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Bruce Dowbiggin

How Kevin Bieksa Taught HNIC To Laugh At Itself

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Like Ozymandias lying stolidly in the windswept desert for centuries, Hockey Night In Canada has endured. Okay, maybe not that long. But it seems like the format, the tone, the zeitgeist of the program has been locked in for as long as memory serves.

That tone was serious, sombre, even a touch grim. As the technology of the show soared and danced, the editorial drift was rooted on the spot. Levity? Humour? Irony? Nope. In part, this was due to the lengthy reign of Don Cherry and Ron Maclean over the editorial. It was Grandpa Simpson’s fierce-old-man-cursing-clouds leavened with a highly-sentimental-pensioner.

If there were any levity it escaped our attention. But there is evidence that with Cherry gone and Maclean playing Goodbye Mr. Chips that a sea change is occurring on at least two fronts. One is the emergence of former Canuck Kevin Bieksa as the new tone-setter of the editorial. The other is the embrace of betting on the show.

Bieksa— whom Cherry always malapropped as Bieska— was a good quote for years in the dressing rooms of the Canucks and Ducks. Among the many gems that filled reporters’ notebooks was this one on the sex appeal of the Sedins: “Two good looking red heads with goatees, how can you resist?”

But as we’ve seen too often to count, locker-room wit can melt like the snow under the hot lights of TV. Yet Bieksa has been a moveable feast. His insouciance with media has become his ragging on the fellow panelists during intermissions that used to be as much fun as skating in July. (Wait, they’re doing that this year!)

In particular, Bieksa’s ongoing banter over reporter Elliotte Friedman’s garish wardrobe and hockey experience are must-watch. (Friedman gets in his own shots.) What he says is rarely as important as how he says it. Lippy, sarcastic, sardonic, disruptive.

Bieksa told Lisa Dillman of The Athletic that his inexperience might be a bonus. “I feel like I came out of the gate, raw and almost naïve to everything, but I thought that really helped me. I don’t know if that makes any sense… You don’t get sucked into the everyday lingo and what other people are doing. ”

The former Canuck is also good on the whiteboard stuff, although the panels have others who can talk shop. He talks the Cherry Code of honour without any of the accompanying blood lust. Sunday he was on point showing how the Rangers lulled Tampa’s Alex Killorn into cheating in the defensive zone, leading to a New York goal.

There’s no going back since Bieksa joined the crew in 2020. The younger iteration of the crew has moved it into less formal territory. HNIC is no longer a church, it’s a supper club.  Bieksa is now the must-watch for his hockey insight, but even more so for his “what will he say now?” quality.

The other altering change on HNIC has been its embrace of betting. As we’ve written numerous times, sports wagering is the temptation that has finally had its way with pro sports. For over a hundred years betting was the poison that haunted sports. With the integrity of the event in question, there could be no hint of tainting games.

But after all this time, repressing sports betting did not prevent the growth of the industry. The online global betting industry began encroaching on the property of the sports leagues, earning them nothing from their own product. Governments responded with ponderous betting schemes such as ProLine where bettors had to go in person to stores and outlets.

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018 allowing regulated sports betting in states, the lid was off on social media betting. In Canada, Ontario finally legalized online online betting in 2021, opening the door for co-operation between media and casinos/ online sites.

And so betting has come to HNIC. To say that traditionalists hate the segments on the show is understating it. Former HNIC host Dave Hodge summed up the disdain: “Tonight from Edmonton, “that” HNIC “intermission feature” will remind us that every Canadian kid should dream of placing a winning bet on a Stanley Cup playoff game.” Ouch.

Editorial Note: We have long been advocating for the integration of legalized betting with sports broadcasts. Lord knows we could do with fewer vapid interviews and more content that affects the viewer. In time, betting will fill that gap.

But for now, the broadcasters haven’t a clue how to make the content interesting. It;’s like the old beer ads where they weren’t allowed to show a bottle or people drinking. Somewhere between glassy-eyed analytics nerds and flashy Nathan Detroit characters lies a formula for acknowledging the reality of betting and making it palatable. Maybe even fun.

The current attempts are closer to community cable than network TV. It may take a breakthrough star to show HNIC and other sports broadcasts the future of their marriage to the betting industry.

To those who say it encourages the addictive lure of betting— yes, it does. But HNIC and other sports broadcasters have been flogging alcohol for decades. And not many things are more addictive than alcohol. Betting isn’t going away. It remains for the networks to find a palatable format that reflects that reality.

 

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

Are We Ready For A Russian To Become NHL’s Top Goal Scorer?

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With the grinding war in Ukraine showing no signs of ceasing and Biden-led sanctions doing nothing tangible to deter Vladimir Putin, Russia’s image in the West has rarely been this low. So now might be a good time to ask if the NHL is prepared for a Russian to become the greatest goal scorer in league history.

