Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we called Victoria Day “firecracker day” when I was a sprig growing up in Winnipeg…us kids actually got to play with firecrackers and none of my friends ever lost an eye…
On the matter of lighting a fuse, it’s about the Winnipeg Jets.
While recounting the events of les Jets’ oft-turbulent run to their final World Hockey Association title on this very day 40 years ago, it occurred to me how obliging and honest the players were with their thoughts back in the day.
Kim Clackson, for example, pulled no punches when asked about the head coach, Larry Hillman.
“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” Clacker growled. “I’m tired of all the bull.”
You wouldn’t hear a guy like, say, Dustin Byfuglien go off like that on the current puppet master behind les Jets’ bench, Paul Maurice. Big Buff talks less than an Amazon parrot. On those rare occasions when the Winnipeg HC defender actually grunts something that passes for a complete sentence, it’s usually as bland as dried toast.
From what I can gather, it’s much the same with many of Buff’s accomplices in les Jets’ changing room. Listening to them preach the party line is like a day at the laundromat—all wishy-washy.
They don’t talk. They recite. Play the right way, move our feet, play a 200-foot game, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.
It’s all cookie-cutter quotes from young guys schooled in the art of moving their lips while saying squat, and I’ve often wondered why news snoops even bother collecting the artificial bon mots the players deliver pre- and post-game, not to mention during down time.
Mind you, the players are mostly muzzled by an organization that believes the daily weather forecast should be kept top secret, and they follow the lead of a general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who’s a practitioner of bafflegab. Ask Chevy for the time of day and he’ll explain the Julian and Gregorian calendars to you, but you still won’t know if it’s half past noon or half past happy hour.
Be advised that news snoops don’t get lousy quotes because they ask lousy question, so let’s reject that notion. They get lousy quotes because they get lousy, limited and rush-rush access to guys who a) would rather be sitting in a dentist’s chair, and b) usually have a PR flack hovering nearby to censor or cut short any interview that travels to close to the truth.
We had no such restrictions.
First of all, we traveled with the team. That is correct. The WHA Jets didn’t fly charter. The players mingled with the rabble on commercial flights, with assistant coach Sudsy Sutherland distributing the boarding passes, and that meant they sometimes were required to sit beside one of us news snoops, meaning myself, Friar Nicolson or Reyn Davis. As I recall, the players regarded that as cruel and unusual treatment, and I often suspected Sudsy of using his boarding-pass powers as punishment.
But, ya, we were part of the traveling party, and practical joker Willy Lindstrom would prank us with his stink bombs and sneezing powder as often as he would a teammate.
We also rode the team bus to and from the airport, to and from the rink. I normally sat in either of the front two seats, right side, across the aisle from Hillman, his successor Tom McVie, John Ferguson and Sudsy. There was an unwritten code: What happens on the bus stays on the bus.
It sometimes became frosty, depending on what Reyn or I had written that day or what Friar had said on air the night before, and we would be blunt in our critiques of the team.
Some examples of my scribblings…
“Jets return from their week-long road trip this afternoon, and if they travel the same way they play hockey, they’ll all come home on different planes.”
“There are too many passengers on this team and the list gets longer every day. There are players more interested in getting an aisle seat on an airplane than digging a puck out of a corner.”
“Winnipeg management doesn’t like to hear references to Houston, but the players who came from the Aeros are the blood and guts of this team and the Winnipeg holdovers are living off them.”
You think any players wanted to sit beside me on the bus or flight home after reading that?
In general terms, however, it was an agreeable arrangement, in part because I like to think that Friar, Reyn and myself recognized we were in the players’ space, so we didn’t tell tales out of school.
In terms of dealing with the players post-game, post-practice, again, we had open access. I don’t recall any player hiding in the showers. And we weren’t required to go through a PR flack to get an audience. We just sat down beside them in the changing room.
By way of comparison, if you want any insight into today’s players you don’t go to the dressing room or grovel to a PR guy—you log in on Twitter, Instagram or another social media platform.
I still recall the first time I stepped inside les Jets’ lair. It was the season of 1977-78, and Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Bobby Hull, both with towels wrapped around their mid-sections, stood nearby. This was their conversation as they sized me up:
Sjoberg: “It looks like we’ve got a new reporter with the team.”
Hull: “Just another asshole to try and stir up shit.”
Nice to meet you, too, Bobby.
I’ve made this confession once or twice, but I’ll repeat it again:You aren’t supposed to cheer in the press box, but I was silently root, root, rooting for the 1978-79 Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a real good bunch of guys, and I was partial to the players who’d come over from Houston. If a news snoop tells you he/she doesn’t have favorites, trust me, he/she is lying.
Yes, it was 40 years ago this very day when les Jets won the Avco World Trophy to bring the curtain down on the WHA. And it’s been almost 30 years since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brought the Grey Cup home. Thank goodness for our curlers, the Goldeyes, our university athletes and other amateurs who’ve delivered the goods.
Good grief. Did Matthew Scianitti and Marshall Ferguson of TSN actually spend a portion of their first chin-wag from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats training camp talking about Johnny Manziel? As sure as the great Ticat Garney Henley played two ways, they did. “How good does Jeremiah Masoli’s body language look now that we are a year removed, thankfully, from the Johnny Manziel saga?” Scianitti asked Ferguson. Sigh. Will the TSN talking heads ever get past Johnny Rotten? Apparently not.
