About an eastern bum and creep invading River City…Champions ‘R’ Us…No. 4 Bobby Orr…Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and the puck…goaltender shrinkage?…hype from The ROT…going to pot…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.

Damien Cox is one such news snoop.

Jennifer Jones and gal pals won Olympic gold, but didn’t get a parade.

Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.

This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.

“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.

That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.

Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.

“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.

Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.

Winnipeg Goldeyes: More proof of a championship team from River City.

But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:

Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!

All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.

But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.

The 1979 WHA champion Winnipeg Jets. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull are nowhere to be seen.

Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.

Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.

Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.

Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?

What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?

If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?

If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.

Can you hear the hype about Auston Matthews.

Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.

Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.

I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.

If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.

Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”

Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”

Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).

Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”

Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.

And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.

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Two Hens in the Hockey House: All about Sir Paul, the Rink Rat, Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and how much the Winnipeg Jets will miss Paul Stastny

Let the games begin!

The Winnipeg Jets open their 2018-19 National Hockey League crusade tonight against the Blues in St. Louis, and they have a tough act to follow. After advancing to the Western Conference final last spring, it has to be Stanley Cup final or bust for the locals.

Do they have it in them to take that next step? The Two Hens in the Hockey House have the answer. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, the quest is about to begin and I haven’t been this jacked up about anything since Paul McCartney stepped back on stage for a rousing encore the other night at the local hockey palace. How about you?

Answer Lady: You went to see Sir Paul in concert?

Question Lady: You bet your Beatles bubble gum cards I did. He’s been my main man since the lads first appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. The guy’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend and can still get after it at 76 years of age. You don’t like Macca?

Answer Lady: Meh. His best post-Beatles work was Band On the Run. That was released in 1973. He’s been in a slump ever since. You know, kind of like the Jets since the World Hockey Association days.

WHA champion Jets, circa 1978-79.

Question Lady: Will you old farts ever let go of that Jets/WHA nonsense?

Answer Lady: Nonsense? You call it nonsense? Wash your mouth out with granny’s lye soap, girlfriend! Those were the glory days—three championships, five trips to the final in seven seasons, kicked the Russian Bear’s butt, best forward line in all of hockey…neither version of the NHL Jets has accomplished anything to compare. It’ll be 40 years next spring since the last victory parade rolled down Portage Avenue, and we haven’t had a whiff of glory since.

Question Lady: Which brings us to the current edition of the Jets. Plenty of buzz about these boys. They’re among the morning-line favorites to win le Coupe Stanley. Do you think the hype is warranted?

Answer Lady: Absolutely. All the ingredients seem to be in place. I believe they’ll romp through the regular season, maybe even win the President’s Trophy, and then, hopefully, they’ll borrow on the experience gained and lessons learned from last spring and get the job done next April, May and June.

Question Lady: Any chance of the Jets doing a face plant like the Edmonton McDavids performed last season?

Answer Lady: Sir Paul will be back in town with Ringo, John and George in tow before that happens, and since two of the Fab Four are pushing up daisies it ain’t gonna happen. There’s too much depth, too much talent. There aren’t any Looch’s in the Jets’ lineup to drag everybody else down. There’s no one like that anchor Milan Lucic in E-Town.

Question Lady: So this season will be a cake walk?

Answer Lady: Not at all. It’s not like the other outfits on this side of the continent have been twiddling their thumbs. The St. Louis Blues ought to be better. Ditto the Dallas Stars. San Jose Sharks upped their game with Erik Karlsson. The Nashville Predators are still nasty. But, ya, the Jets are the best of the bunch.

Bryan Little

Question Lady: Any weaknesses?

Answer Lady: Yup. Down the middle. Maybe. Rink Rat Scheifele is a legit No. 1 centre, but it’s iffy after that. I’ve long been a Bryan Little fan and I believe he’ll suitably fill the second slot. But what if his best-before date has already passed? Is Jack Roslovic a ready-for-prime-time centre? We don’t know. We can only guess. It could be a repeat of last season when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff felt obliged to seek help from beyond. We might be looking at another Paul Stastny scenario.