As the league prepares for its annual draft on Thursday/ Friday, the top pick in the 2004 Draft is showing every sign that he will pass the game’s greatest Canadians in goal scoring. Going into 2022-23, the 36-year-old Capitals star is just 21 goals behind the immortal Gordie Howe in second place and 114 back of Wayne Gretzky, the Prometheus of NHL scoring.

  1. Wayne Gretzky. 894

2. Gordie Howe 801

3. Alex Ovechkin 780

Given good health Ovechkin will surpass Howe next season and probably leave Gretzky in his wake in four seasons. Even in a time of peace it will be interesting to see the public reaction in Canada and the U.S. to Ovechkin’s passing No. 99. While the No.1 pick in 2005, Sidney Crosby, has had a squeaky clean image, The Great Eight has been a little salty for some folks.

He plays a game Howe would love, dispensing devastating hits as well as brilliant goals. His gap-toothed sneer has not always endeared him to many. Nor has his proximity to Putin himself. In November 2017, Ovechkin started a movement called PutinTeam in support of Putin during the 2018 Russian presidential election .

In recent times he’s sought to have a foot in both camps. “I don’t know what’s happening out there. I know it’s a hard situation, but it is what it is. You know, I play here, and this is my second home. I don’t want to fight between two countries, because it’s going to be a mess.”

Too late on that front, Alex. Putin’s naked aggression and Biden’s desire to unseat him (he’s endorsed assassination) have put the West on the brink of a war with nuclear potential. Few can say where the conflict is headed, except that it’s highly unlikely the West will be surrendering its sons to the battlefield when NATO runs out of Ukrainians willing to die.

One thing is certain. As we point out in our book Inexact Science: the 6 Most Compelling Drafts in NHL History, Ovechkin put an end to the bias against Russians at the top of the NHL draft. While there had been Russian Hall of Fame selections in the middle to lower rounds of the draft (Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Sergei Zubov) Ovechkin’s No. 1 overall was considered a risk at the time. He changed the equation.

It began in 2004, when the Capitals selected Russian phenom Alex Ovechkin, maybe the greatest pure goal scorer the NHL has seen. A number one pick who has lived up to the billing of “generational player,” Ovechkin maybe would have been even more widely hailed as that “Next One” had he developed under the intense hockey media spotlight of Canada, or North America in general.

Never before had an international player earned the kind of accolades Ovechkin received leading up to his draft year. After all, he was only the second Russian ever to go that high on draft day. But the fact he wasn’t a Canadian kid may have tempered the headlines around “Ovie” and made some fans skeptical about his supposed wizardry. 

He wasn’t helped by how easily a stacked Team Canada had handled him and his Russians in the World Juniors of 2004 and 2005. In retrospect, “The Great 8” was actually undersold as a generational legend. But all of this made his majestic rookie season as a 20-year-old in 2005–06 more of a revelation than it would have been otherwise.

CAA agent J.P. Barry says that some resistance remains. “Even with Russian players, we’ve seen a hesitance in the past. A few teams have said to me, “Sorry, we just don’t draft Russians. End of story.” I know of several teams that did make that an internal memo. Some even said, “We can’t take a Euro in the first three rounds!” I don’t think there’s any team that could say any of that anymore, though. Way back when, however, there were these unwritten internal policies that were just silly. 

There was definitely a period there where teams didn’t want to touch Russians, because they didn’t feel that they could get them to come over. Sometimes they were teams impacted by something negative that happened in the past and let it change their course of action.”

If Ovechkin didn’t entirely smash the Russian stereotype then his countryman Evgeni Malkin, selected right behind Ovechkin in the 2004 draft, sealed the deal. (Ironically the two were rivals for a long time, only reconciling in recent years). Lifetime, Malkin has 444 goals and 702 assists in an injury-riddled career.

To the NHL’s credit, it hasn’t banned or sanctioned its Russian stars as some have done. The country’s teams are banned from international soccer and hockey tournaments and the Paralympics. Russian tennis players Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev (the top-2 ranked Russian male players) were barred from participating at Wimbledon. Many Russian artists have seen their concerts cancelled.

For now Ovechkin is walking a tight rope. He’s called for peace without mentioning Russia or Ukraine directly. In May 2022, he reiterated his support for Putin, as well as retaining the Russian president on his Instagram profile photo. Much depends on the progress of the war, and how much Canada and the U.S. are drawn into the combat.

The best advice is probably to keep his head down and his politics to himself if he wants to be celebrated for passing Howe and Gretzky.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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Bruce Dowbiggin

A Drag Prescription: Kids Party Like It’s 2022

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Back in the days before Toronto became a sensitivity chamber, people would head out to the old St. Charles Tavern on Yonge Street to see the annual Halloween drag-queen parade. As the local talent strutted, the crowd hooted, whistled and generally laughed at the circus. For the paraders the attention was bliss.

In those days trans people, cross dressers and drag queens were an exotic diversion in a city that had yet to take itself too seriously. They had no pretensions to glory. So naturally those who remember the tacky Halloween Drag Parades are probably confused to find that drag has ascended to the heights of Woke sensitivity.