If the Ottawa Senators can do something stupid, bet on them doing it. And hiring Patrick Roy as head coach would qualify as stupid.
I don’t know which I’ve seen more often, Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater in the NBA playoffs or Vlad the Gifted’s first two dingers with the Tranna Blue Jays. Either way, TSN and Sportsnet can stop showing those replays any time now.
Fashion note: Apparently Brooks Koepka isn’t going to let success go to his clothes. I mean, that NIKE cap that Koepka wore while successfully defending his PGA Championship on Sunday looks like something he picked up in a thrift shop. We’re talking butt ugly.
And, finally, this is what passes for scandal in golf these days: A chain-smoking John Daly rides a cart instead of walking, Brooks Koepka refuses to kiss his lingerie model girlfriend Jena Sims (twice), and Jordan Spieth zips his lips when the Associated Press comes calling for an interview. Whatever happened to the good old days when it wasn’t a scandal until it involved sex, drugs and a club-wielding bride (hello, Tiger Woods)?
Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.
It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.
Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.
“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”
I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.
So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)
The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.
To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.
This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.
The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.
“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”
“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.
There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.
Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.
“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”
It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.
“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”
Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.
“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”
“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”
Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.
“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”
That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.
Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.
The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.
It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.
It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.
It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.
It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.
Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.
It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.
“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).
“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”
Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.
“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”
Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.
“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”
Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”
There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.
Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.
Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.
“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”
Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.
“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”
It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.
More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.
I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.
“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”
I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.
“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”
There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.
By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.
He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.
“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”
Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.
Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.
We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”
Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.
Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.
On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”
Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”
After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”
More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.
The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.
Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.
“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”
It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.
Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.
The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.
“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”
“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”
“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.
Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.
This was a WHA title that almost never happened.
The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.
There was a money dispute, you see.
The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.
So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?
“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”
The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.
“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”
The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.
As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.
Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.
Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.
“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”
Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”
Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.
“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”
That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.
Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.
If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.
“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”
After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.
Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.
“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”
I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.
Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.
They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.
“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”
No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.
“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”
Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:
Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.
The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.
Fergy hired Tom McVie.
The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.
The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.
Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and we’ll have fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-Bird away…
Contrary to popular belief, if you look up the word ‘fun’ in the dictionary, you won’t find a team photo of the Carolina Hurricanes.
No, the Bunch of Jerks and their “front-running fans” didn’t invent merriment and crazy hijinks, but we’re led to believe that they’ve cornered the market on mirth, what with their Storm Surge and their admirable, albeit stalled, push in the current Stanley Cup tournament.
I mean, consider these headlines I stumbled upon during a Google surf on the weekend:
The Guardian: “How the Carolina Hurricanes hit back on the NHL’s war on fun.”
YouTube: “Carolina Hurricanes/The Importance of Fun.”
Boston Globe: “Are Carolina Hurricanes jerks or just having fun?”
I imagine the Boston Bruins (especially), the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks are also having themselves a royal hoot since they, along with the Hurricanes, remain standing in the National Hockey League spring runoff. It’s just that, unlike the Bunch of Jerks, none of those outfits spent the entire winter playing post-match parlor games like Duck, Duck Goose, so we don’t really know for certain that they’re having fun.
More to the point, would they even know how to be good time Charlies?
Fun, after all, is not historically an NHL thing. Except, of course, when the Washington Capitals win the Stanley Cup and Alexander Ovechkin goes swimming in a public fountain. But even Ovie and the Caps stopped short of playing Duck, Duck Goose in the fountain, perhaps owing to the fact they were too tipsy with gusts up to flat-out legless
At any rate, the NHL has never been known as a knee-slapping, belly-laughs enterprise, something an opinionist at The Guardian felt obliged to emphasize in an ode to Carolina Cornball:
“The NHL can’t really take a joke. Which is maybe all the more reason to laugh at it sometimes, like a bunch of jerks.”
Certainly the Hurricanes’ marketing department is having fun, also generating scads of American greenbacks with its Bunch of Jerks and Bunch of Front Running Jerks t-shirts. It’s a merchandising windfall and, yes, now that you mention it, Donald S. Cherry likely deserves royalties on sales, since it was the Hockey Night in Canada curmudgeon who inserted the phrase(s) into the hockey lexicon.
Here’s the thing, though: Sixteen outfits qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament. Fifteen of them did not play post-match parlor games during the regular season. We are now down to the NHL final four, and even the Hurricanes long ago abandoned the Storm Surge and its accompanying shenanigans.
So are we still having fun?
Perhaps the Canes will re-introduce Carolina Cornball now that they’re down 2-nada and heading home for the next two skirmishes in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final vs. the Bruins. Whatever works, right?
I doubt they’ll resort to parlor games, though, because there’s a time and place for everything and Ring Around the Rosie won’t help them out of their hole. Mind you, they could try Pin the Tail On the Donkey—seeing someone stick it to Brad Marchand is always fun.