Paul Stastny

Question Lady: What you’re saying is that this Jets team isn’t as good as the one that reached the Western Conference final last May?

Answer Lady: Do the math. Stastny gave the Jets 13 points in 19 regular-season games and, more significant, 15 points in the Stanley Cup tournament. Can either Little or Roslovic deliver that kind of production? From October through March? Sure. April-May-June I’m not convinced. And remember, it isn’t about the regular season for the Jets anymore. It’s about what goes down in the tournament. The playoffs, that’s their measuring stick. Everything else is window dressing.

Twig Ehlers

Question Lady: Any other misgivings?

Answer Lady: Twig Ehlers. The guy’s dynamic, but he’s a 35/40-goal scorer dressed up as a 25/29-goal scorer. His retreats into the twilight zone are mysterious and frustrating. Maybe it’s that whole PlayStation thing. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks are on to something by banning PlayStation and Fortnite on road trips.

Question Lady: Are you serious? You think Ehlers’ trips to la la land are linked to an obsession with video games? That’s crazy talk, girlfriend. Patrik Laine is one of those PlayStation goomers and he scored 44 goals last season.

Answer Lady: I’m just spitballing, girlfriend. If Puck Finn scores 44 goals every winter they’ll let him play Fortnite until his thumbs fall off. But there must be a reason why Twig vamooses for chunks of time for no apparent reason. I mean, four goals after March? Zero in 15 playoff games? And people thought Howard Hughes disappeared. Maybe that’s what I should call Ehlers instead of Twig—Howard.

Blake Wheeler

Question Lady: You’re being kind of hard on the kid, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: All I’m saying is he has 35-goal talent (or more) and his Invisible Man routine is beginning to wear thin. On the plus side, he’s young and can learn about the mental side of the game from a guy like captain Blake Wheeler.

Question Lady: Speaking of Wheeler, do you see another 91-point crusade out of him?

Answer Lady: I don’t see why not. Playing with Rink Rat Scheifele and Kyle Connor, he ought to get a point a game by accident. The guy’s a stud.

Question Lady: Any bold predictions?

Patrik Laine

Answer Lady: Yup. Puck Finn will win the Rocket Richard Trophy with 57 goals. The Rink Rat will reach the 100-point plateau and finish second to Connor McDavid in scoring. Connor Hellebuyck will win the Vezina Trophy. Paul Maurice will be a finalist for coach of the year.

Question Lady: What about the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Can’t say. Too much can change by then, and I expect it will. Chevy will do something at, or just before, the trade deadline. It’ll involve centres and defencemen.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. I’d say let’s do lunch, but I’m going home for a soak and to listen to the latest McCartney album. How about you?

Answer Lady: I think I’ll just watch old film of the Jets’ last WHA championship.

 

 

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

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

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

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

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

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

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

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

“How so?”

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

Blake Wheeler

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

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

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

Connor Hellebuyck

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

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

Rink Rat Scheifele

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

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

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

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

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

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

About a special Sunday for Tiger Woods and golf…superlatives rule the day on air and in print…Jeff Hamilton telling it like it is…fans stay away in droves for CFL games…and power rankings

Musings on a Monday morning with no frost on the pumpkin…

Yes, now that you mention it, Tiger Woods’ day at the East Lake Golf Club was a gripping, compelling bit of business.

The golf itself was substandard. After a birdie on No. 1 to basically seal the deal and deny the occasion of any leaderboard drama, Woods finished with a very pedestrian one-above par 71, good enough for a two-swing victory over an elite yet restricted Tour Championship field of 30 golfers, the majority of whom declined to provide any pushback and melted under his still-mighty sway.

You know, just like the old days, when Woods would show up wearing a red shirt on Sunday and everyone else played for second-place green.

This was different simply because we knew the back story and wondered if the old fella had another win in him.

Justin Rose

Woods already had been there and done that 79 times on the Professional Golf Association Tour by the time he and his raunchy, swarming mob arrived at the 18th green at East Lake GC, but not since 2013. His life had become a mish-mash of back surgeries, front-page scandal, and fodder for every late-night, talk-TV comic looking for a cheap laugh. His golf game was non-existent.

