Once again, men’s hockey is caught with its pants down and it’s utterly odious

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin

So it’s true what they say: Hockey is for everyone.

And that includes young men like Logan Mailloux, a newly minted member of the Montreal Canadiens fellowship whose baggage includes a sex-related crime.

And it includes the Chicago Blackhawks, whose ownership/management/players spent the past decade covering up a sex crime and verbal gay-bashing for which no individual has been held accountable, let alone punished.

And it includes Auston Matthews who, two years ago, got together with some buddies and thought it would be a swell idea to swill beer and frighten a female security guard on a dark street at 2 o’clock in the morning. When she failed to find any humor in their booze-fueled boorish behavior, the Toronto Maple Leafs centre dropped his trousers to his ankles, bent over and mooned her. Many in mainstream media wrote it off as nothing more heinous than frat-boy hijinks.

Yes, hockey is for everyone.

Except the victims, of course. They are mostly faceless and nameless inconveniences. If their identities are revealed, they’re forgotten in less time than it takes to sharpen a pair of skates.

We know a former Blackhawks player has accused one-time video coach Brad Aldrich of sexual assault, but we only know him as John Doe 1. We know Logan Mailloux took and illegally shared pics of a young Swedish woman giving him oral sex, but she’s a mystery. If anyone remembers the name of Matthews’ victim, move to the head of the class.

But, hey, we don’t need to know anything about Fayola Dozithee and the fallout from L’Affaire Matthews, because young Auston pulled up his pants, delivered a mea culp and he’s become the National Hockey League’s leading goal-scorer. The Rocket Richard Trophy is all that matters. The Blackhawks? Until recently, their dirty, little secret was buried beneath the ballyhoo of three Stanley Cup-winning crusades. That tall, shiny trinket is all that matters.

Logan Mailloux

There was a different twist in the Mailloux case. All his victim desired was a sincere apology (she’s still waiting), but the London Knights defenceman seemed to recognize that he is a cad and informed all 32 NHL outfits to remove his name from consideration in this year’s annual auction of teenage talent.

“Being drafted into the NHL is an honor and a privilege that no one takes lightly,” Mailloux tweeted. “The NHL draft should be one of the most exciting landmark moments in a player’s career, and given the circumstances, I don’t feel I have demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege in the 2021 draft. I know it will take time for society to build back the trust I have lost, and that is why I think it is best that I renounce myself from the 2021 NHL Draft and ask that no one select me this upcoming weekend.”

Well, either les Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin missed the memo or something was lost in the English-to-French translation, because he used his first shoutout (31st overall) on Friday night to pluck Mailloux from the pool of teens. Lack of maturity, character and sexism be damned. As long as the guy can fill a need on the blueline, that’s all that matters, right boys?

“He already started to put it behind him,” Bergevin said in explaining his utterly odious, shocking selection and his failure to accurately read the temperature of the room.

What the Habs GM didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us is if the victim had “already started” to put it behind her. Whoever she is.

Naturally, Bergevin has been battered fore and aft on social media in the wake of the tone-deaf Mailloux decision, but save some of that tar and a few of those feathers for Habs bankroll Geoff Molson. You don’t make such a radical move without the okie-dokie from the guy sitting in the big desk in the ivory tower.

And that’s not to ignore the London Knights, who will readily and eagerly welcome Mailloux back to the fold, and SK Lejon of the Swedish Division III, who were privy to their defenceman’s trespass yet permitted him to play on.

Hockey, after all, is for everyone, even the creeps.

It’s such a shame, because this should have been a good-news week on the diversity file.

I mean, it was only scant days ago that young Luke Prokop was welcomed warmly as the first openly gay man signed to an NHL contract. The scandal-plagued Blackhawks are giving females in their hockey department prominent face time during this weekend’s entry draft. The new kids on the block, Seattle Kraken, trotted out pro scout Cammi Granato to name one of their selections in the expansion grab bag. And Kevin Weekes, a Black man, has been prominent on ESPN entry/expansion draft coverage.

It appeared that the men’s game was, at long last, following the plot.

Then along came Molson and Bergevin, who were “proud” to recruit a guy guilty of serious wrong-doing, a crime that once again devalued and victimized a woman.

But, hey, that’s men’s hockey. Always caught with its pants down.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have become a country song and we don’t have to eat our Brussels sprouts anymore

So I’m flipping through the pages of the Toronto Star this morning, and I come across a short essay by Richie Assaly, who, like so many in the Republic of Tranna, feels like he’s living a country song.

Except his dog didn’t die and mama wasn’t run over by a damned ol’ train the day she got out of prison.

No, the long face and world of hurt is the product of another Toronto Maple Leafs’ pratfall, an annual spring ritual observed from one flank of the tundra to the other and points north.

You’d think the citizenry in the Republic of Tranna would be used to it by now, but this latest Leafs loss—to the dreaded Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their Stanley Cup skirmish on Monday night—seems to have brought with it a different and deeper level of grieving.

“A monumental collapse. A tragedy on ice. Rock bottom,” went the Assaly lament. “There’s a distinct chance that the last day of May in 2021 will find its way into the history books as one of the lowest points in Toronto sports history.”

Personally, I think Humpty Harold Ballard asking his coach, Roger Neilson, to wear a paper bag on his head behind the bench ranks lowest on the lame-o-meter, but I guess Assaly uses a different measuring stick.

At any rate, it’s official. The Maple Leafs have become a country song. Three chords and the truth about kicking a tin can up the road for 54 years.

Assaly didn’t stop there, though.

It isn’t just the Leafs’ latest face plant that’s got up his nose. It’s us. You know, those of us who live in The Colonies.

“As a dark cloud of misery descended upon Leaf Nation, hockey fans outside of the GTA were taking part in a joyous display of pettiness—a schadenfreude soirée,” he wrote.

Oh my. Pettiness? Naw. Going “na, na, na, na, na” would be petty.

But we don’t do petty. Oh, sure, some of us snicker behind our hands, the way kids bust a gut when the schoolyard bully falls in a mud puddle, while others cackle in glee with gusts up to rude laughter.

