North and U.S. The amount of space allotted to female sports in our daily newspapers would be similar. Maybe even less.

So, ya, it’s great that TSN and Sportsnet have been saluting women the past few days, but what’s their excuse for the other 51 weeks of the year?

According to a 2016 report, a study of sports coverage on our national networks (French and English) in 2014 showed that female athletes were featured in just four per cent of 35,000 hours of programming. More than half of that four per cent allotment showed women’s events at the Sochi Olympics and/or women’s tennis. Which means, of course, all other female activity received less than two per cent air time.

Whenever I contemplate the minimalist coverage female sports receives on air and in print, I think of comments from noted jock journos Steve Simmons and Bruce Dowbiggin.

“I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports,” Postmedia’s Simmons told the Ryerson Review of Journalism in 2002. He also advocated for the removal of women’s hockey from the Olympic Games in 2010, calling it a “charade.”

Dowbiggin, meanwhile, wrote last year that ponytail sports was “second-tier entertainment” and, in another piece, added, “You can’t swing a cat without hitting a lesbian in a women’s sport.”

I’m quite uncertain why Dowbiggin would want to swing a cat and hit a lesbian, or any woman for that matter, but I believe his indelicate and disturbingly crass remark about felines and females was an attempt at cutesy humor. If so, he failed. Miserably.

Point is, those are two loud voices in jock journalism completely dismissing female athletes.

Steve Simmons

Dowbiggin once was an award-winning jock journo and a main player on the national stage, twice winning a Gemini Award for sports reporting and broadcasting. He now cranks out opinion essays for Troy Media and his own Not The Public Broadcaster. Simmons is a high-profile columnist whose scribblings appear in Postmedia rags across the country.

As much as I wish it was otherwise, I’m afraid theirs is the prevailing attitude in our jock media.

It’s worth noting that neither of the Winnipeg dailies has a female in its stable of full-time sports scribes. The Drab Slab allows the talented and very readable Melissa Martin to make guest appearances for the provincial and national Scotties Tournament of Hearts, but the Sun hasn’t had a Jill writing jock stuff since Judy Owen left the building. Judy is one of only four female scribes with whom I worked during 30 years in the rag trade, the others being Peggy Stewart (Winnipeg Tribune), the lovely Rita Mingo (Trib) and Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun). It’s been more than 50 years since I started at the Trib, and in that time I’ve known just five female sports writers in Good Ol’ Hometown—Judy, Peggy, Rita, Barb Huck and Ashley Prest. I know some women applied the last time the Sun had an opening, but Scott Billeck got the gig.

Billie Jean King

What a truly dreadful time it’s been for Ponytail Puck. First the CWHL ceased operations last spring, then close to 200 of the planet’s best players had a hissy fit and decided to boycott and trash talk the NWHL, and now the world championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Tough to grow the game when all you have at the end of the day is a bunch of photo-ops with Billie Jean King.

Speaking of Billie Jean, she’ll be part of the Hometown Hockey telecast tonight on Sportsnet, but we shouldn’t expect any hard-hitting questions from either Ron MacLean or Tara Slone. My guess is MacLean will serve the tennis legend and women’s rights activist nothing but softball questions, while Tara swoons.

Sportsnet won’t be the only network featuring an all-female broadcast crew tonight. Kate Scott, Kendall Coyne Schofield and AJ Mleczko will be the voices for NBCSN’s telecast of the St. Louis Blues-Chicago Blackhawks skirmish, and I just hope they realize that criticism is part of the gig because they’ll be hearing it from the yahoos.

The PWHPA—also the talking heads on Sportsnet—would like the five-team NWHL to disappear at the conclusion of its fifth season, so they’ll be disappointed to hear this sound bite from NWHLPA director Anya Packer: “I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six.” If they want to play serious shinny next winter, the PWHPA might want to rethink that boycott thing.

The rapidly spreading coronavirus has a number of sports teams/leagues talking about playing in empty stadiums. In other words, just like a Toronto Argonauts home game.

Chevy

Ya, I think it’s great that the National Hockey League salary cap is going up and Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will have a boatload of Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s cash to spend on free agents this summer, but that won’t make it any easier for Chevy to sell Good Ol’ Hometown to high-profile players. River City remains No. 1 on most NHLers’ no-go lists, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

I don’t know about you, but every time I see the Nashville Predators play, I have the same thought: “How do these guys beat anybody?”

Does this make sense to anyone other than Tranna Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas?
William Nylander: 30-goal seasons—1; salary—$9 million ($8.3 million bonus).
Kyle Connor:         30-goal seasons—3; salary—$7.5 million ($0 bonus).

People poke fun at the Canadian Football League for rewarding failure by giving a single point on a missed field goal. Well, excuse me, but the NHL does that very thing almost nightly with its ridiculous loser point.

Watched Sports Central on Sportsnet on Friday morning and I didn’t hear one word about the Brier. Nada. They managed to squeeze in highlights of Joey Chestnut pigging out on Big Macs, but the Canadian men’s curling championship wasn’t worthy of their attention. Canada’s #1 Sports Network my ass.

There’ve been so many incredible circus shots during this year’s Brier, I expected to see Barnum and Bailey meeting in today’s final.

So I call up the Globe and Mail on Saturday and note that Cathal Kelly is writing about the Brier. I roll my eyes, because Kelly doesn’t know a hog line from Hog Town. Well, surprise, surprise. It’s an excellent, entertaining read. And honest. “Don’t look for curling expertise here,” he writes. “You won’t find any.”

Did Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs look like he was having any fun before being ushered out of the Brier? I swear, he’s more serious than a tax audit, and it isn’t a good look.

WTF? During the first two Brier matches I watched on TSN last weekend, I heard three F-bombs and one goddamn. I heard zero F-bombs and zero goddamns during the entire week of watching the Scotties on TSN. Just saying.

Actually, I’d like to know why male curlers feel a need to go all potty mouth, yet the women don’t. I mean, they’re playing the same game, playing for the same stakes, making the same shots, feeling the same pressure. It would make for an interesting social study.

Big headlines all over the Internet last week about movie guy Spike Lee having a hissy fit and refusing to attend any more New York Knicks games this season. Hmmm. I must have missed the memo that informed us we’re supposed to give a damn what Spike Lee does.

Gotta say, TSN’s man on UFC, Robin Black, is the creepiest guy on sports TV.

Joey Chestnut

The aforementioned Joey Chestnut set some sort of world record for gluttony last week when he scarfed down 32 Big Macs in 38 minutes. We haven’t seen a pigout like that since Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs offence ate the San Francisco 49ers’ lunch in the Super Bowl.

The Winnipeg Jets are in the grip of an intense playoff battle, two Manitoba teams were running hot at the Brier, and what was featured on the sports front of the Winnipeg Sun last Monday morning? Toronto Blue Jays wannabe pitcher Nate Pearson. Good gawd, man, who makes those horrible decisions?

Wilma Rudolph

And, finally, in a salute to International Women’s Day, these are my five fave female athletes of all time: Wilma Rudolph, Martina Navratilova, Tessa Virtue, Nancy Greene and Evonne Goolagong. (Honorable mentions go to to Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf and Jennifer Jones.)

Let’s talk about goals and lumps of coal in the toy department

Yes, it’s a return of the Sunday smorgas-bored, but with a slight twist: Sports Santa arrives on Wednesday and he’s given us a sneak peak at what he’s tucked inside his bag, so let’s see if it’s Goal or a Lump o’ Coal for the good and not-so-good girls and boys in the toy department of life…

GOAL: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended the longest dry spell since prohibition, so all hosannas to the Canadian Mafia—Wade Miller (CEO), Kyle Walters (GM) and Mike O’Shea (head coach)—who brought the Grey Cup home to River City and turned Chris Streveler into a flesh-flashing party animal. I don’t recall Kenny Ploen getting half naked and noodle-legged during Grey Grail celebrations back in the day, but good on Streveler for letting his wolf loose. After all, this sort of thing only happens every 29 years.

LUMP O’ COAL: Andrew Harris. Ya, I realize the local product was top dog in the Canadian Football League championship game, but he became a tainted tailback by failing a mid-season pee test. Harris claimed innocence, but don’t they all when caught using PEDs?

GOAL: Dayna Spiring became the first female board chair in the 89-years history of the local three-down football outfit, and the lady is a champ. You might have seen Dayna down on the field at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, hoisting the Grey Grail after the Bombers had waffled the Hamilton Tabbies on the final Sunday in November, and that’s girl power, baby.

LUMP O’ COAL: Actually, make it an entire coal bin for Glen Suitor, the TSN gasbag whose swooning over singer-of-songs Keith Urban during the Grey Cup telecast registered 10 on the creep-me-out meter. We haven’t seen or heard teenage-girly gushing like that since John, Paul, George and Ringo worked their first Ed Sullivan Show gig. I truly believe Suitor wet his pants.