The doubters (guilty as charged) expected him to crumble on Sunday. Instead it was Rory McIlroy who buckled. And Justin Rose who flailed.

Woods was back in the victor’s circle, and the scene at the 18th was astonishing. It was a magical sporting moment.

Slammin’ Sammy

The talking heads on NBC tripped over each other searching for superlatives to define the moment. Historic was an oft-heard word, even though there was nothing historic about the occasion. An 80th PGA win is a milestone, to be sure, but Sam Snead had 82, so history is found on Slammin’ Sammy’s scorecard.

After the fact, wordsmith’s attempted to catalog Woods’ success, and it has been an exercise in excess for some. Examples:

Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports: “So let’s go ahead and call this what it is: the greatest comeback in sports history.”

(I don’t know. Being stabbed between the shoulder blades with a nine-inch boning knife during a tennis match, disappearing for two years and living in absolute fear, then returning to win a Grand Slam title might trump it.)

Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “If he can close the circle and win a fifth Masters, it would be a bigger deal than the first time around. It might be the biggest thing ever.”

(Yes, that moon landing thing in 1969 can’t possibly compare to winning a golf tournament.)

John Ziegler of Mediaite: “This wasn’t just a win for golf, but for humanity, both of which are in dire need of victories. For if a person, fueled by nothing but pure pride and a desire to show his kids that their dad really was once something really special, can defeat all of his mental and physical demons to come all the way back from the depths from which Woods has emerged, there really might be hope of the rest of us dregs of humanity.”

(We’re dregs because we can’t win a golf tournament? Oh, the humanity!)

If I might be allowed to apply a coating of perspective to Woods winning the Tour Championship, it was one man’s triumph over health issues and personal demons. His stick-to-itness is admirable. Many of his wounds—the ones you cannot repair with a band-aid—were self-inflicted, and that’s what made his Sunday story so compelling. It grabbed us because we can relate to human frailties. We’ve all been there and done that. And it’s comforting to see someone come out the other side in one piece. It does not, however, change the world as we know it.

Chris Streveler

Okay, enough of Tiger Woods. Kudos to Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press for telling it like it is about Johnny Manziel. Hamilton writes this of the Montreal Alouettes quarterback:

“It doesn’t help that Manziel needs to resurrect his football career behind such a leaky offensive line, but it’s the same group that Antonio Pipken (sic) had when he combined for 545 passing yards in wins over Toronto and Ottawa. In fact, if Manziel was anybody else, there’s a good chance he’d be out of a job by now.”

Spot on. And the numbers support Hamilton’s analysis.

Four QBs thrust into the No. 1 role for the first time this Canadian Football League season have started three or more games—Manziel, Pipkin, Chris Streveler and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. Only one of them has yet to toss a touchdown pass. Manziel. Only one of them has yet to win a game. Manziel. Only one of them has yet to total 500 yards in passing. Manziel. Here are the comparison of the QBs after their first three starts:

Now, if only the gab guys in TSN’s Cult of Johnny would clue in and realize how shameful their doting on Johnny Rotten, a very ordinary QB, has been.

B.C. Place Stadium

Three terrifically entertaining skirmishes in the CFL on Saturday, and the head counts at two of them were dreadful—14,479 for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Argonauts in the Republic of Tranna, and 18,794 for double-OT doozy between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and B.C. Lions in Lotus Land. I live on the West Coast. I hear very little chatter about the Leos or the CFL, but plenty about the National Football League. And I don’t get it. Give me a three-down game over four-down football any day.

Did head coach June Jones cost the Tiger-Cats a win in B.C. when he chose to punt the football rather than attempt a 45-yard field goal in the final minute? Absolutely.

The CFL West Division team that earns the crossover playoff spot will have to beat both the Ticats and Bytown RedBlacks on the road in eight days. Good luck with that. Ain’t going to happen.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (10-2): Bye week, no harm done.
2. Saskatchewan (8-5): Offence showed some signs of life.
3. Ottawa (8-5): Jekyll and Hyde of the CFL.
4. Edmonton (7-6): Oh woe is the D.
5. Hamilton (6-7): Dumb coaching did them in.
6. B.C. (6-6): Thought they were done a month ago.
7. Winnipeg (6-7): Awaiting word on key injuries.
8. Toronto (3-9): No one cares in TO, so why should we?
9. Montreal (3-10): Awful in both official languages.