The thing is, that’s part of our DNA.

Humpty Harold Ballard

Assaly doesn’t understand that most of us who work and play in The Colonies need the Leafs to cough up a giant hairball every year for comic relief, otherwise we’d have nothing to do but watch curling ice melt or, in my case on the Wet Coast, watch the rain fall.

Would he deny us our giddiness?

Besides, when you drill to the nub of the matter, it’s not so much the Leafs that we poke fun at. The issue is the ram-it-down-our-throats, 24/7 hype from TSN/Sportsnet, who believe the National Hockey League in Canada consists of the Leafs and six red-headed, freckle-faced step-children they acknowledge only when Auston Matthews isn’t grooming his cheesy upper lip whiskers.

After the Leafs stubbed their toes on Monday night, one of the talking heads on TSN, Glenn Schiiler, informed the nation that, with Matthews and Mitch Marner taking their leave, all the “best players” had been removed from the Stanley Cup tournament, as if the rosters of les Canadiens, the Winnipeg Jets and the six U.S. outfits still chasing the shinny grail are stocked with a bunch of beer-leaguers who still need mom and dad to tie their skate laces.

The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, is supposed to be a national newspaper, but its sports columnist, Cathal Kelly, has written three essays on the Leafs losing in the past week and zero on the Montreal Canadiens, who play on while the Leafs play golf.

It’s one thing for the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun to place their focus on the Leafs and declare them “Kings of the North” before the puck is dropped on the annual spring runoff, but the sports columnist at our national sheet? Wrong.

Richie Assaly and others in The ROT need to know this is why we get giddy when the Leafs soil the sheets every spring.

It’s not that we hate the Leafs. Heck, many among us in The Colonies root, root, root for them and attend games adorned in blue-and-white Leafs livery, with the names Matthews and Marner stitched on the back.

But it’s like Brussels sprouts for most of us. Our parents repeatedly told us “they’re good for you,” except we didn’t want to hear it anymore. We just wanted those little green things to disappear.

Same thing with the Leafs.

They’re gone now, so once the talking heads and our national sports columnist have gone through a suitable mourning period and remove the black armbands, we won’t be fed Brussels sprouts anymore. At least not until autumn, when we’ll be reminded once again that Matthews and Marner are the best thing since Canadian bacon, even as they forever fail to bring home the bacon.

In the meantime, the brown paper bag is once again the official gear of Maple Leafs fans/media, who are singing that same old hurtin’ song, only with a fresh twist.

Ron MacLean might be milquetoast, but I don’t believe him to be homophobic

About half an hour after I rose from my roost at 2 o’clock on Wednesday morning, I noticed both Ron MacLean and Don Cherry trending on Twitter.

“What is it now?” I thought. “Are Frick and Frack talking about poppies and ‘you people’ again?”

Turns out it wasn’t about poppies, ‘you people’ or Canada’s milk and honey, delicate topics that led to the ouster of Cherry and his living-room-drapes wardrobe from Hockey Night in Canada in November 2019.

This time it was something MacLean said. Something stupid.

Ron MacLean

Now, someone saying something stupid on HNIC is not to be placed in the breaking-fresh-ground file, because there exists a boat load of panelists who natter with studio host MacLean on a near-nightly basis during the Stanley Cup tournament, and any time there are that many squawk boxes sardine-canned together you can bet your thesaurus that tongues will be tripped over.

Cherry once monopolized that market, using his Coach’s Corner bully pulpit and butchered English to pontificate on matters that branched far, far away from the hockey rink and led him into the quicksands of sexism, misogyny, zenophobia, homophobia, pinkoism, etc.

During his almost 40 years as the Lord of Loud on HNIC, Cherry got up more noses than a COVID swab stick.

All the while, MacLean played Tonto to the star of the show’s Lone Ranger, but he wasn’t seen as a faithful companion at the end, when Cherry went off on “you people” who arrive on Canadian shores for “our milk and honey” but refuse to wear poppies in salute of fallen war heroes who are lying in graves in Europe or only made it back home in pine boxes. That was his Waterloo. MacLean, looking every inch the stooge, closed the Cherry rant by muttering, “Love ya for it” with a right thumb up.

Many among the rabble remain convinced that Cherry can tell us what the underside of a bus looks like only because that’s where MacLean left him, if not tossed him, thus he should have been unplugged at the same time.

Accurate or not, the perception of MacLean as a Benedict Arnold is their reality and it grates like nails on a chalkboard as MacLean is permitted to prattle on.

Don Cherry

Unlike his former running mate, MacLean seldom bludgeons the language, often leaning on utterances from historical figures to prop up a point. (I believe it’s also his idea of a subtle boast, letting viewers know he has spent time in a library.) But he’s also a pun meister. He harbors an unhealthy inclination toward spewing groan-worthy puns that often leave viewers wondering what the hell he’s talking about.

And, really, what was Pun Boy prattling on about during the second intermission of Game 4 of a National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Toronto Maple Leafs-Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night? He mentioned “tarp-off” men testing “positive” for something or other.

“You have a photo of a guy with his tarp off, you’re definitely positive for something,” MacLean said in a kibitzing tone to panelist Kevin Bieksa.

On first blush, that sound bite came off as shockingly homophobic. Was he actually talking about bare-chested men testing positive? Gay men, condoms and AIDS leapt to mind, perhaps because I have HIV+ friends. Great yelps of homophobia rang out on social media, loud and long into the night and the following day after MacLean had issued a quasi-mea culpa/explanation.

“Early in the show, we had a fun moment featuring a photograph of our colleague Anthony Stewart enjoying a rum party,” he tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. “That photo, along with a few others, sat on the shelf of Kevin Bieksa’s set for the remainder of the night. In the second intermission, when Kevin quipped that he was ‘the most positive person on our panel,’ I directed viewers to that photo, using ‘tarp off’ (i.e. shirtless) to specify the picture with the rum bottle, and quipped, ‘You’ll be testing positive for something.’ I meant the rum.”

Sounds wishy-washy, to the point of being fiction.