GOAL: All aboard the Bianca Andreescu Tennis Express. First she won the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, then the Rogers Cup in the Republic of Tranna, then the U.S. Open in Gotham, where she slayed neighborhood bully Serena Williams in the final. Along the way, former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber called Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever,” and you know you’re doing something right when the claws come out.

LUMP O’ COAL: Apparently the ‘C’ on Blake Wheeler’s sweater stands for “cantankerous cuss,” because the Winnipeg Jets captain went full-on potty mouth at the close of business last April, telling Winnipeg Sun scribe Paul Friesen to “fuck off.” And don’t talk to me about a heat-of-the-moment comment after a tough loss. Fifteen teams were eliminated from the Stanley Cup runoff last spring, and only one captain told a news snoop to “fuck off.” Look, Wheeler doesn’t have to like the questions, he doesn’t even have to answer ever question, he doesn’t have to get warm and fuzzy with news snoops, but civility also starts with a ‘C’. Hopefully he’ll try it on for size when the Jets are ousted next spring.

GOAL: I’m not sure there’s anyone in sports more delightful than Brooke Henderson, our Lady of the Links who won two more tournaments to become the most successful hoser golfer on either the LPGA or PGA tours. That’s nine titles for Brooke now, and I hope we never take her for granted because there should be nothing ho hum about winning two events every year. Brooke is a bringer-of-joy and a national treasure.

LUMP O’ COAL: The U.S. women’s national soccer side established new, disturbing standards for rub-it-in-their-faces hoorawing during a 13-0 rout of lowly Thailand. The Yankee Doodle Damsels celebrated each of their scores as if they’d retaken France from Hitler’s Nazis, and their over-the-top, cringeworthy carry-on after goals eight through 13 was an ugly pock mark on an otherwise masterful World Cup performance in Paris and the surrounding French countryside.

GOAL: I have two words for the TSN World Cup panel of Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson—c’est magnifique. Actually, I have more than two words for them: Brisk and blunt, feisty, fiery and unafraid to put noses out of joint, the trio provided commentary as insightful as it was entertaining, and it didn’t matter if they were talking about hand balls or Marta’s shade of lipstick. TSN gave three women a voice and they knew what to do with it. What a concept. Add Kyle’s killer hair to the mix and it all worked.

LUMP O’ COAL: Donald Trump picked a Twitter fight with America’s leading lady on the pitch, Megan Rapinoe. Seriously, what’s up with that? I mean, wasn’t Trump too busy separating Mexican mothers from their kids to worry about a fitba diva?

GOAL: Katherine Henderson, CEO of Curling Canada, wanted to bring equal pay to the pebble and she’s done it. Prize purses at both the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier will be $300,000, with each winning outfit collecting $105,000. Hurry hard to that pay window, girls. You’ve earned it.

LUMP O’ COAL: Auston Matthews of the Tranna Maple Leafs and some of his boozed-up buddies thought it would be a swell idea to act like damn fools and prank a female security guard at 2 o’lock in the morning last summer in Scottsdale, Ariz. They attempted to climb into her locked car, then got all leaky-mouthed when she turned them back. When last seen, Matthews had dropped his trousers and was mooning the guard. What a charmer.

LUMP O’ COAL: Many mainstream jock journos wrote off L’Affaire Matthews as nothing more than the yuk-it-up, boys-will-be-boys hijinks of youth, and that’s because too many mainstream jock journos are guys who relate to frat-boy hijinks. I imagine the narrative would have been different had it been their mother, sister, wife or daughter sitting alone in that car.

GOAL: Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell brought the Western Hockey League back to Winnipeg, playing out of a cramped Wayne Fleming Arena at the U of M. Nice. Now, if only Greg and Matt would do something about ditching the Sasquatch logo and changing the team name to something more River City-centric.

GOAL: When Murat Ates joined The Athletic to work the Jets beat, I feared he’d be too heavy on numbers and too light on storytelling. Turns out he’s found an acceptable mix. I still won’t read him if I need an abacus, because that’s just typing, not writing, but I don’t turn away when he’s spinning a good yarn. Murat has a nice way with words. Boffo addition to the beat.

GOAL: Bob Cameron. Blue Bombers. Ring of Honour. Brilliant.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones became the most successful skip in Scotties history, nailing down win No. 141 last winter in Sydney, and I really wish everyone would get past that whole Cathy O thing. C’mon people, can’t we just talk about Jennifer as the greatest female curler ever?

GOAL: The Seattle To Be Named Laters have yet to play a game, but they’ve already scored big by bringing Cammi Granato on board as a fulltime pro scout, a first for the very male, very old boys club known as the National Hockey League.

LUMP O’ COAL: Hockey Day in Canada is a celebration of our great game, which is supposed to be for everyone, but the tall foreheads at CBC and Sportsnet couldn’t find a way to squeeze a women’s match into their 12-hours marathon last February. Oh, sure, the natterbugs mentioned Ponytail Puck, but the Tranna Furies-les Canadiennes joust should have been part of the package.

LUMP O’ COAL: Never mind that Ron MacLean enabled Don Cherry’s pulpit bullying for 33 years, the Hockey Night in Canada host confessed to not recognizing “the structural racism or sexism that’s going on” in hockey. I don’t believe for a nanosecond that MacLean is truly that naive. He saw it and heard it. He just ignored it.

GOAL: Richie Hall had been the most maligned man in Good Ol’ Hometown since taking command of the Bombers defensive dozen, but it was Richie’s D that ruled the day in each of Winnipeg FC’s playoff victories. Winning the Grey Cup looked good on him.

GOAL: Anyone who purchased and scarfed down a Walby Burger at a Bombers game deserves a lifetime supply of Tums or Pepto. And maybe a cardiologist to be named later. I mean, that sucker was a heart attack in the making—six meat patties, six chicken strips, six wieners, six hunks of bacon, cheese, French fries, pickles, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and special sauce stuffed between two buns the size of an umbrella.

LUMP O’ COAL: CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been flitting about the globe, making nice with Mexicans, Europeans and Aussies, but it seems he’s forgotten about his own back yard. The CFL lost more than 76,000 customers between 2018 and ’19 and, notably, even the longtime flagship franchise in Edmonton took a huge hit at the box office (minus-15,898). Commish Randy doesn’t appear to have a plan to make Rouge Football a happening again in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, but, hey, I hear he’s big in Frankfurt and Vienna.

LUMP O’ COAL: The Green Bay Packers-Oakland Raiders adventure at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry was a gong show from the get-go, and we have some dude named John Graham to blame for that. Ticket prices were $75-$340 (plus tax/fees), which was never going to work in a burg that only buys wholesale; Oakland punter A. J. Cole arrived wearing a Winnipeg, Alberta, t-shirt; the Packers sat 33 starters; they found potholes in the end zones, thus the field for the faux football game was reduced to 80 yards in length. Oh, and did I mention there were fewer than 20,000 customers in the ball park? Graham blamed it all on the media, naturally, and he had the bad manners to attempt to boot Paul Friesen from the press box. Friesen stayed, the National Football League didn’t. And four-down football will never be back.

GOAL: Paul Friesen continues to crank out his Night Before Christmas sports poem, a tradition started by Uncle Vince Leah back in the day at the Winnipeg Tribune. I resurrected it for the Winnipeg Sun in the 1990s (or was it the ’80s?), so I’m delighted that Paul picked up that pen. I assume it’ll be featured in the tabloid’s Tuesday edition and, like most of his stuff, it’ll be boffo.

LUMP O’ COAL: Mad Mike McIntyre turned the Drab Slab into gossip central by telling us that the Jets changing room was “rotten to the core.” He mentioned something about “multiple sources,” but neglected to tell us what his “multiple sources” actually told him. Thus, galloping gossip among the rabble ensued. That was April 5. On April 17, he advised us that there was “unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice,” but by April 20 the players apparently couldn’t stand the sight of each other again. In May, he informed us that any “ruffled feathers” in the room belonged to Rink Rat Scheifele, and in June he once again told us that the Jets were “a fractured bunch.” But wait. In August, he advised us that there was “nothing going on that winning couldn’t fix.” Confused yet? So was I. More latterly, which is to say last week, he insisted that AWOL defender Dustin Byfuglien was the root of all evil, because was was siphoning too much alpha oxygen out of the room. Meanwhile, his stooge-in-laws at the Freep, Steve Lyons and yesterday’s man Paul Wiecek, told us that captain Blake Wheeler was the rottenest of all apples in that barrel. All that and, nine months later, they’ve yet to provide a shred of evidence to support the “rotten to the core” narrative, other than one late-season, closed-door-meeting, which is commonplace in the NHL. Apparently, innuendo and back-fence gossip trump facts and anecdotal evidence at the Drab Slab.