And, finally, if you’re looking for a good yarn, check out Dave Feschuk’s piece on former National Hockey League/World Hockey Association goaltender Al Smith in the Toronto Star. It’s excellent.

So long to Ab McDonald, the original Winnipeg Jets captain and a dear man

There are good guys in hockey, there are great guys in hockey, then there are the absolute best guys in hockey.

Alvin Brian McDonald, known to family, friends and on-ice foes as Ab, was among the latter.

If there was a nicer man in the game than Ab, I never met him, and that takes in 30 years worth of time and people on frozen ponds and in puck palaces across our vast nation.

From scrubs on skates to National Hockey League players, Ab had time for everyone, including news snoops who’d call him at home to pick his brain about anything from playing alongside Jean Beliveau to getting the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association off the ground in October 1972.

The return phone call was among the measuring sticks we would use in the rag trade. If they called you back, they were good guys. Ab unfailingly returned calls. Didn’t matter what time of day or night, he’d get back to you. In time for you to make deadline.

Frank McKinnon and Don Baizley were like that. The old goalie, Joe Daley, is too.

Frank and Baiz are gone, and now Abbie is, too. The Jets original captain died at age 82 on Tuesday night, and you know a pall has spread across the hockey community, most notably in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Ab was, in many ways, like the aforementioned Beliveau—a kind, gentle, engaging and obliging man. Respected and admired, he was a proud Winnipegger who left home to play hockey hither and yon but returned to River City each summer. There was a regalness about him, yet, at the same time, he had the carriage and touch of an aw shucks common man.

You’ll find that’s what folks will talk about today when they learn of Ab’s passing.

Oh, sure, they’ll also mention the Stanley Cup rings with the Montreal Canadiens (three) and Chicago Blackhawks (one), the Cup-winning tally against the Detroit Red Wings in 1961, his playing alongside Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram to form one version of the Blackhawks fabled Scooter Line, and scoring the first goal in Jets history in New York (on the same night the youngest of his five children, Kristina, was born). They might also mention that the past two years have not been kind to the Scooters—Wharram passed away in 2017, while Mikita and Ab left us this year.

But there will be one common theme in all reflections—Ab the man.

Daley, in conversation with The Canadian Press, remembered his former teammate as “just a super nice guy who mentored a lot of the young guys, including me.” Ab was “very humble.”

“I’ve had a weepy day today,” Daley added.

Most likely, he wasn’t alone. In fact, I know he wasn’t alone. Abbie was a dear, dear man.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

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

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

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

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

About bringing your Eh game…no QB controversy with Winnipeg Blue Bombers…F-bombs on TSN…QB carnage in the CFL…more blah, blah, blah about Johnny Rotten…the real CFL power rankings…shinny and museums…hockey is not for everyone…putting the bite on Luis Suarez…and carpool karaoke with Sir Paul

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

Happy Canada day, kids. Great country. Best country. Land of maple syrup, peameal bacon, the McKenzie Brothers, the good, ol’ hockey game and the rouge. Wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Whatever you choose to do today, bring your eh game.

The suggestion that there might be a quarterback controversy on the boil in Winnipeg is, well, silly. Also totally asinine.

It’s the sort of thing a bored jock journalist might dream up on a slow news day, giving so many lumps on so many bar stools something to bark about when too much of the brown pop is flowing in their local watering hole.

So don’t run off with the notion that Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea will experience a moment of sheer madness once Matt Nichols is given the okie-dokie from medics and he’s freed from the repair shop. As sure as Donald Trump will tweet about “13 Angry Democrats,” Coach Mikey will insert Nichols behind centre Matthias Goossen, at the same time reducing Chris Streveler’s responsibilities to staring at tablets on the sideline.