A tarp-off Bobby Hull.

I mean, really? It was about rum? Sorry. Show someone a pic of a half-naked NHL player and it’s unlikely their eyeballs will focus on the bottle of booze he’s holding. There is, for example, a famous photo of a young, strapping, tarp-off Bobby Hull working on the farm, and the bale of hay on the business end of his pitch fork isn’t the first thing you notice.

I don’t pretend to know Ron MacLean. I met him on a few occasions in the distant past when our paths would intersect while covering NHL events, but we never broke bread or tipped pints together. Like most others, I watched and listened to him on HNIC and saw a man who would rather eat the stew than stir the pot. Over the years, he has become increasingly milquetoast due to a strong need to be liked, and it’s entirely possible that his best-before date has come and gone.

But sometimes what we hear isn’t what was said, and I’m not convinced MacLean’s remark about tarp-off men and testing positive aligns with homophobia. Many in the LGBT(etc.) collective believe it does. I get that. As mentioned, my initial impulse leaned toward heaping scorn on him.

His comment was stupid, total frat-boy banter, even as Jennifer Botterill sat and winced across the studio table from him, and it created a dreadful optic of gays and AIDS.

Upon further review, however, MacLean is just another guy in hockey who’s made a dumb-ass comment, but that doesn’t make him homophobic.

Meghan Duggan the latest ray of sunlight in the dawning of a new day for the NHL

The New Jersey Devils’ freshly minted manager of player development is gay.

Openly gay.

And married.

And the openly gay married couple have a son.

Gillian Apps, Meghan Dugann and baby George.

This appears to be the new National Hockey League, even if certain of the on-ice activity we’ve witnessed in the current Stanley Cup tournament remains rather primitive, whereby a set of hairy knuckles formed into a fist continues to be thought of, also used, as a tool with merit.

The aforementioned Devils failed to qualify as participants in the post-season runoff, a spring ritual that will drag us into summer this time around, but although looking in with their noses pressed against the window they have provided us with another clear signal that the NHL has advanced beyond the Stone Age and embraces its place in the 21st century, the sometimes barbaric activity on its frozen ponds notwithstanding.

The Devils did this with the appointment of Meghan Duggan as manager of player development on Wednesday.

Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps.

Meghan certainly brings a glittering array of bona fides to her portfolio: Seven-time world champion, Olympic champion, captain of the U.S. women’s national team, winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s foremost female collegiate player, Canadian Women’s Hockey League champion, college coach, etc.

But it’s in the area of social progress that the New Jersey franchise struck the most-sonorous note.

Duggan, you see, is married to Gillian Apps, a one-time fierce foe with the Canadian national women’s hockey team, and baby made three in February 2020 when the two women welcomed their son, George Apps-Duggan, into the world.

If we know anything at all about the NHL, it’s that openly gay people are more rare than a full set of teeth.

Manon Rheaume

You can count the number of gay players on the fingers of…oh, wait…no gay NHL skater has ever come out, past or present. There have been more confirmed sightings of Sasquatch. Hell, a woman has participated in a game, and never mind that it was the carnival barker in Phil Esposito that arranged for Manon Rheaume to occupy the blue paint for Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1992 exhibition exercise.

She might have been Espo’s idea of Sideshow Bobbi, but the reality is more women have appeared in an NHL game than openly gay men.

Yet as much as the pungency of homophobia continues to linger at the upper crust of men’s hockey like the inside of bowling shoes, a fresh breeze of diversity is drifting through the front offices of numerous franchises.

Duggan joins an organization that already includes Kate Madigan as executive director of hockey management/operations, and the expansion Seattle Kraken recruited American legend Cammi Granato as a pro scout in September 2019. The Chicago Blackhawks brought Kendall Coyne Schofield on board as a player development coach last November, and the Toronto Maple Leafs bumped Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser up the food chain this week, promoting her to the position of senior director of player development. Her first order of business as boss lady was to bring former teammate Danielle Goyette into the fold. Like Granato, both Doc Wick and Goyette are ring-bearing members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Leah Hextall.

Meanwhile, in the blurt box, female voices are being heard at an increasing volume. ESPN plans to put Leah Hextall behind a play-by-play mic on its NHL coverage next season, and she joins a widening chorus that includes Kate Scott, AJ Mleczko, Jennifer Botterill, Christine Simpson, Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Cheryl Pounder.

But it’s perhaps the Duggan hiring that carries the greatest resonance, because her sexual orientation makes it barrier-breaking and serves as a point of progress for those of us in the LGBT(etc.) collective.

“It’s a huge part of my life and who I am, and it’s incredibly important to me to represent a variety of different communities,” Meghan told Matt Larkin of The Hockey News. “It’s certainly a responsibility, but it’s a privilege at the same time. In regards to being a woman, being a working mom, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, representation matters. For a lot of my life, I have been doing inclusion work, trying to make hockey more inclusive and diverse and to bring a variety of different personalities and backgrounds into the fold. For the Devils to welcome me into the fold, it shows that’s important to them as well. That speaks volumes to the culture aspect of the Devils and what they value.”

Yes, a new day has dawned in the NHL, even if some on the ice continue to bare their hairy knuckles and balk at joining the rest of us in the 21st century.

Holy estrogen, Batman! Look what the Maple Leafs and ESPN have done to hockey’s old boys’ club

There aren’t many things that make a member of the male species pucker up quite like the sound of a medic snapping on a rubber glove for a prostate exam, but I can think of at least three:

  1. Being asked to hold his wife’s/girlfriend’s purse in the middle of a crowded mall.
  2. Being asked to make a pit stop at the local 7-Eleven on the way home to pick up a box of Tampons.
  3. Women in men’s hockey.

The first two make dudes fidget and squirm like mom just found the porn collection, and the third…well, let’s just say there’s a constituency that still travels to and fro in horse and buggy and grapples with the notion of women earning the right to vote.

Doc Wick

We were reminded of this on Monday when the Toronto Maple Leafs forgot that the National Hockey League is an old boys’ club and had the (apparent) bad manners to nudge Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser up the food chain, anointing her senior director of player development.