And, finally, GOAL: To everyone who indulged an old lady by stopping by for a read of the River City Renegade. We hit 48,000 views this year, and that’s a high-water mark. So thanks. Happy Christmas, happy New Year, and happy trails to you.

Let’s talk about Ted Green OF THE WINNIPEG JETS…a “family discussion” in The ROT…double speak from Mike O’Shea…Edmonton Eskimos fans eat well, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans drink well…no female news snoops in Canadian Football Hall of Fame…a twit on Twitter…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and bravo to the 20,907 souls who trudged through the white stuff and made it to Football Follies Field in Fort Gary for the Bombers-Larks skirmish on Saturday…

I remember the day Teddy Green retired. He cried.

Not for himself, understand. I don’t recall Teddy ever feeling sorry for himself, even though he never experienced a pain-free day after Wayne Maki clubbed him over the head with a hockey stick.

So, if the tears couldn’t possibly have been for the one-time toughest dude in hockey, who?

“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” Green explained the day he stepped away from a professional playing career that had come full cycle, starting in Winnipeg with the Warriors in 1959 and concluding with the Jets in 1979. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”

None of us who traveled with the Jets back in the day ever questioned Teddy’s sand.

We’d watch him hobble onto buses and through airports like an old man on a pair of knees that had endured the slicing and dicing of a surgeon’s scalpel five times, and we knew all about the headaches that often put him into a state of paralysis. But Teddy was tire-iron tough. He played through all the searing discomfort, and did so admirably. We marveled.

“I only missed one game in seven years because of the headaches,” he said with a proper level of pride on the January 1979 day he bid adieu to his playing career, but not the game.

The headaches, of course, were a reminder of his ugly stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 21, 1969. They had clashed near one of the nets in a National Hockey League exhibition game, Teddy wielding his lumber first, striking Maki with a blow to the shoulder. The St. Louis forward retaliated and, unfortunately, he had better aim, chopping down on Teddy’s head with Bunyanesque force.

Teddy lay on the freeze in a contorted mess and was whisked away from the rink to an Ottawa hospital, where medics spent five hours repairing his fractured skull and keeping the Grim Reaper at bay. By the time Teddy was fit enough to rejoin the Boston Bruins, in 1970-71, there was a plate in his head and a helmet on top of it. He helped them win the Stanley Cup in the spring of ’72.

“I never met a guy with more intestinal fortitude,” Phil Esposito said of his former teammate, who drew his final breath the other day at age 79.

The thing you should know about Teddy, is that his on-ice persona didn’t match the man away from the freeze. A bonfire burned in his belly in battle, but once removed from the fray he was gentle, thoughtful and soft spoken, sometimes to the point of mumbling. His words were often accompanied by a devlish cackle, as if he’d just pulled a prank, and he probably had.

The 1959 Winnipeg Braves. Teddy is second from the left in the back row.

As mentioned, Teddy’s career began and ended in Good Ol’ Hometown. He started on the frozen ponds of St. Boniface, and upper-level hockey people began taking notice of the tough guy on defence when he lined up on the blueline with les Canadiens in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. Legendary shinny lifers Bill Addison and Bill Allum recruited Teddy to join the Winnipeg Braves for their Memorial Cup crusade in 1959, and they won the national Junior title, beating the Scotty Bowman-coached Peterborough Petes in five games.

Teddy added a Stanley Cup with the Bruins, he captained the New England Whalers to the inaugural World Hockey Association title, and he added two more after joining the Jets in 1975-76.

“I ended up in Winnipeg, which was a real plus, and I won a couple of championships,” he told me at his retirement presser. “I also got to play with one of the best forward lines ever put together in hockey in Ulf (Nilsson), Anders (Hedberg) and Bobby (Hull). And I was part of the European influx.”

Teddy Green, the Big Bad Bruin.

Teddy always kept good company on the freeze, dating back to his time with the Braves, an outfit that included Ernie Wakely, Bobby Leiter, Gary Bergman, and local Junior legends Wayne Larkin and Laurie Langrell. He played with Bobby Orr, Espo and the Big Bad Bruins, Hull, Hedberg and the two Nilssons, Ulf and Kent, with the Jets, and he coached Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier and the boys on the bus in Edmonton.

Most of the headlines and dispatches since his death have been devoted to Teddy’s time with the Bruins and Oilers, but his formative years on the rinks of River City and three-plus winters with the Jets should be more than a footnote.

He was one of us, a local lad who found his way home to bookend his Memorial Cup championship with two WHA titles.

Great career, better guy.

Shame on the Drab Slab for reducing Green’s death to a sports brief. That’s all he deserves? What, no one at the broadsheet has a phone that works? They couldn’t call some of his former teammates? Do they not realize this guy was hockey royalty in River City? The Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, ran a nice piece by Jimmy Matheson of Postmedia E-Town, but it was totally Oilers-centric. It’s as if Teddy never played hockey in Good Ol’ Hometown. Well, he did, dammit. He earned his chops on our frozen ponds and he was a significant part of the Jets’ WHA glory days.

Oh dear. After three straight losses, the Tranna Maple Leafs felt obliged to conduct a special think tank to discuss their repeated face plants. “A family discussion,” is how head coach Mike Babcock described the behind-closed-doors to and fro. “It’s just honest. Like any family, you keep each other accountable.” So, when les Leafs huddle on the QT it’s a “family discussion,” but when les Jets do that very thing some zealots in the media tell us the changing room is “rotten to the core” and “fractured.” Go figure.

I note that Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has declared a state of emergency. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterbacking situation is that bad.

Mike O’Shea

Ever wonder why news snoops become such cynical SOBs? Well, consider the sound bites delivered by head coach Mike O’Shea when asked if his Bombers would recruit a veteran quarterback to baby sit Chris Streveler:

Sept. 30 (to Knuckles Irving on the CJOB Coach’s Show): “That’s not gonna happen, and I’m good with it. I like our guys. Very confident in our guys. Dance with the one you brung.”

Oct. 2: “To really think that a guy’s gonna come in and change your franchise this late in the season, it’s pretty difficult in football. Even if you trade for a veteran presence, unless he knows your guys, it’s really hard for even a veteran guy to come in late in a season and lead. I really just don’t think those scenarios work or can be applied to football this late in the season. Especially (a quarterback). Quarterbacks usually do a lot better when they’ve got a playbook and a training camp and exhibition games to play with.”

Oct. 10 (after the signing of veteran Zach Collaros): “I think it’s a good move. We said right from the get-go about bringing in a veteran guy. Now we got a seasoned veteran who comes in and, you know, will have a role and it’ll definitely be a good guy to have in the building. Knowing Zach, he’s a smart guy, a competitive guy, he’s going to pick things up very quickly. I’m sure the concepts are very familiar to him. The terminology will be probably different, but, I mean, that’s the reason we talked about a veteran guy, because it comes that much quicker and understanding CFL defences is something these guys do no matter what the play call is. That’s important.”

So, to sum up: O’Shea never wanted a veteran QB but he wanted one “right from the get-go,” and even a veteran QB is too stupid to pick up the system in a short time, except Collaros isn’t too stupid to pick up the system in a short time. Good grief.

Well lookee here. According to Gaming Club Casino, there’s no better burg to be a Canadian Football League fan than Edmonton, with Winnipeg a solid second. First thought: Obviously, it has nothing to do with winning. Sure enough, the folks at GCC used six measuring sticks, only one of which—touchdowns—

A Bombers beer snake.

involves the on-field product, so findings were based mainly on ticket costs, precipitation, pollution and the tariff on burgers and beer. Turns out that E-Town has the best burger prices and the second-lowest admission fees, while Good Ol’ Hometown has the cheapest booze, which is probably a good thing. I mean, when you’ve been watching your team lose every year since 1990, chances are you need a drink or two.

A couple of peculiarities in the GCC study: B.C. Lions received the worst mark for all the wet stuff than falls in Lotus Land, except for one thing—the Leos play in the air-conditioned comfort of B.C. Place Stadium. Indoors. Under a $514-million umbrella. Meanwhile, Ottawa scored high marks for being the least-polluted city. Hmmm. Apparently they didn’t watch either of last week’s federal election debates.

This year’s inductees to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame are former colleagues Steve Simmons (Calgary Sun) and Larry Tucker (Winnipeg Tribune). That brings to 14 the number of CFHofFamers that I worked beside at one time or another during my 30 years in jock journalism. My all-time all-star team from that bunch: Trent Frayne, Jack Matheson, young Eddie Tait, Shakey Hunt, Jim Coleman and Knuckles Irving.

Ashley Prest

It’s worth noting that the media wing of the Canadian grid hall is the ultimate boys club. There are now 99 card-carrying members and, unless I missed something when I called up the CFHofF website, not one of them is female. Zero. Nada. Seems to me that they should have made room for trailblazers like Joanne Ireland, Ashley Prest, Robin Brown and Judy Owen by now.

