The River City Renegade


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Winnipeg sports media: Only half a dozen female sports writers in almost half a century

There are guy things and there are girl things.

Girls, for example, like shoes. Lots of shoes. We collect shoes like Adam Sandler collects bad reviews (does anyone other than 14-year-old boys actually think he’s funny?). Guys, on the other hand, are loath to discard their underwear.

Seriously. I know some guys with gitch older than a Bob Hope joke. Why, just last week, a friend of mine touched on that very topic. She had noticed that her hubby’s boxers were as tattered as Roger Goodell’s reputation, so she went on a shopping safari and, after bagging half a dozen pair of shoes, she made a pit stop in the men’s wear department.

“I bought him two packages of new underwear,” she advised me. “You would have thought I’d bought him tickets to the opera. He grunted something about his underwear being ‘perfectly fine.’ Good gawd! He’s still wearing the same skivvies he had in high school, and that was 50 years ago. I want to burn the bloody things, but I’m afraid I’d be breaking some kind of city ordinance against air pollution. What is it with men and their underwear?”

So, yes, there are guy things and there are girl things. Which is probably a good thing (ratty, old undies notwithstanding).

I am, however, curious about one thing that apparently is not a girl thing but should be a girl thing: sports writing, whether it be in newspapers or blogging.

It has been 45 years since I received my baptism in journalism. In that time, how many female sports scribes did I work with, or against, at the three Winnipeg dailies (Tribune, Free Press, Sun)?

a) 0
b) 5
c) 8
d) 12

The correct answer is b)—five. In close to half a century! Jack Matheson brought Peggy Stewart on board at the Trib during the 1970s and she was followed by Rita Mingo. The Freep, meanwhile, hired Barb Huck in the ’70s and Ashley Prest arrived on the scene in the late 1980s. Judy Owen worked the Blue Bombers beat, among others, for the Sun in the 1990s.

It can be said that, of the five, only Peggy Stewart was out of her element. The others were quality reporters, quality writers, quality people. Three of them—Barb, Ashley and Judy—have been inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Wall of Honor. (As a personal aside, I’m still waiting for the call that I know will never come from the MSSA. Put too many knickers in too many knots, I guess.)

So why just a handful of damsels?

I mean, women are cops, firefighters, business leaders, religious leaders, political leaders, education leaders, astronauts, boxers, blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. Yet, in River City, a Jill writing about jocks is as rare as a full set of natural teeth in an old folks home. Today, there is just Melissa Martin at the Freep.

The scarcity of distaff sports scribes extends to the blogosphere, as well.

I scrolled through five Winnipeg Jets sites and found the grand total of two female names—Cara and my own. We both contribute to Arctic Ice Hockey. There was no evidence of female authorship at Illegal Curve, Jets Nation, Winnipeg Hockey Talk or Winnipeg Whiteout.

I surely can understand a reluctancy on the part of women to join in the blogosphere fun, because it is very much a boys bastion and the lads can get rather raunchy. Also rude, crude and flat-out disgusting.

Once upon a time, for example, I contributed to Bleacher Report, but bailed for two reasons: 1) I wasn’t allowed to write satire (apparently, their readership is quite limited in scope and has difficulty distinguishing hard news from parody; 2) the comments were too often personal attacks about my gender and/or body parts as opposed to the issue at hand. (Go ahead and call me a boob if you like, but my boobs are off limits.)

Why would a woman wish to expose herself (no pun intended) to lewd language and the pitiable come-hithers of mysogynistic trolls?

Sara Orlesky

Sara Orlesky

There is also the issue of cred. Many men still harbor the notion that women don’t, and can’t, know sports. That, of course, is horse-and-buggy thinking, yet it remains a prime example of perception being reality. Many men don’t want a woman feeding them their sports information/opinion unless she looks like Sara Orlesky, who’s very good at what she does. Even at that, apparently it’s more important that Sara Orlesky look like Sara Orlesky than what she has to say.

That’s why Sara and all the women we see on TSN look like they just came in from a Glamour mag or Cosmo photo shoot. (The guys on TSN? Bridge trolls. I mean, have you ever watched The Reporters with Dave Hodge? It’s been suggested that Steve Simmons looks like a hamster with glasses. Nuff said about that.)