And, wouldn’t you know it, Hayley’s first order of business was to boost the Leafs’ estrogen level even higher by bringing her former Canadian national women’s team linemate and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer, Danielle Goyette, on board as director of player development, proving Doc Wick already has a good handle on how hockey’s buddy system works.

“If it’s good with Hayley, it’s good with me,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe told news snoops.

What in the name of Gloria Steinem can possibly be next? Cassie Campbell-Pascall and Jennifer Botterill joining Keefe behind the bench?

Naturally, once word of the Leafs’ appointments worked its way along the grapevine, the oinkers rushed to their keyboards like there’d been a “Sooey!” call, and they unleashed a tsunami of sexist tripe. Some examples:

Next hockey night in Canada will be Hayley, Danielle, Cassie and Jennifer. It will be like watching The View.

Laugh’s org. pulling another Nancy.”

Diversity must be the flavour of the week.”

She’ll be the next leafs GM after Dubas.”

So that would make it two female GMs in succession for the Leafs. Such a progressive, woke organization they are.”

Token appointments.”

Alas, the oinkers’ day worsened.

The New York Post reported that ESPN had recruited Leah Hextall to work the play-by-play mic for X number of games during the 2021-22 NHL crusade and, like Doc Wick and Goyette, Leah is not a penis person, so the Worldwide Leader In Sports has some nerve adding a high-pitched, shrill voice to its stable of hockey squawkers.

Leah Hextall

“Horrible and utterly repulsive,” wrote one reader in The Athletic. “Cannot stand how women have to constantly inject themselves in men’s sports because of a deep gender inferiority complex. Don’t care her background, she has never played NHL hockey (obviously) so she possesses absolutely no direct first-hand knowledge of hockey on that level much less playoff hockey. Whoever approved her to work on hockey games is a piece of garbage.”

Someone else expressed a fear that a female play-by-play hockey voice would steer ESPN into the deepest and darkest of rabbit holes, whereby they’d hire a transgender broadcaster.

Oh, the humanity.

I’m quite uncertain where it’s written that a pair of testicles is a requirement for talking hockey. Or football and basketball, for that matter.

Cheryl with Vic and Russ.

I mean, where’s the hue and cry when Dottie Pepper gives us her thoughts during a PGA tournament? And what about Cheryl Bernard and, before her, Linda Moore in natter with Vic Rauter and Russ Howard/Moosie Turnbull during an elite men’s curling match. Oh, wait. It’s only curling, and if you don’t drive by a wheat field and grain silo on your way to work you probably don’t give a damn.

It’s only a female voice in the blurt box of the he-man sports that seems to put men’s boxers in a bunch, even as Jennifer Botterill serves as living, breathing proof that a female is capable of stringing together three or more intelligent sentences on shinny, something that puts her a notch or two above Anthony Stewart and other penis people on Hockey Night in Canada.

The thing is, as far as I know Jennifer has yet to mention feminine hygiene products during her intermission gig, and I doubt that’ll be a talking point for Leah Hextall, either.

So at ease, boys. It might feel like the Leafs and ESPN have given you a good, swift kick to the gonads, but this shall pass.

In the meantime, just remember that real men aren’t afraid to hold a purse in public and, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t forget to pick up the Tampons on the way home.

Let’s talk about this week in jock journalism, with canoodling and crickets and a Chihuahua chase and cop cars and Harry Potter and Generation All Thumbs and boxscores…

My, oh my, the things we learn from the sports pages these days.

I mean, did you know that a chameleon eats approximately 15 live crickets every other day? Did you know that losing a neighbor’s dog can land you in the back seat of a cop car? Did you know that people gather on large fields to run around with broomsticks stuffed between their legs and call it a sport?

True, true and true.

Here’s something else you probably didn’t know: “Morgan Rielly and Tessa Virtue are the pandemic love story we need right now.” That was a headline in the Globe and Mail on Friday. Hmmm. And here I thought what we needed most during the COVID-19 pandemic was toilet paper. Silly me.

Morgan and Tessa

“Who needs Harry and Meghan when we’ve got such an appealing couple?” asks Marty Klinkenberg, a Globe scribe anchored in Edmonton.

He also informs us that the Tranna Maple Leafs defender and the darling of our fancy skaters created “a Canada-wide buzz” when first observed in public together on Jan. 8, at one of those fancy-schmancy functions that only the pretty people get to attend in the Republic of Tranna. Again, silly me. I thought that “buzz” I heard on Jan. 8—and every day since—was my tinnitus, which has reached banshee-level in volume.

Whatever, Tessa and Morgan are the power couple we apparently “need” while people are dying across the country, and I just hope they don’t expect us taxpayers to pick up the tab for their security.

Canoodling of the rich and fabulous aside, since COVID-19 shut down the playground last month, the majority of our jock journalists have been feeding from the same trough of storylines.

To wit:

* Life is bigger than sports.
* (Insert athlete’s name) is disappointed the Olympics have been postponed.
* (Insert athlete’s name) is looking forward to the Olympics next year.
* (Insert athlete’s name) is disappointed the NHL/NBA/MLB season have been put on hold.
* (Insert athlete’s name) is doing (insert activity) to keep busy during the lockdown.
* (Insert athlete’s name) is looking forward to the day sports resumes.
* Why is (insert organization’s name) waiting so long to cancel the season?

And, of course, there’s been a steady stream of retro looks at everything from the Richard Riot to Jesus feeding a gathering of 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two rainbow trout. (Any day now, I expect a TSN Top 10 featuring Christ’s miracles.)

But some among our flowers of jock journalism managed to add a colorful twist or two to the usual hum-drum storylines related to COVID-19 in the past week. And a couple went totally off-script.

For example:

  • Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail told us about taking his neighbor’s dog, Chili, for a walk.

“My new best friend and I were ambling down a formerly busy stretch of King Street in Toronto when I felt a tug on the leash behind me,” he wrote. “I turned to look. And what I was looking at was a collar no longer attached to a dog.”