The CFL has always been blessed by quality news snoops on the beat, and I don’t think anyone covers Rouge Football better today than Dave Naylor of TSN. Just saying.

Todd Bertuzzi

This week’s Twit on Twitter: The aforementioned Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. The Vancouver Canucks put on the glitz for their home opener last week, and the production featured an on-ice, in-uniform cameo appearance by Todd Bertuzzi, he of the infamous Steve Moore goon job. That prompted Simmons to tweet, “Sad.” My oh my. How thoughtless of the Canucks for not clearing their guest list with a mook columnist from the Republic of Tranna. Never mind that Bert is among Vancity’s favorite hockey sons and the Canucks had every right to include him in their puck pageantry. A mook columnist from The ROT says it was wrong, so it must be. As freaking if. Simmons’ morality metre is sorely out of whack. He believes Bertuzzi should be persona non grata for mugging Moore, yet he celebrated the arrival of a woman-beater, Johnny Manziel, to the CFL. “Personally, I think the CFL is stronger, maybe more fun, possibly more fan-appealing, with Manziel playing or trying to play the Canadian game,” he wrote. “Where do I sign up?” So, if you’re scoring at home, Simmons believes an on-ice mugging is a more egregious trespass than beating up, and threatening to kill, a woman. The mind boggles.

Elena Delle Donne

When soccer’s purple-haired diva Megan Rapinoe shouted “Gays rule!” during last summer’s women’s soccer World Cup, she wasn’t kidding. Rapinoe, a lesbian, was anointed FIFA female footballer of the year. Jill Ellis, a lesbian, was anointed FIFA female coach of the year. Elena Delle Donne, a lesbian, is the Women’s National Basketball Association MVP and league champion with the Washington Mystics. Katie Sowers, a lesbian, is an assistant offensive coach with the San Francisco 49ers, who remain unbeaten this year in the  National Football League. Meanwhile, all the gay guys remain in hiding.

Price comparison: A standing-room ticket to see the Jets and Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday in the Toddlin’ Town was $27. Meanwhile, a standing room ticket to watch the Buffalo Beauts v. Boston Pride, or Metropolitan Riveters v. Minnesota Whitecaps, of the National Women’s Hockey League went for $20. I don’t know if the NWHL is overpricing its product or the Blackhawks are underpricing, but a $7 difference seems out of whack to me.

Hey, check it out. Head coach Tim Hunter of the Moose Jaw Warriors has hired a female, Olivia Howe, as one of his assistants. That’s a first for the Western Hockey League, and I say good on Hunter.

And, finally, if you’re having a gobbler dinner with all the fixings today or Monday, be thankful that turkeys don’t fly.

Let’s talk about 35 candles for TSN and the creation of the Man Cave

Tuesday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, in honor of its 35th birthday, I was going to list 35 things I like best about TSN, but I stalled when I couldn’t decide between Kaylyn Kyle’s hair and Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage and his food fight with Tradey

Once upon a time, those of us who live in the colonies derisively referred to TSN as the Tranna Sports Network because, you know, it was like that old zen koan: If a tree falls outside the Republic of Tranna and there’s no TSN camera crew on site to record it, does the tree actually fall?

But, hey, just look at TSN today. No longer Tranna-centric.

Except, of course, for the daily Drake updates during the NBA season, the daily updates on Auston Matthews’ grooming habits, the daily Where’s Mitch Watch (which is the offspring of last year’s daily Where’s Willy Boy Watch), the daily Mike Babcock speaks-but-says-nothing feature, the daily Vlad the Gifted still isn’t speaking English report, the annual Day Of The Long Faces when they breathlessly and bitterly recount the night Wayne Gretzky used the blade of his hockey stick to part the hair on Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin, and the annual retro look at the Joe Carter dinger.

So, ya, TNS remains on Tranna overload, but at least they now have a camera handy if a tree falls in the colonies. And they even let Sara Orlesky or Farhan Lalji talk about it.

Okay, just kidding. I like TSN. A lot. It’s terrific, flaws and all.

Tradey up to no good.

I would rather, for example, listen to their natterbugs on all matters Planet Puckhead as opposed to the squawk boxes on Sportsnet, even if it means staring at O’Dog’s butt crack while he’s brawling over a bagel with Tradey.

I’d like to say the same about the Grid Guys, but they lost me last year when they morphed into teenage groupies with their cringeworthy, Beatlemania-like fawning over their favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. By the end of the season, I believe Rod Black and Johnny Rotten were actually dating, although I haven’t been able to confirm it. The Transcona Kid (that’s Blackie) is still gushing over Johnny Train Wreck, so there’ll be more therapy sessions and, hopefully, Dr. Phil can have him detoxed by the time the Canadian Football League playoffs commence.

In the meantime, they’re celebrating 35 years on air, and I’d like to salute TSN with my personal Top 10 Reasons Why I Watch(ed):

Jim Van Mustache

10. Jim Van Horne, who let it be known in a recent tweet that he represented ground zero for TSN talking heads. “I was the first commentator hired by TSN. We hit the air 35 years ago today (Sept. 1). First media conference I went to with my TSN blazer was met with ‘what the fuck is TSN?’ I think the question has been answered. I had 17 yrs of fun there. Congrats to those who carry the banner proudly.” I recall golfing with Jim Van Mustache and the late Billy Powers in a charity tournament during the early 1980s, when all three of us worked in Calgary. I swear, at one point Jim was rolling on the ground, literally, in a fit of laughter. It was the funniest 4½ hours of my life.

9. Matt Dunigan. I sometimes wonder if Matty has tossed back a brown pop or two by the time the red light is switched on, but I get a kick out of the “let’s get ‘er done” former quarterback who often forgets that he’s in a TV studio or broadcast booth, not a locker room.

8. Skins. No, I’m not referring to the amount of flesh TSN’s bevy of cover girl teleprompter readers are told to flash. I’m talking curling. The made-for-TV Skins game was introduced in 1986 and it’s been must-see TV for us Pebble People ever since.

7. The women’s World Cup soccer panel of Kaylyn Kyle, Clare Rustad and Diana Matheson. Imagine that. Allowing women to do more than read a teleprompter. They were actually allowed to provide opinion. Strong opinion. So strong, in fact, that apologists for the Yankee Doodle Damsels were squealing in protest. What an overdue concept.

Kaylyn Kyle and her hair.

6. Kaylyn Kyle’s hair. Rapunzel ain’t got nothing on our soccer girl. Kaylyn’s mane is longer than a Winnipeg winter. And much prettier, which is okay to say because Kaylyn and her gal pals discussed makeup and girl crushes during the World Cup, so I don’t want to hear from the PC Police.

5. Jeff O’Neill, aka Jeff O’Dog. What can I say, the guy makes me laugh out loud, plumber’s cleavage and all.

4. The CBC did a dirty when it kicked Chris Cuthbert to the curb, but TSN was there to scoop him up, for which all Rouge Football fans should be grateful.

3. The CFL. I’m not sure Rouge Football as we know it would exist today if not for TSN.

Vic, Linda and Moosie.

2. Vic, Moosie, Russ, Linda and Cheryl. Show me your top game broadcast crew, any sport, and I’ll one-up you with TSN curling’s Vic Rauter, Moosie Turnbull and Linda Moore, followed by the current team of Vic, Hurry Hard Howard and Cheryl Bernard. Moosie’s left us, but he was one of my all-time favorite people, and it’s no coincidence that he called Winnipeg home.

James Duthie

1. James Duthie. As the Pepsi ad said (with the help of Tina Turner), “Simply the best. Better than all the rest.”

(FOOTNOTE: Many thousands of years from now, when archaeologists dig and sift through the ruins of our civilization, they will discover numerous subterranean hideaways full of sports memorabilia, nacho leavings, discarded pizza boxes, empty beer cans, flatscreen TVs the size of a Royal Family dinner table, and scientific proof of intense male bonding between members of the long-lost Jockosaurus species, who thrived in their secluded habitat without female companionship. After carbon dating, they will determine that—YES!—TSN and history’s first Man Cave arrived at the same time, on the same day, Sept. 1, 1984.)

Let’s talk about the Irish and Guinness…money matters and the Winnipeg Jets…the Canadian Mafia and the Blue Bombers’ faithful…a gay voice in mainstream sports media…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ve got nothing but short snappers today…

How many pints of Guinness do you suppose our Irish friends swilled in celebration of Shane Lowry’s victory in the Open Championship on Sunday? It must have been St. Patty’s Day in July. I’m thinking those Irish eyes are a bit blurry this morning.