O’Shea shall do this for two basic reasons: 1) He likes his job and would prefer to keep it; 2) Nichols gives Winnipeg FC its best chance to win, ergo O’Shea keeps the job he likes.

Matt Nichols

None of that is to suggest Streveler has been inept as Nichols’ stand-in. He’s done boffo business, a sketchy effort Friday night at Timbits Field in Hamilton notwithstanding. Raw like road kill, the greenhorn out of South Dakota finally looked the part of rookie in a 31-17 loss to the Tiger-Cats, but let’s keep perspective here: When a wonky leg felled Nichols during training exercises, what was expected of Streveler as the Canadian Football League’s first true freshman starting QB since Anthony Calvillo in 1994? Not much. The rabble hoped he’d win a game. Two if the pointy ball took a few favorable bounces. Well, he’s performed admirably enough to be 2-1 rather than 1-2 in three starts, but a Charmin-soft defensive dozen has betrayed Streveler and the Bombers, who sit at the bottom of a West Division that surely shall produce four playoff teams for the third successive season.

Here’s my take on Streveler: He’s provided ample evidence to support a belief that the Bombers have found their future starter and, in the present, he’s a most capable QB in a pinch.

But be certain, this never was about auditioning for Nichols’ job.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is a jock journalist with too much time on his hands, or a lump on a bar stool who’s been overserved.

Matt Dunigan

TSN’s “live mic” broadcast of the Bombers-Tabbies skirmish, with head coaches and quarterbacks wired for sound, was brought to you by the letter F, as in F-bombs. Mind you, I’m surprised there were so few of them. I heard just six, maybe seven F-bombs. Profanity is “part of the game,” advised the ever-enthusiastic Matt Dunigan, the one member of TSN’s panel of natterbugs who clearly wishes he was still on the football field getting his bell rung and cussin’ about it. Matty’s right, of course. Football players cuss. They sometimes couple their F-bombs with a reference to another player’s mother. It’s crude and raw. You know, the same kind of language you hear in most schoolyards.

Ricky Ray

This is never good: We’re only three weeks into the 2018 CFL crusade and already four starting QBs are on the wonk. Nichols, of course, couldn’t answer the opening bell for the Bombers, Zach Collaros of the Saskatchewan Roughriders is on the six-game injury list, Drew Willy couldn’t finish what he started for the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday night, and the fabulous Ricky Ray is probably lost to the Tranna Argonauts and the CFL forever. Watching Ray being carted off BMO Field last weekend was disturbing, and it reminded me of Chris Walby, perhaps the greatest of all Blue Bombers. That’s how big Bluto’s career ended, on a Gator cart. Such a sad and cruel way to go out for such grand performers.

Can TSN do us a favor and ditch the split screen feature, whereby we’re shown a replay on the left side and live ant-sized action on the right? Not all of us have a 70-inch flatscreen that allow us to count Johnny Manziel’s nose hairs, and I don’t think I should require the Hubble Telescope to watch a football game.

Speaking of Manziel (isn’t TSN always talking about him?), finally someone in mainstream media has called out the broadcaster for its shameless pandering to Johnny Rotten. That would be Mike Ganter of Postmedia Tranna, who, in his CFL Blitz package, writes about “the TSN-pushed agenda to make (Manziel) a starter in this league regardless of the stunning numbers put up by Jeremiah Masoli.” Last week on the The Johnny Manziel Network, the boys (Michael Landsberg, Dave Naylor, Mark Roe and Carlo Colaiacovo) discussed a possible trade of Johnny Rotten to the Argonauts, while Naylor and Davis Sanchez discussed a Manziel trade to either the Argos or Roughriders. Then, in the chin-wag preceding the Bombers-Ticats joust, gab guys Dunigan, Milt Stegall and Jock Climie spent more time talking about Johnny Rotten than Chris Streveler. I swear, if Manziel actually steps foot on the field and takes a snap, someone’s head at TSN is going to explode.