A Chihuahua chase and a rollicking romp ensued, with Kelly eventually finding himself confined to the back seat of a cop car.

“It’s even tighter in there than I remembered,” he remembered.

I’d like to tell you how the story ends for Cathal and Chili the Chihuahua, but you really should read it for yourself. It’s fun stuff.

  • Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun informed us that Olympic-wannabe swimmer Kelsey Wog is into reptiles, specifically chameleons, those crafty, little lizards that change colors (you know, kind of like Tom Brady going from blue, red, silver and white to red, pewter, black and bay orange). Chameleons fancy insects, so, by Jiminy, cricket shopping is part of Kelsey’s regular routine.

“They probably eat, like, 15 or so every other day,” Wog told Friesen. “We got 200 today. We just go when we run out.”

Just wondering: Is the local Crickets ‘R’ Us store considered an essential service during a pandemic?

  • Terry Jones of Postmedia E-Town wrote about dodge ball and something quirky called Quidditch.

“What I’d give for some good quidditch quotes right now. Or some decent dodgeball data,” he lamented, tongue firmly in cheek.

I had never heard of Quidditch until I read Jonesy’s column, and I’m still not totally convinced it actually exists anywhere other than in J.K. Rowling’s fertile mind. The Harry Potter author apparently fictionalized Quidditch in one of her books, but it’s rumored to be a very real thing, whereby people of otherwise sound logic tuck broomsticks between their legs and scurry about a large pitch attempting to toss balls through hoops. There are chasers, beaters, keepers and seekers, all of whom believe running with a broomstick stuffed between their legs is safer than running with scissors.

I suppose it is, but I’d say this broomstick-between-the-legs business gives new meaning to the term “bust his balls,” except some women also play Quidditch, and I can only wonder why.

  • Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna paralleled current COVID-19 self-isolation to a different time and place.

“In a way, this reminds me of rainy days at our tiny cottage when I was a kid,” he wrote. “You weren’t allowed outside. You didn’t have much inside. You stayed in and watched the rain. There was no television or computers or phones to play with—but somehow the time passed and usually quite pleasantly. We played cards and records and Monopoly and Rummoli and backgammon and Scrabble and Boggle, depending on what age we were. We danced. We sang. We made up songs. We invented games. We played charades. We did jigsaw puzzles. Everything was some kind of competition.”

Hey, maybe there’s a Quidditch board game that today’s Generation Xbox can embrace. Naw, probably not. There’s no joy for Generation All Thumbs unless it includes a joystick or a controller gamepad.

  • Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab is so saddened by the worldwide jock shutdown that he wrote “a love letter, of sorts, to sports” and counted the many ways he misses activity in the playground.

“I miss pouring through the statistics in various leagues, combing through boxscores and leaders in every category,” went part of his moan. He also misses “being in the press box, Paul Maurice’s daily gab sessions, the roar of the crowd, going to the gym, and getting excited (about a fresh Blue Jays season).”

I’d tell Mad Mike to get a life, but he’s right: Most of us are missing what we consider the good things in our lives. He’s also correct when he tells us that the COVID-19 pandemic “shall pass.”

I just hope I remember where I parked my broomstick when we break through to the other side. Can’t wait to give Quidditch a go. Or not.

Nothing but fake news in shrinking sports sections

No one can see the finish line, no one knows where the finish line is, and we are left to wonder what the wide, wide world of sports will look like once squints and medics around the world force COVID-19 to tap out.

That includes the sports sections of our daily news sheets.

Back on the Ides of March, I gave a worrisome nod to the girls and boys on the jock beat, suggesting they’d be running on fumes by now, with little or nothing to write about other than the coronavirus ransacking the playground.

“Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division,” I wrote. “They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was ‘the right thing do do; life is bigger than sports’—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints (scientists) have their say, and that might be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side (of the coronavirus).”

So here we are, 11 days later, and how is it working out for them so far?

Three words: Running on fumes.

Oh, they’re fighting the good fight, to be sure. Every morning, I call up the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown to get an update on the coronavirus scourge, and I also note that the Winnipeg Sun still has a sports section while the Drab Slab continues to make room, albeit limited, for the games people no longer play due to COVID-19.

Today, for example, there are 11 pages of sports in the Sun, and we’ll have to overlook the reality that six of those pages, including an ode to Vince Carter cover, are devoted to athletes and teams from the Republic of Tranna, which makes it the Winnironto Sun more than the Winnipeg Sun. The Free Press, meanwhile, has eliminated its sports section Monday-Friday, and today tucked its four pages of jock jottings (mostly local) in with the funnies, the TV listings, the crossword puzzles and other word games.

Is any of it worth reading? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, of course, but I’m guessing that most among the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown could get through their day without “reliving the Bautista bat flip” or reliving “the VINSANITY” and taking a “look back at the Vince Carter era with the Raptors.”

That’s what the Sun served up. Like I said, running on fumes.

There wasn’t anything quite so outrageous in the Drab Slab, but last weekend the Freep ran its jock version of War and Peace—a 3,000-plus-word article with thumbnails on every man who laced up a skate and played professional hockey in North America this past winter. Like I said, running on fumes.

It seems to me, though, that the Freep is going about it the right way by shrinking its sports coverage.

I mean, we keep hearing that life is bigger than sports, yet the people at Postmedia apparently didn’t receive the memo. Indeed, one of the chain’s main jock journos, Steve Simmons of the Tranna Sun, delivered this shockingly tone-deaf tweet the other day:

“If you still want to read about sports, you need to keep reading the Toronton Sun. 20 pages today. 14 bylines. Stories about Olympics, NBA, NHL, Leafs, NFL, CFL, horse racing. Our rival today: two pages of sports, two bylines.”

Apparently, Simmons and Donald Trump share a brain.

Seriously, he believes this is about page counts, not body counts? Perhaps the country’s top doc, Dr. Theresa Tam, can include the Toronto Sun-Toronto Star page counts in her next address to the nation. You know, before she bores us with updates on the death toll and tells us how many doctors, nurses and other health-care workers have been ordered into quarantine. (Yes, kids, that’s sarcasm.)