Sometimes I wish we weren’t allowed to peek into a player’s pay envelope. That way, we wouldn’t know about Neal Pionk’s salary bump and that he and Josh Morrissey now live in the same financial neighborhood. And if I’m Morrissey I’m thinking “WTF is up with that?” I mean, Morrissey has been one-half of Winnipeg Jets top defensive pairing the past two National Hockey League crusades, and I suspect it will be status quo in October. For that he collects $3.15 million. Meanwhile, what Pionk brings to the party is a question mark as big as Dustin Byfuglien’s appetite. Could be he’s a steal at $3 million per year. Then, again, this could be the worst guess since Tiger Woods assumed his bride wouldn’t find out about all the cocktail waitresses and porn stars.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

It’s not like GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to be so frivolous with Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman’s money. He’s never spent foolishly. Unless, of course, you count Dmitry Kulikov and Steve Mason and Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck.

I should add the Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little contracts to Chevy’s foolish pile, although the major flaw in those two deals is term. If captain Wheeler delivers another 91-point season, then $8.25 million is fine. But we know that won’t be happening three, four, five years from now. As for Little, he’s already looking as worn out as a dance floor, but he’s just starting a fresh five-year hitch. Not good.

Here’s the irony of the Pionk deal: Many among the rabble and some news snoops hail Chevy for his refusal to go on a drunken-sailor spending spree, the most recent hosanna offered by Murat Ates of The Athletic. “Kevin Cheveldayoff has done well on that front simply by letting other teams give big money and term to Tyler Myers, Brandon Tanev and Ben Chiarot,” he writes. Yet Chevy’s first significant signing of this off-season is a gross overpay when measured against Morrissey’s wage.

Fact is, Chevy couldn’t give “big money and term” to Myers, Tanev and Chiarot, because it’s already committed to 30somethings Wheeler, Little, Byfuglien and Mathieu Perreault. That greying quartet will take a $25,266,666 slice of the pie, and they’ll all be on board for another two crusades, minimum, with gusts up to five years.

If Chevy is convinced that Pionk is the man to replace Jacob Trouba, wouldn’t he go all-in rather than settle for a piddling two-year agreement?

The Canadian Mafia

Okay, the Canadian Mafia—CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters, Coach Mike O’Grunge—have done their part by putting a boffo, 5-nada outfit on the field. Alas, that doesn’t translate to boffo box office for our beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The head count at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is down more than 4,000 against the first three home assignments last year, so even if you build it (a winning team) there’s no guarantee they’ll come. I’m not sure why that is. I’ve read and heard theories, some of which centre on cash and others on cottage country, chronic failure and a mixed bag of entertainment options. But, hey, they’ve got an inferior product down the road on the Flattest of Lands, yet the Saskatchewan faithful flock to rally ’round their Roughriders in huge numbers. What, they have more disposal income once they climb down from their combines?

True, attendance on the Flattest of Lands is also in decline, but Gang Green attracts more than 30,000 per game, easily the best in the Canadian Football League and 5,000 better than the Bombers. You can make all the rude jokes you like about banjo plucking and inbreeding, but our Prairie neighbors are where it’s at when it comes to supporting the local football heroes.

Some make the argument that the dip in attendance at Football Follies Field is linked to the visiting team, meaning the weaklings from the East Division are a tough sell. Well, it’s a losing argument. Here are the figures for the Bombers’ home dates in 2018:
Saskatchewan:   33,134
Ottawa:              27,602
Toronto:             27,116
B.C.:                  26,567
Hamilton:          26,454
Saskatchewan:  26,070
Edmonton:        25,458
Calgary:            25,173
Montreal:          24,349

Khari Jones

The Montreal Alouettes three-game W streak is a good look on freshman head coach Khari Jones. I wasn’t around when Khari arrived in River City to play catch with Mitch Stegall, but I’m told he was a right-on dude.

That was quite a shift Mad Mike McIntyre put in for the Drab Slab on Saturday—a column on the Bombers, a feature on Winnipeg Goldeyes batsman Reggie Abercrombie, and an update on Andrew Copp’s contract impasse with the Jets. Very impressive. Truly.

Having said that, Mad Mike lost me with his tweet about what he called a “sports journalism hat trick.” He described it as “about 6,000 words covering all three pro teams in town.” I’m guessing it’s news to the Manitoba Moose and Valour FC that there are only “three pro teams in town.”

Brandon Wheat Kings have brought in Dave Lowry as bench boss. Good hire. Adam’s pop did a crackerjack job as head coach of the Victoria Royals (209-124-27) before a one-season whistlestop in Los Angeles with the Kings. And, yes, now that you mention it, it’ll be nice to have the Western Hockey League’s Brandon-Winnipeg rivalry renewed in autumn. It takes me back.

The women’s World Cup is over. Someone at TSN needs to tell Kate Beirness that she can stop yelling anytime now.

It’s about TSN’s split screen during CFL matches: Still very annoying.

Scott MacArthur

And, finally, I’ve never met Scott MacArthur, but I know his struggles. Scott is one of the natterbugs on Sportsnet 590 The FAN in the Republic of Tranna, and he’s gay. He came out on the weekend and, yes, that takes coLGBThones when you’re dealing with an oft-homophobic culture. Scott, I’m sure, won’t do anything different, but some folks will look at him and listen to him with a different set of eyes and ears. (“Can’t have no gay dude telling us about our macho sports, man! But it’s okay if the Nancy Boy covers figure skating and baton twirling!”) As far as I know, his is the only LGBT(etc.) voice in Canadian sports broadcasting, so go get ’em, Scotty.

Let’s talk about Megan Rapinoe and the gay Yankee Doodle Damsels…turn down the volume, Kate…a death watch in The ROT?…the rouge…Mike Reilly’s panic attacks…Kawhi and Shane, please don’t go…and les Habs by the numbers

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and the best female soccer player in the world is a lesbian…imagine that…

A lot of people don’t like Megan Rapinoe because she’s loud, proud and gay.

I like her because she’s loud, proud and gay.

It isn’t easy being part of the LGBTQ(etc.) alphabet. Yes, even in 2019. Too many among the rabble still believe being gay is sinful and unnatural and as wholly contemptible as child porn, and it makes them blanch and climb atop soap boxes to hurl fire-and-brimstone condemnations and dire warnings of an eternal inferno.

Which means the spectacle that was Rapinoe in France likely had the homophobes choking on their Cheerios.

The purple-haired U.S.A. co-captain became the face of women’s soccer during the 31 days of the World Cup, in part because she kept hoofing balls into the back of the net (six of them), but also because she kept getting in everyone’s face. Sometimes intentionally, other times not so much.

Donald Trump, for example, tried to pick a fight with her on Twitter.

“Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag,” the Bully-in-Chief harrumphed.

Megan Rapinoe

Piffle. As if a scornful tsk-tsking from the resident in the big, white house on Pennsylvania Avenue would convince her to sing along and place a hand over her heart during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. In your face, el presidente. Megan remained mute, hands clasped behind her back, in silent/loud protest against social injustice in America. Besides, she had another use for her hands—to reach out and collect trinkets.

Give that girl the Golden Boot.

And the Golden Ball.

And the Women’s World Cup Trophy.

Rapinoe won them all in France. Top goal-scorer. Top player. Top of the world.

She scored five times in knockout tests, including the only goal the Yankee Doodle Damsels required in a 2-nil dispatching of a game-yet-overmatched Netherlands side in Sunday’s final, and along the way Piers Morgan made note of Megan’s “stupendous ego” and called her “smug, arrogant, entitled and annoying.” The British broadcasting blabbermouth and confirmed Trumpite was just warming up. “I don’t like footballers being extreme activists. Just play football. Seriously…nobody wants to hear it,” is how the second verse went.

Well, he certainly didn’t want to hear Megan say, “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team. It’s never been done before.”

Yes you can,” Morgan begged to differ on Twitter. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, Ms Rapinoe…football competence isn’t linked to sexuality.”

No, but that might have been the ultimate “in your face.”

Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe.

Rapinoe, you see, isn’t the only out lesbian among these Yankee Doodle Damsels. Jill Ellis, the coach, is married to Betsy Stephenson and they have a daughter, Lily. Five other playersTierna Davidson, Adrianna Franch, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Kelley O’Hara—are out gays. Harris and Krieger are engaged and will exchange vows later this year. After the final, O’Hara sought her girlfriend and they exchanged a kiss at the edge of the stands at Parc Olympique Lyonnais. Ditto Rapinoe and girlfriend Sue Bird.

Oh, and five of the conquered Dutch are lesbians.

So, ya, if Megan Rapinoe tells me no women’s side has ever won the World Cup without lesbians on the pitch, I’ll take her word for it and Piers Morgan can talk to the hand.

Kelley O’Hara and girlfriend.

Should any of that matter? No, it shouldn’t. But it does matter—and will continue to matter—as long as those under the LGBTQ(etc.) banner are discriminated against due only to their choice of romantic/sexual partners and are considered lesser-thans.