A girl doesn’t have to be Cosmo cover-worthy to write sports, though. She doesn’t have to be J.K. Rowling, either. As long as she knows her stuff and has a nice turn of phrase, she can look like Rosie O’Donnell and pull it off.

I have theories to explain why there aren’t more Jills writing about jocks in River City, but I don’t have an answer. Perhaps they aren’t given the opportunity. Perhaps it’s an anti-female bias. Perhaps they don’t want to put up with the BS from a boy-centric readership. Or perhaps they simply have better things to do, like shop for shoes.

I do know this, however: Half a dozen female sports writers in slightly less than half a century and two female bloggers is not a glowing example or endorsement of equality.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.


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The numbers game: My eyes and ears still tell me more about a hockey player than Corsi or Fenwick

When I watch Dustin Byfuglien play hockey, I see a combination of power and dominance, dash and daring. I also see a man marching to his own drum, which is to say a player prone to mental escapes and going rogue. I see mistakes, major gaffes that too often result in the puck finding its way into the back of his own net.

What I don’t see, are his Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

When I watch Andrew Ladd play hockey, I see determination and intensity. I see a night of honest, earnest toil. I also see a tendency toward brain cramps that too often result in petty penalties, particularly in the offensive end of the rink.

What I don’t see, are his Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

When I watch Evander Kane play hockey, I see speed and strength and I see gravel in his guts. I see a reservoir of raw skill and an unyielding will to succeed. I see boundless, youthful enthusiasm. I also see the erraticism and cheek of youth.

What I don’t see, are his Corsi and Fenwick numbers.

That doesn’t mean I walk in lockstep with Steve Simmons, Dave Shoalts and other card-carrying members of hockey’s Flat Earth Society who engage in unseemly squabbling and sandbox-style name-calling with those who promote new-wave analytics.

More to the point, I distance myself from them. I find them to be dismissive, full of disdain and full of themselves.

I mean, in a discussion about the numbers nerds who have infiltrated the National Hockey League and populate the blogosphere, Sun Media’s Simmons unfurls plumage with 50 shades of pomposity, saying, “They think I’m a moron, to be honest. Not someone who’s covered the NHL for 34 years, not someone who coached hockey for 25 and is a level 3 instructor, not someone who ran hockey schools. I’m a moron.”

Shoalts, meanwhile, confesses to a deep-dish dislike for “Most hockey analytics geeks. Aside from having no sense of humor, they all act like they are the true sages of hockey simply because they came up with a few equations to state the obvious. The team that has the puck most usually wins. No kidding, Sherlock. That’s been true since Lord Stanley was talked into spending 35 bucks to buy a certain cup.”

The Globe and Mail scribe also catalogues stats-savvy types under the descriptive “kind of annoying.

The temptation, of course, is to lob grenades in their direction, because the stats discourse shouldn’t be a personal tit-for-tat tally of how many hockey games you’ve witnessed from the press box or which group possesses a healthier sense of humor. It should be about the degree of merit and value of numbers, when placed against the merit and value of intangibles.

In one sense, I am onside with the Flat Earthers, in that I use my eyes first and foremost in any evaluation of a hockey player. I look at Winnipeg Jets‘ prospect Nikolaj Ehlers, for example, and I don’t need Corsi and Fenwick to tell me there is a lengthy, productive NHL career in the dynamic Dane’s future. The skills are obvious. So here’s what I need to know about Ehlers: What is his compete level? What are his work habits? What fuels his engine? What is his intelligence level? Is he a team guy or a me guy? Does he come undone in dire circumstance?

Stats can’t answer those questions. Ice time will.

Having said that, once there is enough of a sample size, the numbers will tell me if I want Ehlers on the ice for a faceoff in the defensive zone when the Jets are protecting a one-goal lead. That’s the value of numbers.

The idea is to play to your strengths and to your opponent’s weaknesses. In many instances, numbers can tell us this. But so do intangibles. Unlimited talent is wasted on a player who doesn’t give a damn or who is a cancer in the changing room. A player of lesser skill can be of equal, or greater, value to a team due to his work ethic.