You don’t shame the Toronto Star or the Winnipeg Free Press or the Montreal Gazette because they choose to focus on COVID-19 instead of running installment No. 54,793 in the Tom Brady Saga. You applaud them for it.

Sports isn’t important right now. Ninety-nine per cent of what’s being put on the sports pages these days is fake news that we don’t need, and it isn’t just in the rag trade. TSN, Sportsnet and The Athletic are also faking it. Here are some headlines I read in the past 10 days:

  • “How a shortened MLB season could impact Blue Jays?”

  • “Can Toronto survive with so much cap space devoted to four players?”

  • “Top 11 (purely hypothetical) NHL compliance buyout candidates.”

  • “Inside the ’92 ALCS that redefined the Toronto Blue Jays.”

  • “Down Goes Brown: Ranking all 67 hat tricks from the 2019-20 season.”

  • And my personal favorite: “Why did it take so long to postpone Olympics?”

Good grief. Does it really matter that the International Olympic Committee took its sweet time before snuffing out the flame for the Tokyo Games? No. It only matters that they did the right thing.

None of us knows what’s on the other side of COVID-19, but it surely won’t look the same as it did going in. Newspapers are slashing salaries. Shutting down. Those that haven’t are laying off staff. Sports scribes are being shuffled to newsside to write about germs.

Will Postmedia still be printing a broadsheet and a tabloid in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton by the time it’s all over? Frankly, I fear the worst. I just hope I’m wrong.

About Vietnam and Las Vegas…a president in Puerto Rico…Tom Petty and the Traveling Wilburys…rude noise on The Voice…learning about Will & Grace…October baseball…and shining in 2019

Random thoughts before the candle goes out and the sun comes up…

I spent the entirety of my Sunday watching the final six installments of the Lynn Novick/Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War and went to bed emotionally spent and softly weeping.

Such atrocities. Such carnage. Such an unnecessary waste of human life.

I awoke 5 1/2 hours later, at 1:30 a.m. Monday, and clicked on my TV. I began weeping again. Another atrocity. More carnage. More unnecessary waste of human life, this time on our side of the world, in Las Vegas.

You wake up in the morning knowing the world will have changed overnight, but you don’t expect this kind of change. Fifty-eight people taken to the morgue. Approximately 500 whisked away to the ER at five different Vegas hospitals. That’s almost 600 people killed or cut down. By a man who, due to silent voices in his head and a disturbing, horrific sense of right and wrong, took a piece of pure Americana—a country music festival—and buried it in pure evil.

The physical toll is shocking, the worst human slaughter in modern-time United States. The emotional fallout is much greater.

Approximately 22,000 innocent, happy concert-goers are victims. Their friends and loved ones are victims. First responders are victims. Doctors and nurses are victims. Jason Aldean, on stage closing the Route 91 Harvest Festival when bullets from high-powered weapons began to rain down from a 32nd-floor room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and other performers are victims.

So the country to the south has been crippled. Again.

The Olympic Mountains

When I look out the main window of my humble home on a clear day, I can see the United States of America. Literally. The Olympic Mountains are off in the distance, standing tall and firm across the Juan de Fuca Strait in Washington state. It’s a peaceful, picture-postcard setting, totally at odds with the chaos, confusion and killings that occur far too often behind them.

It’s easy for us on the north side of those Olympic Mountains to feel smug and say these types of mass murders are “an American thing,” but do we really want to go there? Americans are our neighbors. Our friends. Even if we find them a tad loud and obnoxious when they visit, they’re North American kin.

Besides, it’s not like we’re immune to the depravity of minds that either snap or plot evil in Canada.

It was only nine months ago, remember, when a young man strolled into a Quebec City mosque and opening fired. By the time he walked out of the Islamic Cultural Centre, six people lay slain and another 19 were wounded.

It’s all so sad.

One of four students dead in Ohio.

The Vietnam War documentary, which aired on PBS, is a superb, enlightening and gripping work from Novick and Burns. It is a harsh reminder of the violence that prevailed during the 1960s and early ’70s—it definitely wasn’t all flower power, groovin’ and great rock ‘n’ roll like some Baby Boomers would have you believe—and I’m sure it opened eyes to the shameful deceit, cunning and flat-out criminal activity of people in the White House. The most heart-tugging and tear-inducing segment for me was the sight of students lying on the ground, dead, at Kent State after the Ohio National Guard had gunned them down. Innocent kids, killed by their own government. I can still hear the haunting refrain “four dead in Ohio” in Neil Young’s classic protest song Ohio. Sigh.

Speaking of government, did U.S. President Donald Trump actually tell people in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico to “have a good time” and toss them paper towels? Well, yes, he did. Oh my.

Okay, it’s about Tom Petty. My favorite Tom Petty stuff was the stuff he did with Nelson, Otis, Lefty and Lucky, aka the Traveling Wilburys. Now, with Petty’s passing this week, there are only two of the Wilburys left—Lucky (Bob Dylan) and Otis (Jeff Lynne). George Harrison and Roy Orbison had preceded Petty to the big rock concert in the sky. Petty (Charlie T. Wilbury Jr.), Dylan, Lynne, Harrison and Orbison only recorded one album together —Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1—and it’s brilliant. Those boys could really get after it. There’s a second album (I have the both on vinyl), but Orbison had already left us.

The Traveling Wilburys: Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Roy Orbison.

My favorite Traveling Wilburys tunes…

  1. Handle with Care
  2. End of the Line
  3. Rattled
  4. Not Alone Any More
  5. Poor House

Gave The Voice a try last week, but, sorry, I cannot watch if Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Hudson are sitting in two of the four judges’ chairs. They both seem to be of the misguided notion that the show is about them, not the contestants. The hokey Adam Levine-Blake Shelton bromance wore thin about six years ago, but Cyrus and Hudson make the show unbearable. Click.

I’m told Will & Grace are back on TV. Hmmm. I didn’t know they had left. So, because I missed them during their first go-round on the small screen, I thought I’d give the new season’s first episode a look-see. I must say, that was a funny show. And imagine my surprise. There are gay characters. Who knew? Must check it out again. (Sidebar: Debra Messing has gorgeous hair. Love the color, which also happens to be my color.)