This whole Hurricanes-and-fun thing has inspired considerable pro-and-con dialogue, and my favorite line was delivered by the Charlotte Observer editorial board. Noting that it was Cherry who fanned the flames by describing the Canes as a “bunch of jerks” and Carolina fans as “front runners,” the Observer wrote: “Front-runners, if you haven’t figured it out, is Canadian for bandwagon fans. Don Cherry is Canadian for ‘get off my lawn.’” That, kids, is a classic burn. Also true.
Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab dipped his pen into the Carolina Cornball discussion, offering this: “At their practice Monday in Raleigh, players gathered at centre ice in a big circle and took turns sharing their weekend activities, which included a couple of well-deserved days away from the rink. From Storm Surges, the team’s cheeky Twitter account and merchandise, it’s obvious they’ve got a good thing going on, which is translating to their spirited play on the ice, and in a copycat league, perhaps the (Winnipeg) Jets might want to try and emulate some of the good vibes going forward. Maybe they can start by sitting everyone in the circle at the start of training camp and talking about how they spent their off-season.” Oh, for sure. And maybe they can bring snacks, too. Blake Wheeler is in charge of the crab cakes, Rink Rat Scheifele the nutribars, Jacob Trouba the beef stew, Big Buff the catfish, and Twig Ehlers the Danish for dessert. Sorry, but if there was anything to Carolina Cornball, all 31 NHL clubs would be playing Pictionary and Parcheesi between periods.
Nice to see Paul Friesenand Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun do some day tripping down memory lane, revisiting the last of les Jets World Hockey Association glory days. Paul had a chin-wag with funnyman coach Tom McVie, while Ted checked in with lickety-split left winger Morris Lukowich, and it’s all good stuff. Next Monday marks the 40th anniversary of Winnipeg HC’s third and final WHA championship run, and I’m glad the two Sun boys are reminding youngsters in the audience that there was a time when victory parades were routine in Good Ol’ Hometown.
Yes, now that you ask, I think it’s boffothat Chris Matthews is back where it all started for him in the Canadian Football League, which is to say as part of the pass-catching ensemble with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. I just wish I could be confident he’ll have a league to play in for his second go-round in blue-and-gold.
Apparently, negotiations between the CFL and the CFL Players Association has been reduced to an exchange of notes on cocktail napkins. That’s not to say the two sides aren’t working in good faith on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but with training exercises due to begin in less than a week it’s awful close to last call. And I’m getting a tad antsy.
On the subject of work stoppages, next time you hear someone say women who play pro shinny “deserve” a living wage, remind them that the average head count across the National Women’s Hockey League last season was 954. Sorry, but no one— expect perhaps founder/commish Dani Rylan and her second in command, Hayley Moore—makes a living wage based on those numbers.
It’s important to note that the 200 women who say they won’t be playing hockey next winter have limited their boycott to North America. There’s nothing to stop some of them from suiting up with an outfit in either Finland’s Naisten Liiga or the SDHL in Sweden. Trouble is, no one watches distaff shinny on that side of the pond, either, so they still wouldn’t be earning a living wage.
So, John Daly has been given the okie-dokie to ride a cart in the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island this week. Hmmm. I thought every golf course in America already had a beer cart.
Russian dictator Vlad the Bad Putin scored eight goals in an exhibition hockey match last week. Not to be outdone, Donald Trump claims to have scored eight holes-in-one on the weekend and has already declared himself winner of the PGA Championship. A victory lap in John Daly’s beer cart is scheduled for the White House rose garden next week.
Trump’s paid Pinocchio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hopes to be remembered as “transparent and honest” once she’s no longer telling lies for the president. Ya, and I hope to be remembered as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.
Is it game, set and match for the Big Three in men’s tennis? Might be that it’s been reduced to the Big One, Novak Djokovic. The Joker laid claim to the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and he won the Madrid Open on Sunday, beating upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. But the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, hasn’t won on his favorite surface this year and Roger Federer couldn’t get past the quarterfinals in Madrid. Still, I’ll reserve judgment until Rafa is beaten at Roland Garros and Roger falls on Centre Court Wimbledon.
Interesting take on baseball by Mad Mike McIntyre. He reckons the rounders game is losing traction among the rabble because sitting through three hours of sputtering action is “asking a lot of spectators to endure, especially when you factor in time to travel to and from the stadium.” (I’m not convinced travel time to the ball park is greater than to any other sports venue, so that’s a silly comment.) Mad Mike cites statistics from the Wall Street Journal to support his theory, but does a ball game actually take longer to complete than other sports? Nope. It’s middle of the pack. Here are some event times:
And, finally, the dreaded Grip Reaper has come to collect another old friend and colleague, Marten Falcon. A good man, Marten and I started in the rag trade together, working as copy runners at the Winnipeg Tribune, and he spent his newspaper career as one of those necessary behind-the-scenes people who put the sheet together at both the Trib and Sun. Lost contact with Marten after I left the tabloid, and that’s going on 20 years, but I won’t forget him.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Mom’s Day to all the moms…
Read the following quotes, kids, then name the high-profile Boston athlete they target:
“(He) removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man.”
“No grown man in full possession of his faculties would make the vile gestures that he made on one occasion.”
Gotta be that rotten, little scoundrel Bad Brad Marchand, right?
Wrong. Try Boston Red Sox legendary hitter-of-baseballs Ted Williams, who harbored an extreme dislike for most people holding a pen and notepad and more than once spat at the hometown fans, calling them “buffoons.”