Duron Carter

So let’s see if I’ve got this straight, the Tiger-Cats womped the Edmonton Eskimos 38-21 in Week 2, but Scott Cullen’s TSN power rankings had the Esks rated second in the CFL and the Tabbies No. 5. Go figure. Meanwhile, at cfl.ca, the Esks were listed at No. 2 and the Tabbies No. 3, and somehow the B.C. Lions, who had won their only game, were ranked lower than the Tranna Argonauts, who are 0-2 and don’t have a quarterback. Does any of that make sense? To anyone? I didn’t think so. Thus, I give you the first weekly River City Renegade power rankings:

1. Calgary: Same old, same old.
2. Hamilton: Won two of three against tough West Division opponents.
3. Edmonton: Back on track.
4. Ottawa: A split against tough West Division opponents.
5. Winnipeg: Defensive deficiency.
6. B.C.: Didn’t look sharp vs. Montreal and Wally Buono’s swan song took a big hit vs. Eskimos.
7. Montreal: Thought they’d go 0-for-2018.
8. Saskatchewan: Gotta get Duron Carter back on offence.
9. Toronto: No quarterback, no hope.

Kim Clackson

If rumors are true, Dougie Hamilton is the first National Hockey League player to be traded for a museum to be named later. Hard to believe that the Calgary Flames would ship out Hamilton because his head is shaped like an egg. I mean, so the guy would rather spend time in a museum or reading than join the boys for some back-slapping and hoo-rawing at Moxie’s. Last time I looked, being smart wasn’t the new stupid. The Hamilton situation brings to mind Kim Clackson, guard dog for the Winnipeg Jets during their final two World Hockey Association crusades. I don’t recall ever seeing Clacker without a book in his hands on road trips. Can’t say that I remember the subject matter, but he was always reading on team flights. Didn’t seem to bother his teammates or management when Clacker put down the book to chuck knuckles with Dave Semenko.

Caught an episode of Tim & Sid on Sportnets last week, with the boys and guest John Shannon interviewing Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL. Immediately after the chin wag, they mentioned how “hockey is for everyone.” No. It isn’t. I’ll believe hockey is for everyone the day there’s an openly gay man on one of the 31 NHL rosters. I’ll believe hockey is for everyone the day a woman is standing behind an NHL bench. Major League Baseball has had an openly gay umpire. The National Basketball Association has had an openly gay player, female coaches and female game officials. The National Football League has female coaches and game officials. The Canadian Football League has had an openly gay player and a female general manager. Major League Soccer is the only major men’s team sport in North America that currently features an openly gay player, Collin Martin of Minnesota United FC. So I don’t want to hear about hockey being “for everyone” when the NHL is the least diverse of all major men’s sports leagues.

Giorgio Chiellini and Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez is having a great World Cup. His Uruguay side is into the quarterfinals and he hasn’t bitten any Italians. It helps, of course, that the Italians didn’t qualify for Russia, but it’s comforting to know that soccer’s Count Dracula seems to have curbed his nasty biting habit. Three times the Uruguay striker has been punished for putting the bite on foes, including an incident in the 2014 World Cup, whereby he chomped on Giorgio Chiellini’s left shoulder. “I know biting appalls a lot of people, but it’s relatively harmless,” he wrote in his autobiography, Crossing the Line: My Story. “None of the bites has been like Mike Tyson on Evander Holyfield.” Like, that makes it okay?

Interesting comment from Tranna Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins when asked if pitcher Roberto Osuna would be welcomed back to the fold next month after serving a 75-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy: “Roberto is our closer. We’re running a baseball team and our goal is to win championships. Roberto could potentially be very much a part of that.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how many women Osuna beats the hell out of. As long as he throws a nasty cutter, he’ll be in the Jays bullpen.

Quote of the week was delivered by baseball’s non-steroid home run king, Hank Aaron: “Would I visit the White House? Would I go? I have no reason to go. I’ve been there once or twice. And there’s nobody there I want to see.”

James Corden and Sir Paul McCartney

And, finally, this item has nothing to do with sports, but it’s too cool by far, so I wanted to include it: I’m not a fan of James Corden or his late-night gab show, because he’s always shouting. I am, however, a big Beatles fan and Corden’s Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney was a brilliant and beautiful segment that should be shared. Watch it to the absolute end and enjoy.