I love October baseball, even if I don’t have a cheering interest. Actually, I found myself root, root, rooting for the New York Yankees in their wild-card skirmish with the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night. I’m not sure what that means. I mean, I’ve always been an ABTY ball fan—anybody but the Yankees. So why was I cheering for them? I think I need to book some time on Dr. Phil’s couch.

If I was still in River City, working in mainstream jock journalism at the Winnipeg Sun, I’d be required to attend a hockey match this very night between the hometown Jets and the Tranna Maple Leafs and pretend it’s important. I’m glad I’m no longer in River City working in mainstream journalism.

According to my October horoscope, “2019 will be your time to shine.” Excuse me? 2019? What the hell am I supposed to do until then?

You’re never going to have unanimity on the gay issue in the NHL or anywhere else

Brian Burke is disappointed.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

This, of course, is not uncommon. Burke’s smile is often turned upside-down. After all, he once generally managed the Toronto Maple Leafs, a tragic, ghastly hockey outfit that has perfected the art of disappointing its ownership, management, coaches and a fan base whose reach stretches far beyond parochial boundaries.

Not once since the spring of 1967 have les Leafs participated in a Stanley Cup parade, a stretch of annual faceplants that, while not equal in numbers to the Chicago Cubs’ century-plus death march, feels very Cub-ian. Burke can only be held personally responsible for a handful of the Leafs’ springtime melts, but some things tend to cling, and not even fleeing the Republic of Tranna and hiding out in Saudi Alberta can shake off the residue of ruin a man experiences in the Centre of the Shinny Universe.

It isn’t les Leafs who are up Burke’s nose these days, though. It’s a hockey player. A homophobic hockey player.

At least we assume him to be homophobic, because when USA TODAY unsealed the findings of a survey it conducted during a National Hockey League/NHL Players Association media meet-and-greet earlier this month in Toronto, one of 35 skaters turned thumbs down to the notion of welcoming an openly gay teammate into the lair. Guy’s gotta be a gay-hater, right?

“I’m disappointed by the one player,” said Burke, now Grand Poobah of all things Calgary Flames.

Well, sure he’s disappointed. Burke, after all, is among the founding fathers of the You Can Play Project, one of the leading entities in the crusade for inclusiveness in sports, professional and amateur. And already I have heard yelps of “Name him and shame him!” from the rabble. But let there be no witch hunt here. No McCarthyism, whereby we feret out the scoundrel who clings tightly to the notion that gay is wrong, gay is weak, gay is the devil’s own handiwork.

Let’s face it, this is life, which never has been, nor shall it ever be, one-size-fits-all. The crouching tiger of bigotry/racism/misogyny is always at the door.

P.K. Subban, for example, is to be admired universally and unanimously for his commitment to funnel $10 million to charity over the next seven years, yet I harbor no doubt that there are those walking among us who see not the Montreal Canadiens defenceman’s generosity but, rather, only the hue of his skin. To them, he’s just an uppity black man who shouldn’t be making that kind of money.

So finding one rogue hockey player in a group of 35? Not at all alarming.

Seriously, if you were to ask 35 anonymous NHL players if they believe women are nothing more than sex objects to be used for their pleasure, you’re apt to find at least one thick enough to give you an enthusiastic “Hell ya!”

Same thing with Europeans. Still. I mean, xenophobia ran rampant during the 1970s, first when those dreaded Ivans and Igors from Mother Russia tried to steal our game during the ’72 Summit Series, then when a tidal wave of Europeans washed ashore to take jobs from good Canadian boys mid-decade. I would venture to submit that there are still those who would prefer not to sit beside a Russian in the changing room. Some might not be too fond of Swedes. But the xenophobe ranks, I would suggest, have thinned considerably over time.

Ditto the homophobes. I doubt very much that USA TODAY would have received a whopping 97.1 per cent approval rate on its gay question 30-40 years ago. Oh, hell, they probably wouldn’t have gotten it 10 years ago.

So, this is a good-news story, and the fact that at least one player confesses to discomfort with a gay teammate is also positive, in a bass-ackwards way. If, for example, there had been 35-of-35 unanimity, the fallout would have been not only sharp cynicism but flat-out disbelief. Like, tell me Don Cherry is defecting to Moscow and I might buy it. But 100 per cent of NHL players being okay with a gay teammate? Sorry, no sale. That reeks of galloping political correctness.

As it is, we have been given a subtle reminder that educating is yet to be done, and the question now becomes: Is this survey, with its small sample size, enough to convince a gay player to come out?

If nothing else, it is encouraging and I, for one, don’t need to know the identity of the solitary homophobe who took part in the USA TODAY survey. I just assume he plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs, because they always disappoint.

Coal or Goal: The naughty and nice get their gifts from Hockey Santa

happy ho, ho, ho

Okay, Hockey Santa, time to do your thing. You know the drill. Make your list, check it twice, tell us who’s been naughty, nice and flat-out nasty this year on Planet Puckhead.

What will it be, one lump of coal or two in those Christmas stockings?

COAL: A whole bin of the black stuff to Jonas Siegel for his Phil Kessel hissy-fit. Siegel, a gab guy with TSN 1050 in the Republic of Tranna, sought some pearls of wisdom after Kessel and his Toronto Maple Leaf mates had conspired to drop a 6-2 decision to the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Kessel, not one of hockey’s great orators, told Siegel to “Get away from me.” What ensued was a hissy-fit of epic loft, with Siegel promising to rat out the moody Maple Leaf the next time he acts like a jerk. And the next time and the next time and the next time after that. Oh, boo freaking who.

GOAL: Drew Doughty was Canada’s best performer in their gold-medal crusade at the Winter Olympics in the Republic of Vlad the Bad Putin. He was the Los Angeles Kings‘ best performer during their successful romp to another Stanley Cup. He was the best player in the world on the two largest shinny stages.