So I suppose we can say Marchand is in lofty company.
Bad Brad was at his petulant worst last week, and I’m not sure which sent up a greater plume of outrage, him licking an opponent’s face in spring 2018 or him having sport with news snoops in the current Stanley Cup runoff.
Either way, if Bad Brad didn’t have a tongue, opinionists would be lost for words.
Think about it.
A year ago this month, the Boston Bruins’ adolescent-like forward used an opponent’s face for a lollipop, and what ensued was an outpouring of scorn the likes of which is normally reserved for those on the sex offender registry. More latterly, this cringe-worthy fellow again has been the target of a verbal tomato tossing, this time for biting the very tongue he used to lick foes.
If you missed it, here’s how the most-recent tempest took grip:
Kyle Bukauskas of Sportsnet engaged Marchand in a rinkside natter scant moments before Game 6 of the Boston-Columbus Blue Jackets playoff skirmish last week. Asked a cheeky question about the sharpness of his skates, an offended Bad Brad dashed away.
Once the Bs had taken their measure of the Jackets, winning 3-nada, Bukauskas and Bad Brad again were rinkside. Three questions were delivered…three one- or two-word answers were provided.
Once inside the Bruins changing room, a media mob surrounded Marchand, offering 19 questions for his consideration. He countered with 19 answers—total word count 39.
“It’s almost like he’s making fun of us,” gasped an aggrieved Elliotte Friedman.
Imagine that. Marchand had the bad manners to take a poke at news snoops. Oh, the humanity!
“He goes into the scrum and it goes from being ticked off to actually getting enjoyment out of it, like it was a game to him or it was for his own amusement. That’s where it got really stupid and goofy,” offered Nick Kypreos.
Imagine that. A former National Hockey League meathead—who puts bread on his table by saying really stupid and goofy things—thinks someone else is being stupid and goofy.
“He’s just so immature and, you know, he’s not that clever. He’s gonna be 31 in a month. At what age do you sort of grow up a little bit?” chimed in Kelly Hrudey.
Imagine that. Three talking heads, three pairs of knickers in a twist.
The hand-wringing wasn’t restricted to the Sportsnet panel, though. Many others weighed in. Examples:
Darren Dreger, TSN: “This was him sucking his thumb over something. Disrespectful.”
Steve Whyno, Associated Press: “Just plain rude.”
Stu Cowan, Postmedia Montreal: “Marchand went into full-jerk mode.”
All that because Bad Brad was frugal with his words. Boo flipping hoo.
Look, I agree, Marchand is a rat. He’s not the original rat, understand, because both Bugsy Watson and Ken Linseman beat him to it. Bad Brad has, however, surely cranked it up a notch on the creep-o-metre with his rather unconventional methods.
But here’s the deal, kids: No athlete, Brad Marchand included, owes news snoops quality sound bites. Nor are they governed by a word count.
You know what I’d do if I were Marchand? Next time they come looking for bon mots, I’d talk to them in tongues.
While listening to the fallout of this latest L’affaire Marchand, a couple of things occurred to me: 1) It truly exposed news snoops’ egg-shell egos; 2) where was this great hue and cry when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to “fuck off” in a post-match scrum? I also wondered if Wheeler received a tsk-tsking or a pat on the back from les Jets ownership/management.
It was F-bombs away in the wide, wide world of sports last week. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp launched the lewd language on live U.S. TV, then Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr parroted Klopp and, finally, Tranna Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo provided the backup vocals in the key of F. Of the three, Klopp’s WTF moment on the heels of Liverpool’s 4-nada win over Barcelona in Champions League play was my favorite:
Klopp: “You can look at this game in different ways. You can look at it as a manager and say, ‘Okay, we could have done this or that better,’ or you can look at it as a fan and say, ‘What the fuck was that?’”
Interviewer: “We apologize for the language there.”
Klopp: “I thought in America it’s okay.”
Here’s a boffo idea: Let’s say we name the shinny freeze at the St. James Civic Centre Complex in honor of Ab McDonald, first to wear the ‘C’ with les Jets. Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame president Don Kuryk, Teddy Foreman and city councillor Scott Gillingham are leading the push to do that very thing, and if old friend Teddy F. is behind it I say the mucky-mucks who make those decisions ought to be on board as well. Ab was a salt-of-the-earth guy, and the Ab McDonald Memorial Arena sounds spot-on.
Not spot-on is Matt Dunigan. In terms of quality quarterbacking in Canadian Football League history, the former gunslinger and present-day TSN gab guy insists that now-retired Toronto Argonauts QB Ricky Ray belongs “at the top” of the all-time greatest list. Matty knows quarterbacks, but I’m afraid he’s off the mark. You start with Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, then fit Ray in somewhere after that. And, just for the record, I’ve been watching CFL QBs since Jim Van Pelt and Ken Ploen were playing catch with Ernie Pitts and Farrell Funston. In other words, before Dunigan ran a bootleg out of his mama’s womb.
This is rich. Columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun harrumphs in a tweet: “A Hall of Famer like Ricky Ray shouldn’t be announcing his retirement on a conference call. He deserves to go out with more pageantry for all he’s accomplished and meant to people.” So where did Simmons’ own paper play the Ray retirement story? They buried it on Pages 18-19 of the sports section, behind everything but the cricket scores and monster truck standings. Pot, meet kettle.