Megan Rapinoe is no lesser-than. She might not be your cup of tea. Too brash. Too cocky. Too arrogant. To full of herself. Too defiant. Too aggressive. Too political. Too gay.

Fine. But she’s also almost too good to be true for a community still struggling for acceptance. The most visible, most talked-about footballer on the planet today is an out lesbian. Imagine that.

As Megan said after a quarterfinal victory over the French: Go gays!

Best quote, by far, during the post-match revelry was delivered by play-by-play broadcaster Steve Wilson, who, upon seeing Rapinoe greeted warmly by French leader Emmanuel Macron, said: “There is a president she’s happy to meet.”

Kate Beirness, Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson.

I didn’t think anyone on TV could talk louder than James Corden, the late-night gab guy who’s forever yelling, but Kate Beirness makes him sound like a street mime. Host of TSN’s excellent all-female soccer panel featuring Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson, Kate’s high-volume delivery is an assault on the ear drums and the sole negative note struck during coverage. Tone it down, girl. We get it. It’s a big event.

BMO Field

So this is how bad it’s gotten for the Argonauts and the Canadian Football League in the Republic of Tranna: They refuse to reveal the head count at BMO Field. The best I could dig up for the Boatmen’s skirmish vs. B.C. Lions on Saturday night was “sparse.” That could mean 10,000 or fewer fans. It could mean between 10,000 and 12,000. Whatever, given the shockingly low quality of play it’s safe to assume that much of the “sparse” audience won’t be back for more on Aug. 1, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers trot into town. If, that is, the Argos are still in business.

What does a sportswriter call it when he’s assigned to work an Argos home game? The graveyard shift. Seriously, that’s a death watch.

The Argos-Lions joust ended on a rouge. I love the rouge. It’s as Canadian as a Gordon Lightfoot concert, a Pierre Berton book, or the Littlest Hobo eating poutine. But I don’t like it on a wayward field goal attempt. Rewarding failure is just wrong.

Mike Reilly

Bravo to Mike Reilly, the Lions quarterback who’s stepped forward to discuss his battle with mental health issues. It’s a powerful, enlightening story that, hopefully, will help others gripped by anxiety and panic attacks, and Reilly isn’t shy about sharing the gory details.

“It hit me as soon as my head hit the pillow,” he tells Chris O’Leary of his first panic attack. “The only way I can describe it is a full-blown panic attack.

“I can’t even say that my heart was racing. It was like it was trying to beat its way out of my chest. It was racing faster than I’d ever felt before. It felt like everything was kind of closing in around me. I couldn’t breathe. I honestly in that moment thought I was going to die. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

“I felt frozen, like I was stuck in my bed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything and I thought that was going to be it. I thought I was going to die.

“Emily (his wife) came in from the bathroom and I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what caused that, I’m still feeling the effects of it and I don’t want to close my eyes. If it happens again I’m going to die.’ I remember telling her, ‘Let’s turn the TV on and let’s pick a show and just watch it.’ I remember thinking, ‘I just don’t want to lay back down. If I lay back down and close my eyes, I will die right there.’”

Been there, felt that and I don’t wish it on anyone.

So, Kawhi Leonard is taking his ball and going home, and the mourning continues in The ROT, where no one—not even the impossible groupie Drake—is feeling it more than Steve Simmons, the Postmedia columnist who long ago showed signs of a serious man-crush on the hoopster.

It began with an open love letter: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home, because in many ways, it makes sense—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.”

Shane, come back…and bring Kawhi with you.

Later, there was this: “If this is it for Kawhi Leonard, one season of mystery, magic and memories in Toronto, one year and one unexpected and exhilarating NBA championship, then, really, all you can say is thanks. Thanks and you’ll never be forgotten.”

And the latest: “You can’t dislike anything about what Leonard brought in one calendar year to the Raptors and to basketball across this country. We will be walking on air, living with this, celebrating the championship, for years. Maybe our whole lives.”

Oh, my. Walking on air our whole lives. We haven’t read or heard that much melodrama since teary-eyed little Joey Starrett begged his hero not to go in the final scene of the western classic Shane. “We want you Shane, Shaaaaane!…Come back! And bring Kawhi with you!”

Minnesota Whitecaps have signed just seven players for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade, but season tickets are already available for, get this, $420 (between the bluelines), $315 (inside the bluelines) and $210 (standing room). That’s for 12 games and it breaks down to $35, $26.25 and $17.50 per. I’m a fan of female shinny, but 35 bucks a pop is excessive. Actually, it’s crazy. Or maybe not. The Whitecaps sold out every date at the 1,200-seat TRIA Rink last season and, with those non-refundable sticker prices, it’s little wonder they were the first NWHL outfit to show a profit.

And, finally, terrific Montreal Canadiens story from longtime shinny scribe Dave Stubbs: “Roman Hamrlik asked for No. 4, his Calgary number, when he signed in 2007,” Stubbs tweeted. “Equipment mgr Pierre Gervais: ‘I’ll give you Mr. Béliveau’s phone number. If he agrees, I’ll give you a long ladder and you can take down his banner.’ Hamrlik opted for 44.”

Let’s talk about the Uproar Over the Rodent…Chevy’s smarts and the Winnipeg Jets jail break…Ben Chiarot hearing boo birds en francais…Aho’s contract and other RFAs…the Yankee Doodle Damsels go Dutch…macho Matt Nichols’ head games…Pencil Neck Paul…and dining with Matt Dunigan

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and there’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on out here on the Left Coast… 

I try not to obsess on things, other than breathing which, at my age, is a worthy obsession.

I mean, the way I have it figured, the longer I can keep breathing, the longer I can continue to draw enjoyment from the obsessions of sports fans whose every breath is linked to their favorite clubs. And, depending on the locale in our vast land, those obsessions greatly differ.

Old Gainer, new Gainer.

In Good Ol’ Hometown, for example, it’s Chevy and all things Jets

In the Republic of Tranna, it’s been Kawhi Leonard 24/7 and now it’ll be Mitch Marner 24/7 until he puts pen to paper.

In Montreal, it’s Marc Bergevin and his silly offer sheet.

In Bytown, it’s whatever toxic goop that spews from Eugene Melnyk’s mouth.

In Calgary, it’s Bo Levi Mitchell’s wonky throwing wing.

In E-Town, it’s the never-ending search for someone to skate alongside Connor McWasted.

On the West Coast, it’s…well, I live on the Left Flank and the rabble doesn’t obsess over anything but the weather and annoying tourists. (There is, mind you, a strong constituency that frets over every breath that Jim Benning takes, because it usually means another lousy player has been given a Canucks jersey.)

Meanwhile, on the Flattest of Lands, it’s the Uproar Over the Rodent.

Oh, yes, a rodent.

Summer swathing and happy banjo plucking came to a halt on the Flattest of Lands last week, after Gainer the Gopher went missing and was feared to be lost in a corn maze or abducted by body-snatching aliens. Left behind was a hairball that looked like Chucky’s pet rodent.

The new Gainer was introduced to Flatlanders on Canada Day, and he definitely was not their grandmother’s gopher. The beloved fuzzball of the Saskatchewan Roughriders had been given the most abrupt makeover since Bruce became Caitlyn. I don’t know who Gainer’s plastic surgeon is, but I’m thinking Alfred Hitchcock. Or the guy who played nip-tuck-and-yank with Joan Rivers’ face seven or eight times. And what of Gainer’s Kardashian-sized caboose? Has the once-pleasantly plump rodent been sharing Nutrisystem shakes with Marie Osmond? We haven’t seen that big a weight loss since Angie dumped Brad. 

As for his peepers, we’re talking psycho rodent (seriously, Hitchcock had a hand in this). Clearly Gainer was off his meds, and there was a chainsaw and a massacre in his future.

Not surprisingly, up went a hue, also a cry. Free the real Rodent! There hadn’t been that much commotion on the Flattest of Lands since someone discovered a crop circle near Langenburg in 1974. Everyone from radio gab guys to former premiers weighed in on the maniacal-looking muppet, while Mothers shielded their children’s eyes to spare the urchins nightmares and many years of costly psychiatric treatment for gopheraphobia.

Alas, the story has a happy ending. Plow jockeys can climb back aboard their swathers and combines, folks can break out the banjos, and it’s safe to let the kiddies out of the house again—Gainer has had yet another facelift. Gone are the psycho, green eyes. He no longer looks like the neighborhood peeping Tom. Life on the Flattest of Lands is good. 

Meanwhile, on the field, the rabble’s favorite football team lost another game on Saturday night, and hardly anyone noticed.

Chevy

Let me see if I’ve got this straight: Because Kevin Cheveldayoff didn’t swallow a stupid pill, many among the rabble—and a few news snoops—are showering him with hosannas. It doesn’t matter that we’ve witnessed the equivalent of a jail break since the close of business in April, with Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot, Brandon Tanev, Kevin Hayes and Par Lindholm going over the wall to chase dreams and fortune, if not fame. The Chevy fan boys and girls instead point to all the coin the Winnipeg Jets GM hasn’t spent since the National Hockey League free agent market opened.