Ru Paul’s Drag Race is the hippest TV attraction on mainstream TV. Drag queens have replaced clowns at children’s birthday party as the entertainment. Trans activists have turned public bowel movements into a political education seminar. Having a prominent trans figure is a sign of the highest corporate awareness.

To the chagrin of feminists, blacks, immigrants and Wanda Sykes , trans is the new holy caste in leftist politics— which is to say their protection is the solemn duty of CBC, MSNBC, The Toronto Star, corporate inclusion VPs and educators across the continent. The former allies of the Left have been left on the curb; Mom’s got a new beau.

As conservative David Reboi tweeted, “You’ve got to think that most Americans—even the shitlibs—never gave drag queens a moment of thought before recently. Now, it’s the greatest form of self-expression imaginable. Amazing how quickly it happens.”

Heaven forbid anyone ask why kindergarteners need a drag shows or the propriety of men competing against women in sports. Showing a disinterest in drag generals is a one-way ticket to Stephen Colbert’s late-night gulag. Pointing out the insanity of making 0.01 percent of the population the focal point of a turning society is a hanging offence.

The first sign that trans had matriculated to the first ring of heaven was the language used to describe their painful past. Using words like cross dressers, trannies and queens was made a banishment-level crime. New vocabulary— following the example of other grievance causes— put the discussion on wheels and steered it away from rational debate of facts. The Media Party compliantly fell int the pit. It was now about words, not deeds.

George Orwell foretold this tactic during his time fighting in the 1936-38 Spanish Civil War. “For the first time, I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building emotional superstructures over events that had never happened. I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’.”

What’s next? The current Jan. 6 show trials demonstrate cancel culture’s relentless manicuring of history to put half of society offside with power. This happened because the Left— former home of wit and humour— lost any sense of honest laughter or proportion between 2016 and 2020. Writes Matt Taibbi. “In that time they perfected an attitude of imperious condescension and entitlement so grating that at least half of America wouldn’t piss on someone like Adam Schiff if he were on fire.”

If Sykes’ sneering middle-part America doesn’t like it, tough. @ScottAdams “The Jan6th hearings are basically an updated Russia Collusion Hoax with a new topic. That’s how Democrats signal that they know they can’t compete on policy and competence. They need hoaxes to win.”

But there are signs that this has turned disastrous for the Left. The SCOTUS Dobbs v. Jackson abortion decision “was the result of decades spent building a political project so incoherent, unsellable, and untrustworthy to ordinary people that in 2016 they chose Donald Trump over the person Barack Obama called the most qualified candidate in history.

“The justices who cast the critical votes Friday were picked by a man denounced by all of institutional America prior to election. All those voices were ignored. That total collapse in trust, not Jill Stein’s candidacy or Putin’s Facebook ads, led to Dobbs v. Jackson.”

Sadly for Canadians there is no remedy for the pissy smugness of its media and opinion makers. Loathing Republicans has a long history with postmodern Canadians dating back to the Viet Nam war. This self-satisfied detachment of a kept people mirrors that which Taibbi sees in the U.S.

Canada’s traipsing PM paused from interfering yet again with the RCMP to proclaim that Canada would be an abortion clinic to any Americans who can’t find services in their own states. Trudeau preens in this way, because he thinks that, having paid off the media, he will never face reality on abortion so long as CBC tut-tuts that it’s a loser issue.

But as we wrote in December of 2017 Trudeau’s 1980s liberal conceit has been been overtaken by a more nuanced reality. “Medical innovation has shifted the issue since Canada’s pols ran like Good Sir Robin away from the fight. In today’s world, 50 to 70 percent of babies born at 24 to 25 weeks, and more than 90 percent born at 26 to 27 weeks, survive. Conditions such as Down Syndrome are no longer seen as socially acceptable reasons to terminate a pregnancy. There is a need for children for adoption.”

Polling also agrees it’s time to revisit a compromise on the issue. While a majority of Canadians favour some form of abortion, 70 percent are against unlimited abortion. 85 percent are against sex-selective abortion. “All these factors have lurked in the background as the public debate was stilled. But if Trudeau wishes to use his absolute abortion standard as a yardstick to measure funding viability he may find a public far more willing to accept limits on ending some pregnancies than it was even a decade ago.”

As Friedrich Hayek wrote, “In Germany the Nazis were able to succeed because the Socialists had already done most of their work for them, especially the intellectual work of weakening the desire for liberty. By bringing the whole of life under the control of the State, Socialism necessarily gives power to an inner ring of bureaucrats, who in almost every case will be men who want power for its own sake and will stick at nothing in order to retain it.”

So drag is now the lapdog of the bored suburban liberal female demo. If this transcendence is a little too on-the-nose to those who stood by the St. Charles, a bit provocative, a lot in-your-face… that’s the point. You’re meant to feel unsettled, insulted. It’s a design feature.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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