Apparently, Simmons possesses a very rare skill: He can type, wave pom-poms, and grovel at the same time. We know this because Simmons has penned this “heartfelt” fan boy letter to Kawhi Leonard, begging him to lock in longterm with the Toronto Raptors: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.” Oh my. Yo! Steve-o! Is there a Kawhi poster on your bedroom wall? You wear Raptors jammies to bed? I mean, I can’t recall ever reading such insipid, fan-boy tripe from a lead columnist at a major daily.
The Ice Garden website tells us there’s good news for women’s hockey: Online interest in distaff shinny has never been higher. Alas, there’s also bad news: It seems people just like looking at train wrecks. That is to say, folks and mainstream media are paying attention only due to the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a proposed boycott of the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League season. If not for the product going completely off the rails, interest would still be meh with gusts up to completely ignored.
Here’s a woman Sports Illustrated couldn’t ignore—Megan Rapinoe, longtime member of the U.S. National women’s soccer side. You can debate the merits of the SI Swimsuit Edition all you like, but Megan’s inclusion in this year’s scantily clad issue is a landmark moment for the LGBT collective. She’s the first out lesbian to be featured, so I guess we can say gay female athletes finally have some skin in the game.
On the subject of busting down barriers, bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Brittney Langlais, the first female to play with the boys in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League. The MJBL has been around for 43 years, so you know that Brittney is some kind of special lady, and Jason Bell has the skinny on the Interlake Blue Jays hurler in the Drab Slab.
If you’re looking to put some giddyup in your life, you can’t go wrong with Assiniboia Downs. The ponies start running on the western flank of River City this very day, and it brings back memories of some very enjoyable summer afternoons and evenings thanks to people like Sharon Gulyas and Darren Dunn. Both Sharon and Darren are Downs lifers—she started in 1978, him in ’82—and it’s nice to know they’re still around to make a day at the racetrack a pleasant experience.
And, finally, I saw a promo for The X-Files the other day, and it occurred to me that after all these years I still don’t know which one is Scully and which one is Mulder.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, yes, it’s still morning where I live…
Okay, here’s what I want to know: What did Josh Morrissey do to tick off anyone? Hike gas prices? Steal nickels and dimes from panhandlers in Osborne Village? Say women’s hockey sucks?
Whatever the misdeed, there are folks who want young Josh on the next stagecoach out of Dodge.
And, for me, that’s what jumped out as I scanned the results of the Winnipeg Sun You Be the Boss survey, in which the rabble were invited to play Puck Pontiff and suggest who among the Winnipeg Jets should stay or go.
The rest of it, I get.
The faithful, for example, have seen and heard enough of Jacob Trouba. Ditto Charlie Huddy. Well duh. Those two are to Jets loyalists what Trudeau II is to Saudi Alberta, and it doesn’t matter that Trouba just completed the most-productive crusade of his National Hockey League career.
Fact is, the young defender once requested a one-way ticket out of town and, when asked, Trouba refuses to express warm and fuzzy feelings for River City, a dismissive attitude that never plays well in a burg that leads the league in inferiority complex (ask old friend Evander Kane about that).
Huddy, meanwhile, holds the defence coaching portfolio and, since les Jets so often come across as Keystone Kopish behind the blueline, he takes the rap. Mind you, some longtime devotees never have warmed to Huddy simply because they can’t get past his alliance with the 1980s Edmonton Gretzkys. If you’re too young to recall those dark days, be advised that the Gretzkys made annual spring sport of les Jets, bullying them as if part of a college hazing ritual.
No surprise, therefore, that 78 per cent of 4,598 respondents want Trouba kicked to the curb, while 51 per cent would prefer that Huddy clear out his desk. (Note: He’s the only member of head coach Paul Maurice’s staff they want removed.)
But this Morrissey thing baffles me. The guy is boy-next-door likable. I bet he shoveled the neighbor’s sidewalk as a kid. Gratis. Likely mowed the lawn, too. You could create a sitcom based on him: Everybody Loves Josh. Except everyone doesn’t.
The question was simple: Should he stay or should he go? A whopping 98 per cent say Trouba’s top-pair defence partner is a keeper. Works for me. So who is the 2 per cent? And how did Morrissey possibly rub those 92 people the wrong way?
The survey results don’t provide those kind of answers, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff aren’t among the 92, Morrissey isn’t going anywhere.
Noteworthy was the Kyle Connor-Patrik Laine finding. That is, given a choice of one or the other restricted free agent, the rabble would prefer to keep Connor by a 61-31 percentage. That’s not surprising. It’s all about expectations, of course, and Puck Finn’s are sky high. Connor’s not so much. He scores 34 goals and the hosannahs ring out from hither and yon. Puck Finn, meanwhile, scores 30 and the sky is falling. It doesn’t help, mind you, that Laine basically dogged it for 2-3 months during the recently concluded crusade.