He didn’t spend $50 million on Hayes. Bravo!
He didn’t spend $30 million on Myers. Atta boy, Chevy!
He didn’t spend $21 million on Tanev. Pure genius!
He didn’t spend $10.5 million on Chariot. Smooth move!
He didn’t spend $1.7 million on Lindholm. Beauty, eh!

Add it up and Chevy didn’t spend $113.2 million, or an AAV of $20,992,857, for next season and, apparently, that’s a feather in his cap. Never before has doing nothing been so widely applauded. Why, our man is the Einstein of Puck. Well, spare me.

There was nothing clever or intelligent in Chevy’s (in)activity during the initial week of the NHL free agent frolic. He didn’t shell out all those big bucks for one basic reason: Whatever loose change he has left is earmarked for bank accounts belonging to Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Andrew Copp and Neal Pionk. Even a mathematical midget, and some sports scribes, could see that. So why the serenade to his genius?

The measure of Chevy’s smarts comes this summer as he attempts to rebuild a back end that has lost Trouba, Myers and Chiarot. That will take savvy. He pulls it off, let the hosannas rain down.

Noodles McLennan

I looked long and hard in search of someone beyond the boundary of River City who endorses Chevy’s handiwork, but I’m afraid that person doesn’t exist. Pierre McGuire of TSN/NBC cited the Jets as the biggest “loser” on Day 1 of free agency. Noodles McLennan, another TSN natterbug, chimed in with this: “Winnipeg Jets, I can’t give them a grade because they haven’t done anything yet. Incomplete work so far. Now, that’s Kevin Cheveldayoff. He works methodically, at his own pace. Now they got Nathan Beaulieu, brought him back, other than that did nothing.” Scott Burnside of The Athletic gave Chevy a C-plus: “This is a deep, well-built team that just happens to be a little bit less than what it was.” If I discover an outrider who actually embraces what Chevy has done, you’ll be the first to know.

Ben Chiarot

I don’t know about you, but I found some of Ben Chiarot’s comments interesting, also curious, after he checked in with les Habitants, at $10.5 million for three years. “The opportunity to play for the Montreal Canadiens and be in a city like that on a team that is up-and-coming like the Canadiens was hard to turn down,” the useful blueliner said. So what’s big Ben telling us? That Good Ol’ Hometown isn’t “a city like that?” That he doesn’t view Winnipeg HC as an up-and-coming outfit? The nerve. I mean, Pegtown’s streets can match les rues de Montreal pothole-for-pothole, and les Jets can match les Habs prospect-for-prospect. He added: “The Bell Centre has been my favorite place to play since I came into the NHL. To me, it’s not like playing in any other building in the league. In Montreal on a Saturday night is something special. There’s nothing better in hockey. So to get to experience that every week now is a dream come true.” C’mon, Benny. What does the Bell Centre have that the Little Hockey House On The Prairie doesn’t? Oh, that’s right—24 Stanley Cup banners and 15 retired jersey numbers in the rafters. Ya, I guess that trumps a Winnipeg Whiteout.

The arrival of Chiarot did not meet with unanimous approval among the rabble in Montreal. It was, in fact, quite bitter and did not escape the notice of Postmedia columnist Jack Todd. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the appalling reaction to the Ben Chiarot signing. It’s Montreal, it’s Marc Bergevin—so of course they hate it. Why do a silly thing like wait and see how it goes when you can start with the hate NOW?” he tweeted. Sounds like our boy Benny already has a bull’s-eye on his back. Wonder how much he’ll enjoy getting the raspberry in both official languages. Les oiseaux boo can be very loud en francais.

Puck Finn

So, how will the Sebastian Aho contract ($8.454 million AAV/five years) impact on the way Winnipeg HC conducts business with blue-chip restricted free agents Laine and Connor? It won’t. Prevailing wisdom suggests it was dumb of Montreal to tender such a faint-hearted offer sheet to the Carolina Hurricanes centre, so agents won’t use it as a guideline. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if Puck Finn gets Blake Wheeler money ($8.25 million), or even if he’s in the Rink Rat Scheifele neighborhood (($6.125M). As for Connor, he won’t make as much as Scheifele. He can’t. He won’t get a penny more than Twig Ehlers ($6M).

Happy American soccer players.

I find myself wondering if the Netherlands will actually attempt to score in their winner-take-all skirmish v. the Yankee Doodle Damsels today in France, or will they play for a stalemate and take their chances on penalty kicks to determine a champion in the women’s World Cup? I’m guessing the Dutch will play 11 back. Final score: U.S.A. 4, Netherlands nil, Alex Morgan 4 (fake injuries/dives).

Alex Morgan: A spot of tea before a dive.

I’ve watched a lot of the World Cup and truly enjoyed the mostly dive-free soccer. But Morgan cranked the theatrics up a notch in the Americans’ semifinal victory over England, and I’m not talking about her mockish, tea-sipping goal celebration. That was cute, even if cocky. But she came across as a graduate of the Neymar Academy of Faux Faceplants, and it wasn’t her most charming look. With global supremacy at issue today, I’m thinking as little as a menacing stare from one of the Dutch will have her twitching and writhing in make-believe distress and adding to fake injury time. Too bad. The Yankee Doodle Damsels are better than that.

Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird.

If it’s a different kind of read you’re looking for, check out Sue Bird’s piece in The Players’ Tribune. Sue, for those of you who haven’t been formally introduced, is the main squeeze of Donald Trump’s favorite Yankee Doodle Damsel (not!), Megan Rapinoe. After the Trumpster had a little hissy fit over Megan’s (apparent) bad manners, girlfriend Sue sprung to the nearest keyboard and assailed the Rude Man on Twitter. “O.K. I’ll answer The Question. The one that’s probably most on your mind,” she scribbled. “And by that I mean: What’s it like to have the literal President of the literal United States (of literal America) go Full Adolescent Boy on your girlfriend? Hmm. Well…it’s WEIRD. And I’d say I actually had a pretty standard reaction to it: which was to freak out a little.” Sue has an interesting writing style, but she gets her point across: She loves her soccer star girlfriend, and a menage-a-president is out of the question.

Matt Nichols

Memo to Matt Nichols: You don’t have to prove to us that you’re a tough guy. We’ll take your word for it. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback didn’t finish what he started on Friday night in Bytown because, well, he did the macho thing instead of the smart thing. As a result, the Canadian Football League lost its fifth starting QB in four weeks. Observing him in civvies on the sideline while Chris Streveler mopped up in a 29-14 W over the RedBlacks, Nichols seemed fine. He said he felt “great.” But blows to the head have a way of their own. He might find himself in a room with the drapes closed tight and all the lights turned out in a day or two. Next time you see the whites of a linebacker’s eyes, Matt, make like Neymar—dive, dive, dive.

So, the Bombers are 3-nada on the season, the CFL’s only unbeaten outfit. Richie Hall’s defensive dozen has surrendered 12 field goals and exactly one touchdown in those three skirmishes. Any more complaints? Didn’t think so.

Just wondering: Did TSN place its cameras for the Winnipeg-Bytown skirmish on the Quebec side of the border? I shouldn’t need the Hubble Telescope to watch a football game on a flatscreen 10 feet away in my living room.

Did TSN newboy panelist Mike Benevides really call Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun “some pencil neck” during the pregame natter? As a matter of fact he did, without naming him. Well, just who does Benevides think he is? A journalist? You just talk football, Benny, and leave the cheap shots to the experts.

Speaking of experts, no surprise that Paul would have the perfect comeback: “My ears are burning. You know, the ones above my pencil neck.” So we add Pencil Neck to some of the all-time nicknames in River City jock journalism: Cactus Jack, Coconut Willie, Friar, Knuckles, Knobby, Doc, Sod, etc. 

And, finally, I don’t know if TSN squawker Matt Dunigan has an endorsement deal with Fatboys Southern Smokehouse in Bytown, but I have to think anything he eats and drinks is on the house next time he’s in the nation’s capital. How many free plugs did he give Fatboys during the Bombers-RedBlacks broadcast? Four? Five? Made me want to pick up the phone and order a side of beef and some fries, except I doubt they could have delivered in 30 minutes or less.

Let’s talk about the Summer of Chevy…the Atlanta cartel’s greybeards…rose-colored glasses on press row…winners and losers…Bogo-for-Roslo…grading the wannabes…the Winnipeg Jets road show…an ace for John Paddock…CFL stuff…gay power…and garbage

A Tuesday morning smorgas-bored…and I’m still a free agent but my phone still ain’t ringing and there ain’t no offer sheets on the way

Let me guess. You’re underwhelmed.