COAL: I wonder if Don Cherry would like some cheese with his whine. I mean, okay, the tall foreheads at Rogers Media have given the star of Curmudgeon’s Corner less time to skewer Russian and Swedish hockey players, but his weekly “I’ve gotta hurry! I’ve gotta hurry! Why do I gotta hurry?” mantra on Hockey Night in Canada is lame.

GOAL: Paul Maurice. Can you say silk purse out of a sow’s ear, kids? The Winnipeg Jetshead coach has turned tap water into Molson Canadian. In the end, it might prove to be just so much smoke and mirrors, but when you skate into the Toddlin’ Town and break open a big, ol’ 5-1 can of whup ass on the Blackhawks, it isn’t hockey hocus pocus. It’s legit.

COAL: James Neal became the first National Hockey League player to be fined for diving. Which means he’s a repeat offender. C’mon, man! This is what you want to be remembered for? Swan Lake?

GOAL: Canada’s 3-2 overtime victory over Uncle Sam’s girls at the Vlad the Bad Olympics was the signature hockey moment of those Winter Games. I know, I know, the Canadian men played flawless hockey in their gold-medal final, but our girls’ win dripped with drama. Down 0-2 less than 3 1/2 minutes from time, Marie-Philip Poulin pulled them even in the final minute then won it just over eight minutes into extra time. It was breathtaking.

COAL: Slava Voynov was suspended by the NHL for domestic violence. Men don’t hit women, you cad.

GOAL: To NHL commish Gary Bettman, for telling Voynov to get lost.

COAL: QMI Agency led us to believe that Sidney Crosby had been a guest of gendarmes in our nation’s capital. Oh, yes. The Ottawa Sun ran a story saying the Pittsburgh Penguins captain had been hauled off to the hoosegow for finger printing and mug shots based on a driving-related violation in early September. Bad scoop. Sid the Kid was in Vail, Colo. QMI dropped the story and said it “regrets the error.” But not before reporting that Crosby had hired Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka as legal counsel.

GOAL: Claude Giroux did, in fact, spend a night in an Ottawa jail. For being a serial groper. The object of his affection was a male cop’s butt. Reports indicated thePhiladelphia Flyers captain put the grab on said cop’s caboose not once, not twice, but thrice on Canada Day. Holy fireworks, Batman! It was also reported (probably by QMI) that alcohol might have been involved. Ya think? When freed on his own recognicance, Giroux advised us that “Stuff like that is going to happen in the world.” But only when alcohol might be involved.

COAL: Speaking of crimes, Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff signed Chris Thorburn to a three-year contract, at $1.2 million per. That’s an awful lot of coin for a fourth-line winger who gets about 30 seconds in ice time per night. Apparently, the Winnipeg Jets GM likes what Thorbs contributes in the dressing room. We are left to speculate what he does in the dressing room to earn his $1.2 million.

GOAL: Jean Beliveau left a legacy of class, grace and elegance seldom seen in professional sports. He was at once royalty and common man. You might have hated lesCanadiens, but everybody genuflected in the direction of les Gros Bill, their legendary captain.

COAL: The Next One, Connor McDavid, broke a bone in his hand while attempting to bounce his bare knuckles off an opponent’s noggin. Keep the mitts on, kid. We want to watch you play hockey, not fight.

GOAL: Shannon Szabados, our gold-medal girl goalie, racked up a big W for the Columbus Cottonmouths in November, becoming the first female to post a win in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

COAL: Jack Johnson’s parents drove the Columbus Blue Jackets blueliner into bankruptcy. Not sure he’ll be inviting mom and pop over for Christmas turkey.

GOAL: Bob McKenzie is good. Very good. I can’t imagine TSN’s hockey coverage without him.

COAL: Sam Bennett failed to perform a single pull-up at the pre-draft scouting combine last summer. C’mon, man. I know 64-year-old grandmothers who can do at least one pull-up. Actually, I’m one of those 64-year-old grandmothers. Turns out theCalgary Flames were unconcerned that Bennett is incapable of pulling up his flimsy frame, though. They drafted him fourth overall, instead of a grandmother like me.

GOAL: Tip your hat to Bryan Little. The Jets front-line centre scored three times in a 6-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, ending an epic drought for the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise. It had been 287 games and almost four full years between hat tricks for someone named Eric Boulton and Little, one of the NHL’s truly underrated performers.

COAL: Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock. Just because.

GOAL: The Habs retired Guy Lapoint’s jersey No. 5, putting him up in the rafters with his blueline bros Serge Savard and Larry Robinson. Nice touch.

COAL: Milan Lucic, also known as Darth Bruin, threatened to “kill” Dale Weise of the Montreal Canadiens when the two met in the handshake line following their playoff series last spring. When last seen, Weise was still very much alive, but that probably won’t prevent QMI Agency from reporting a Habs homicide if there’s a really slow news day during the Christmas break.

GOAL: Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames is proving there’s plenty or room for small men in a big man’s game.

COAL: Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and every other member of the good, ol’ boys club who have ruined the once-proud Edmonton Oilers. Seriously. How many No. 1 overall draft choices does it take to finish higher than 29th or 30th in a 30-team league? How many top-10 picks? If these guys were in charge of Microsoft, we’d all still be using typewriters and sending our mail by pigeon or Pony Express.

GOAL: Buffalo Sabres young gun Zemgus Girgensons, the NHL’s 74th-leading goal scorer and 135th point collector, tops fan balloting for next month’s all-star game with 1,291,186 votes. Who knew that many people in Latvia and Buffalo had access to the Internet?

COAL: Media types who get all huffy and puffy whenever a fan hurls a team sweater (hello, Maple Leafs) on to the ice. Okay, I agree, tossing anything to the ice is hazardous. But why is this considered to be a particularly bad-mannered method of expressing displeasure? Why does the media care? It’s a protest. That’s what people do when they are displeased. They protest.

GOAL AND COAL: Dustin Byfuglien was a bust at forward for the Winnipeg Jets, but now that he’s been moved back to the blueline he’s doing boffo business. What does this tell me? It tells me he was dogging it as a winger. That he was pouting.

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