Also noteworthy is the number of respondents to the Sun survey. The 4,598 is dwarfed by a similar You Be the Boss study undertaken by its sister paper in Edmonton, where 9,250 angry Oilers fans had their say. That could mean a few things: a) the folks in E-Town are more PO’d that the rabble in River City; b) the E-Sun circulation is considerably larger than the W-Sun; c) they care more in E-Town; d) Winnipeggers have better things to do than fill out survey forms once the grass is riz.
Well, another newspaper editorial board is telling the 32 NHL owners how to spend their money. This time it’s the Toronto Star, where the Lords and Ladies of One Yonge Street have weighed in on the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a player boycott: “The players who built the league—and kept it afloat with plenty of their own money, earned through the second jobs they all had to have, just to play professional women’s hockey in this country—deserve so much better than this. A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path. It really is time for a $5-billion enterprise that claims “Hockey is for Everyone” to do something to make that sound a little less hollow for half the population.” Hmmm. I hardly think a private business that laid off 52 employees in summer 2018 and another 21 in June of last year is positioned to lecture another private business. And if the Star is so keen on resurrecting the CWHL, perhaps it can pony up $100,000 to put the Tranna Furies back in business.
Too much is being made of women’s hockey players needing to hold down second jobs to pay the bills. That’s as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock strap, and it’s never been limited to shinny. Ken Ploen had a day job throughout his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ditto teammate Cec Luining, known as the Selkirk Milkman because he really was a milkman with the family dairy operation in Selkirk. New York Giants linebacker great Sam Huff bagged groceries. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan worked at a gas station and installed air conditioning. Another hurler, Harvey Haddix, delivered heating oil. Jon Cornish, while leading the Canadian Football League in rushing, worked two six-hour shifts per week as a bank teller. Many CFL players still have second jobs. So it shouldn’t be included in the women’s hat-in-hand argument.
The Boston Red Sox wrap up a road trip on Wednesday in Baltimore, then break ranks to board two charter flights—one taking manager Alex Cora and seven players home to Beantown, the other carrying the remaining World Series champions to the capital for a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Trump at the White House. Final score at the D.C. airport: Red Sox 18, Air Force One.
Got a kick out of the Trumpster tweeting about Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which he pooh-poohed for its controversial ending. He spelled the state “Kentuky” and “Kentucky” in his original tweet, then someone made a correction on the first “Kentuky.” But, hey, don’t call it a spelling mistake. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway insists the Command-in-Chief was simply providing “alternative facts.”
What would a week be without some asinine scribblings from the Republic of Tranna? Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet on the Toronto Raptors: “You can make the case that they’ve been the most successful Canadian sports franchise for the last several seasons.”
Here’s what the Raptors have won in the past five seasons:
National Basketball Association titles: 0.
NBA final appearances: 0.
NBA Eastern Conference titles: 0.
Atlantic Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.
Here’s what the Calgary Stampeders have won in the past five seasons:
Canadian Football League titles: 2.
Grey Cup game appearances: 4.
West Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.
I’d say two league titles and four championship game appearances trumps zero every time. But, then, the CFL is like curling to news snoops in The ROT—it doesn’t exist.
And, finally, the good news is that our terrific tennis teen Felix Auger-Aliassime has advanced to the round of 32 at the Madrid Open. The bad news is he has a date with the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, on Wednesday.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I had the winning horse in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, until it wasn’t the winning horse…
If 200 women stage a boycott and nobody notices that they’re gone, does it really happen?
Therein lies the conundrum for Ponytail Puck.
Few folks noticed the women when they were active on the frozen ponds of the globe (Olympic Games being the notable exception), so why should the rabble care now that a) the Canadian Women’s Hockey League has hit an iceberg and suffered the same fate as the Titanic, and b) 200 elite female players plan to take their pucks and go home (for the good of the game)?
It’s a ballsy gambit, sitting out an entire hockey season, yet that’s the declared intention of the ForTheGame200. They’ll find better things to do next autumn/winter/spring, then cross their fingers and hope this is how their universe unfolds:
Founder/commissioner Dani Rylan of the United States-based National Women’s Hockey League tears down everything she has built up over the past four years, thus leaving a barren landscape;
Gary Bettman, a white knight on a magnificent steed, rides to the rescue and creates a little sister operation for the National Hockey League—the WNHL, with franchises (on both sides of the border) that offer the girls all the bells and whistles that guys like Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby enjoy;
WNHL players earn salaries between $50,000 and $100,000, thereby allowing them to escape the life of a 9-to-5 working stiff;
Fans flock to female shinny palaces in robust numbers and everyone lives happily ever after.
Less utopian, however, is the picture as seen through the lens of reality, so let’s call out this women’s hockey boycott for what it is: A bully tactic.
Make no mistake, the ForTheGame200 group sit-down is designed to force Dani Rylan’s hand into clearing the deck for Bettman and an NHL takeover, although they’re careful not to use a cut-throat tone in delivering their message. They have the very best of intentions, don’t you know. They’re doing this for the greater good and for little girls.
“I want to set the table for them so that they have a league to aspire to, that they can dream to play this game professionally and not have to work a full-time job,” Team Canada and Calgary Inferno veteran Brianne Jenner told Ron MacLean of Sportsnet.
It’s an admirable, lovely sentiment and, no doubt, genuine. I certainly believe her (them). I applaud her (them), although I must confess that it is the clapping of one hand.