I mean, the National Hockey League annual grab bag of teenage talent has come and gone, the frenzy that is Day 1 of free agency is behind us, Tyler Myers and Brandon Tanev are memories, the return on Jacob Trouba was scant, and there’s a hole the size of Don Cherry’s ego on the right side of the Winnipeg Jets’ defence.

Chevy

In other words, the Summer of Chevy is unfolding as expected.

Kevin Cheveldayoff is paid to generally manage les Jets, but what we have here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. The system now dictates his every move. He was forced to deal Trouba. He was forced to watch Myers and Tanev skate away as UFAs on Monday. He’ll be forced to make Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Andrew Copp mega-millionaires. He might be forced to unload useful workers and, perhaps, elite talent. And, unless he can find a sucker or two, he’s stuck with some contracts that will grow old in a hurry, if they haven’t already (read: Byfuglien, Dustin; Wheeler, Blake; Little, Bryan).

In short, it’s a fine mess Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have gotten themselves into.

Bryan Little

Granted, there’s still much heavy lifting in front of Chevy, and the rabble can always hope that he has a bit of Harry Houdini in him. Or that he can find some hats with rabbits inside. For now, though, it looks like the third defence pairing in October will be a couple of guys named Wing and A Prayer.

And to think, a year ago Winnipeg HC was viewed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Today they’d be lucky to win a cup of soup.

Chevy and the Puck Pontif (on the rare occasions when he’s spoken) have used up considerable oxygen reciting and trumpeting their draft-and-develop mantra. Which is fine. Except for all the good work their bird dogs have done identifying blue-chip kids, the braintrust is doing everything else all wrong.

Big Buff

That is, Chevy and the Puck Pontiff haven’t been building around Rink Rat Scheifele, Josh Morrissey, Twig Ehlers, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine and the departed Jacob Trouba. They’ve been building around the aforementioned Byfuglien, Wheeler and Little. They still are. And that’s totally bass ackwards.

Let’s forget for a moment what’s in their pay envelopes. Think term. Do you realize that Twig Ehlers is the only player—that’s right, just one!—with a longer-term contract than Wheeler and Little (both five years)? They’re 33 and 32 years old. No defender has more term than Big Buff (two more years). He’s 34. Those are the deals that Chevy and the Puck Pontiff continue to build around. And, now that it’s time to pay the piper in the form of re-ups for Puck Finn, Connor and Copp, those ill-advised contracts with their no-movement and no-trade addendums are in the way.

Blake Wheeler

Wheeler, of course, is fresh off repeat 91-point seasons, so he isn’t spent, but if he keeps producing at that level into his shinny dotage someone will demand he pee in a bottle. That is to say, at some point his numbers have to drop faster than F-bombs at a stag. Big Buff, meanwhile, is a necessary evil now that Trouba and Myers have skipped town, and we all know Little is no longer a No.-2 centre. It’s just that Chevy ignores that obvious flaw until he gets his annual wakeup call before the NHL shop-and-swap deadline, at which time he’s moved to squander a first-round draft choice for a two-month rental.

Look, I concede there’s value to thirtysomething hockey players. I just don’t think a guy should be at the front end of a five-year term once his chin whiskers turn grey. And they certainly can’t be considered building blocks.

Like I said, it’s bass ackwards.

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I find it interesting that Wheeler, Little and Big Buff are the only remnants of the Atlanta cartel that arrived in 2011. I’m not sure what that means, but it occurs to me that they’ve been coddled from the get-go. Just saying.

Looks like a couple of boys on the beat have been swilling the Jets Kool-Aid. Both Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Murat Ates of The Athletic used the same word to describe how we should view Chevy’s do-nothing handiwork—patience. Wiebe acknowledged that Winnipeg HC is in retreat mode, but he managed to find a silver lining in that cloud: “Reclaiming some semblance of underdog status probably suits the Jets just fine.” (I don’t even know what the hell that means.) He then stressed “the importance of patience for a small-market organization like the Jets.” Ates provided the backup vocals, opining, “I believe Cheveldayoff’s best play is to show patience.” Wow. I’ve gotta get me a pair of those rose-tinted glasses.

What say you, Pierre McGuire? Give us your take on the Summer of Chevy. “This pains me to say this, ’cause I think Kevin Cheveldayoff and all the people in Winnipeg have done a phenomenal job with their group,” the TSN natterbug said when asked to identify a “loser” on Day 1 of NHL free agency. “That being said, James (Duthie) talked about losing people, when you lose Jacob Trouba for nothing, basically, when you lose Tyler Myers for nothing, when you lose Tanev for nothing, you lose Kevin Hayes for a fifth-round pick, you’re losing a lot. That hasn’t even addressed Ben Chiarot yet. So that could be a lot of losses. Winnipeg is not as good. They’re not as good as they were a year ago.” Some of us feel your pain, Pierre.

Evander Kane

Remember old friend Evander Kane? Of course you do. Chevy shipped out the young winger in February 2015 (along with Zach Bogosian and Jason Kasdorf) and received a handful of live bodies in barter with the Buffalo Sabres—Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, Brendan Lemieux, Joel Armia—plus a draft pick he turned into Jack Roslovic. Myers is now a member of the Vancouver Canucks, which means Chevy has Roslovic to show for that transaction and Buffalo has Bogo. Would any of us take Roslo for Bogo today? I would.

Craig Button

TSN scout-in-residence, Craig Button, isn’t as high on les Jets top prospects as you might be. Naming Ville Heinola, Dylan Samberg, Kristian Vesalainen, Mason Appleton, Logan Stanley, David Gustafsson, Simon Lundmark, Mikhail Berdin, Declan Chisholm and Santeri Vertanen as the top-10 wannabes, he gives Chevy’s bird dogs a B-minus for their work, worse than every Canadian club except the Calgary Flames, also a B-minus.

“Winnipeg’s list is populated by prospects projected to be middle-six, bottom-half-of-the-lineup NHLers,” he says.

Here’s how Button rates them:

Montreal:    A+
Edmonton:  B+
Ottawa:       B+
Vancouver:  B
Toronto:      B
Calgary:      B-
Winnipeg:   B-.

This is interesting: According to NBC, the Edmonton McDavids, your Winnipeg Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs are the top road draws in the NHL, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philly Flyers rounding out the top five. And here I thought the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was the best road show out of River City.

Hey, check it out. Old friend John Paddock scored a hole-in-one on the 12th at Clear Lake on the weekend. You’ll remember good, ol’ John as a terrific guy, but also the man who had the bad manners to ship Teemu Selanne to the Disney Ducks back in the day. The former Jets GM accepted Oleg Tverdovsky, Chad Kilger and a third-round draft pick in barter for Teemu, Marc Chouinard and a fourth-rounder. “In hindsight would you do it differently? Of course you would,” Paddock, now GM of the Regina Pats, told ESPN a few years ago. “But that’s hindsight. The owners talked about budget and contracts and trying to get a defenceman…and there was a health concern with Teemu…there were different factors.” Some of us were concerned for John’s health after that trade.

Mike Reilly

Let’s play Jeopardy! Your category: The Canadian Football League after Week 3.

Clue: This is what $2.9 million buys you these days. Answer: What is a zero-3 record?
B.C. Lions bankroll David Braley coughed up large coin for starting QB Mike Reilly, and I’m guessing he’s given more than a fleeting thought to a do-over. A donut in the W column and a 2,124 drop in attendance for the home opener can’t be what he had in mind.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Clue: Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in an ice tub. Answer: Who are Zach Collaros, Antonio Pipkin and Bo Levi Mitchell?
Three starting quarterbacks down due to owies, six to go. At this rate, we can expect to see TSN natterbugs Matt Dunigan and Hank Burris back in pads and flinging the football by mid-August.

Clue: Seen mostly in B.C., Toronto, Montreal and, now, Edmonton. Answer: What are empty seats?
If the Eskimos didn’t perform in such a monstrosity of a stadium, the optics wouldn’t be so bad. But when you put 23,639 into a 60,081 facility, there’s more empty space than in Homer Simpson’s head. That’s not what Prairie football is supposed to look like.

Got a kick out of Megan Rapinoe’s comments after the Americans’ 2-1 women’s World Cup quarterfinal win v. France: “Go gays. You can’t win a championship without gays on your team, it’s never been done before, ever. That’s science right there.” Seems ridiculous, but Megan makes a valid point as it relates to the World Cup. The website Outsports advises us that there are 40 out lesbians/bisexuals playing, coaching or on team support staff in France, and 19 of them are on sides that reached the last four—U.S. (6), England (3), the Netherlands (5) and Sweden (5). So it’s a fact: You can’t win without gays.

And, finally, a ship carrying 1,500 tons of Canadian garbage arrived on our shores last week, but there’s no truth to the rumor that Chevy was there to meet it and look for defencemen.