I mean, bullying is bullying is bullying and, to date, Rylan has given no indication that she’s prepared to let the schoolyard toughs steal her lunch money. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Scant moments after the ForTheGame200 declared their plan for a group sit-down, Rylan issued a heels-dug-in communiqué: It will be business as usual for the NWHL next autumn. How she plans to ice a product the rabble will want to support is a mystery, of course, but she’ll soldier on and what we now have is a game of chicken—Rylan vs. the Revolutionaries.
And, to think, it was just three months ago when the women’s game had its ‘it’ moment, that being Kendall Coyne Schofield’s gobsmacking, 14-second skedaddle against the boys at the NHL all-star game in San Jose.
“Media was buzzing around it for about a week,” Inferno general manager Kristen Hagg recalled, “and then we went back to being Calgary’s best-kept secret.”
Today the Inferno is no more. The CWHL is no more. And 200 players would like the NWHL to be no more.
It’s a fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into. And the question is: Will anyone be there to give a damn by the time they’ve dug themselves out?
Cassie Campbell-Pascall participated in the chin-wag with MacLean and Jenner (Schofield also offered her voice), and she delivered this astonishing comment: “We can’t be satisfied anymore with leagues that survive on $50,000 to $100,000 sponsorships. Let’s face it, that should be players’ salaries in the future.” Full marks to Cassie for managing to say that with a straight face—and I didn’t even notice the rose-tinted glasses she was wearing—but it’s pure Pollyanna. The day women are paid 100 large to play in a WNHL, I expect to look out my eighth-floor apartment window and see Miss Piggy flying by.
Hey, I’m not here to piddle in their Corn Flakes. I’d prefer to be part of a world where the elite women earn a living wage, and I hope they get there. For now, though, the ForTheGame200 and their allies aren’t doing themselves any favors by making foolish comparisons between the pauperish wages in Ponytail Puck ($2,000-$10,000) and those of multi-millionaire NHL players. You don’t compare a trail horse to Secretariat, because it only invites rude laughter and ridicule. Like most any enterprise, you get what the market bears, and by no known business plan is $100,000 salaries workable when fewer than 1K people are sitting in the pews 16-28 nights a year.
If it’s comparison you want, let’s look at minimum salaries in the NHL feeder system:
American Hockey League—$47,500US.
ECHL—$14,100 (rookies); $15,300 (returning players).
Southern Professional Hockey League—$4,200 to $14,000/year.
So it seems women aren’t the only people playing pro shinny in North America who can’t afford to quit their day jobs.
The aforementioned Kristen Hagg delivered this observation last week, on Calgary Inferno Day in Cowtown: “We live in a society where people do not value women’s sport. Most of us have been socialized to accept men’s sport as dominant and somehow automatically more interesting. The problem is that once society internalizes falsehood, it’s not easy to correct it.” I’d say the lady is spot-on.
Not spot-on is Donald S. Cherry. I really wish the Lord of Loud would cease using his Hockey Night In Canada bully pulpit to prop up his old Beantown Bruins as the shining example of shinny done the right way. Someone needs to remind Grapes that the Bruins never won a damn thing during his time behind the bench.
Just wondering: Does Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes feel cheated when he’s participating in a Stanley Cup series that doesn’t go to a Game 7?
Congrats and a heartfelt tip of the bonnet to old friend, colleague and good guy Bob Holliday, known to friends as Doc or Mr. St. Vital. Robert is this year’s inductee to the media wing of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and I’m glad they got around to saluting the old boy while he’s still with us. Doc went about his business in an understated way at the St. Vital Lance, Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun, and he always delivered the goods.
Also going into the MHHofF is former Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll Barry Shenkarow, who, to many among the rabble, wears a black hat (along with Bettman) to this day for allowing the franchise to slip, slide away to the Arizona desert. While it’s true that Barry presided over les Jets on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996, I remind you of a couple things: 1) He was part of the group that got Good Ol’ Hometown into the NHL in 1979; 2) as current Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman once explained, “No one wanted to own the team in 1995. And for good reason. It didn’t work.” There were a myriad of reasons why the original NHL Jets toddled off to Phoenix and became the Coyotes, not the least of which was a 65-cent Canadian dollar and a fan base that refused to fill a decaying barn on Maroons Road. Frankly, Shenkarow and partners squeezed more life out of the franchise than it probably deserved. I’m pleased that he’s getting his due.
What I can’t believe is that the Winnipeg Sun was a day late and a dollar short on the Hall of Fame story. Like, how do you miss, or ignore, that? The Drab Slab devoted an entire page to the Class of 2019 on Friday, while the Sun tucked it onto a back page on Saturday. Shame, shame.
Loved the burn The Simpsons writers laid on the Ottawa Senators in last week’s lampoon of all things hoser. Actually, the entire D’oh Canada episode was a hoot. Unless, of course, you happen to be a “Newfy” or a Trudeauite. In that case, I suppose it wasn’t all that funny. Since I’m neither of the above, I giggled.
What would a week be without more unbridled speculation from the Drab Slab’s resident conspiracy theorist, Mad Mike McIntyre? Seriously, I really don’t know if Mad Mike is writing sports or a Whodunit novel. You remember those “ruffled feathers” that Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice referenced last month? Here’s Mad Mike’s take on it: “While Maurice didn’t offer any specifics, it says here (Mark) Scheifele was one of the players the bench boss was referring to.” There you have it. Those “ruffled feathers” belong to Rink Rat Scheifele. Mad Mike says so. No specifics, naturally, but that’s his guess. That’s his hunch. Seems like everything in the past month has been a guess or a hunch from Mad Mike.
Mad Mike took to Twitter to answer questions from readers last week. One asked him about his Drab Slab-driven “rumour” of a rotten-to-the-core Jets changing room. “It’s not just a rumour,” he responded. “There were issues, divisions, etc. within the room.” Again, no specifics about the issues, divisions, etc. Just take his word for it and stay tuned for the next exciting chapter in Mad Mike’s Whodunit.
This is interesting: Jason Bell of the Drab Slab asked Matt Hendricks about a rift in the room and the veteran Jets forward had this to say: “The room was as strong as when I left (in 2018), without a doubt.” So Hendricks is blind, deaf or a liar. Take your pick.
And, finally, I think it’s terrific that so many folks have rallied around female hockey players, but where were those people when the CWHL was still in business? And I’m looking at you, mainstream media.
Today, kids, we offer a crash course in Gossip 101 as it relates to the Winnipeg Jets and the many (unfounded) rumors swirling around the National Hockey League outfit.
We call this lesson Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Syndrome, subtitle Anatomy of a Rumor.
You are about to learn how gossip is born, how it grows legs, and what the media does with it. Before we start, though, please open your copies of the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and pay close attention to articles about the Jets’ “rotten to the core” and “fractured” dressing room. Also see a piece written by two old men in grumpy pants, one of whom is a retired journalist and now the paid pen pal of the other. (Quick aside: Neither man was seen in the vicinity of the Winnipeg HC boudoir during the recently concluded NHL crusade, but one of them has “asked around” about the Jets and confirms that—egads!— “eye-rolling” has been observed.)
Note that there is an absence of verified anecdotal evidence in each article, but there is an abundance of innuendo that has ignited rampant speculation of fist fights, bruised egos, galloping jealousy, special treatment for teacher’s pet, and parlor games with the wrong girl.
Many of you have asked how such rumors get started, and that’s why we’re here today. Okay, class, let’s begin Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Syndrome,Anatomy of a Rumor…
“Hey, have you heard the latest on the Winnipeg Jets? They’re fighting in the locker room.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“My neighbor’s kid. He delivers the newspaper to a friend down the street.”
“Well, that friend down the street has a friend whose kid serves as an altar boy for the parish priest.”
“Well, the parish priest heard confession from a guy whose friend is my third cousin by marriage to a cop.”
“Well, that’s the same cop who gave Evander Kane a traffic ticket four years ago.”
“Well, a passerby heard Kane being rude to the cop, and he mentioned it to a friend whose barber now cuts Mark Scheifele’s hair.”
“Well, the last time Scheifele sat in that barber’s chair, the barber said he’d really like to get his scissors and clippers on Mathieu Perreault’s unruly hair and scruffy beard.”
“Well, company man Scheifele agreed with the barber. He said Perreault is a total slob and an embarrassment to squeaky clean True North Sports & Entertainment. Worst of all, Scheifele said Perreault looks like a terrorist, and the players are always delayed by airport security because of his appearance.”
“Well, don’t you see? Scheifele and Perreault are feuding. They hate each other.”
“Are those the ruffled feathers that head coach Paul Maurice was talking about last week?”
“Well, of course they are. Most people think it’s about Adam Lowry and Patrik Laine chucking knuckles, or push coming to shove between Big Buff and Blake Wheeler, or someone dating someone’s ex. But it’s none of the above. It’s all about Perreault’s scruffy appearance. Scheifele ordered him to get a shave and a haircut, but Perreault refused. Their dispute created a fracture right down the middle of the dressing room—chin whiskers on one side, freshly scrubbed faces on the other.”
“The Jets came undone because of hair? I find that hard to believe.”
“Weren’t you listening to me, man? I got the scoop from the neighbor’s kid whose dad has a friend who knowsthe altar boy who knows the parish priest who knows the cousin who knows the cop who knows the barber.”
“What are you gonna do with your scoop?”
“Well, I’m gonna talk to my neighbor’s kid whose dad has a friend who knows the altar boy who knows the parish priest who knows the cousin who knows the cop who knows the barber. Maybe that kid has an aunt or uncle who knows someone on the Free Press loading dock who knows someone in the circulation department who knows someone in advertising who knows someone in the newsroom who knows someone in the sports department who’s been asking around.”
“No legitimate journalist is going to listen to that cockamamie story about a friend of a friend of a friend and run with it.”
“Are you kidding me? This is gold. They won’t name names. They’ll just cite ‘multiple sources’ and leave it for the rabble to guess why the dressing room is rotten to the core.”
“Nope. They’ll laugh at you and roll their eyes.”
“Well, even if they do, I have a backup story for them.”
“Well, you know the traffic cop who ticketed Evander Kane? He told the barber who told the cousin who told the friend who told the parish priest who told the altar boy who told the friend who told the neighbor’s kid who told his dad that Kane still hasn’t paid the fine. Evander Kane screwing up is still worth a 72-point headline in the Freep every day of the week.”