Personally, I place higher worth on the intangibles. What my eyes tell me. What I hear from people who know. Let me put it this way: Bobby Orr was the best hockey player I’ve ever seen and I don’t have a clue what Corsi and Fenwick would say about his game. I just know I want him on my team.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.


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Winnipeg Jets: From Big Buff to boffo biffies, these two ladies have the scoop

what if lady answer lady2

It’s a Triple H day because we have two Hens in the Hockey House—The What If Lady and The Answer Lady. 

Naturally, our favorite go-to girls have their pulse on all that matters in Jets Nation, including the uber significant issue of shorter beer lines and more potties at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. Oh, yes, if there’s a point of discussion involving your Winnipeg Jets, the two ladies are—pardon the bad pun—flush with information about the National Hockey League outfit.

 

Take it away, ladies…

What If Lady: There are reports that Ondrej Pavelec showed up at training camp with a new body. What if his new body is as bad as his old body?

Answer Lady: Can you say Connor McDavid?

What If Lady: What if the Jets traded Pavelec to the Toronto Maple Leafs for James Reimer, even up?

Answer Lady: Toronto GM Dave Nonis would be out of a job, head coach Randy Carlyle would be out of a job and the Leafs would be drafting Connor McDavid next summer.

What If Lady: I really liked what I saw of that Nikolaj Ehlers kid at the rookie tournament in Penticton. He’s so fast. So skilled. He’s the Great Dane! What if he plays that well in the main camp?

Answer Lady: There’s only one thing preventing Ehlers from starting this season with the Jets—food. I mean, the kid’s a twig. Fear not, though. He’s a keeper. Not this year, but most likely next October after a year of mom’s home cooking has kicked in.

What If Lady: It sounds like Teemu Selanne really wanted to play another season. He said in his biography that he even considered signing with the Jets a year ago. What if Teemu had played for the Jets last season?

Answer Lady: He’d be Poh’d at Claude Noel and Paul Maurice instead of Bruce Boudreau, because they would have given all Teemu’s minutes to Chris Thorburn.

What If Lady: ESPN The Magazine ranks the Jets No. 97 out of the 122 major pro sports franchises in North America for fan experience. I think that really sucks. I doubt it if anyone from ESPN has ever been to a game in Winnipeg? What if someone from ESPN actually attended a game at the MTS Centre? Would our ranking go up?

Answer Lady: No, it would plummet to the bottom because the battery in the poor guy’s rental car would freeze during the game and he’d he’d get mugged by one of our charming citizen’s of no-fixed address while waiting for a tow truck.

What If Lady: Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba had really good rookie seasons. I don’t believe in a so-called Sophomore Jinx, but what if one or both of them regresses?

Answer Lady: I have spoken with my personal analytics department and the propeller heads assure me that there are Corsi reasons and Fenwick reasons why this will never happen. After crunching numbers, they say the % of probability is approximately = to the ratio of TOI divided by ESG + a certain % of salary cap against the balance of $ owed. It’s all Greek to me, but I believe the probability of both Scheifele and Trouba going into the tank is remote, but the possibility of one hitting the skids is high.

What If Lady: A lot of NHL teams created an analytics department or hired fancy-stats people this past summer. I didn’t hear anything about it from the Jets, though. What if they’ve missed the boat in this growing and increasingly important area of the business?

Answer Lady: I’m told Craig Heisinger is analyzing the analytics and Zinger will present his analysis of analytics to general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff as soon as he wakes up from his summer nap.

What If Lady: There’s been so much talk about the young players at camp this year. Guys like Nic Petan, Josh Morrissey, Nik Ehlers and Adam Lowry would give the Jets a whole new look if they make the big club. But what if youth isn’t served?

Answer Lady: Youth shall be served. His name is Adam Lowry. He’s a Western Conference forward—big and skilled. Get used to seeing him. You’ll like him.

What If Lady: Five teams from the Central Division made the playoffs last season—Chicago, St. Louis, Colorado, Dallas and Minnesota. I can’t see the Jets overhauling any of those clubs, so it looks like another non-playoff year in River City. What if they’re out of contention by the trade deadline?

Answer Lady: Say adios to Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd or Toby Enstrom. Take your pick.

What If Lady: Evander Kane sure seems to get in a lot of hot water over saying and doing the silliest, little things and he always seems to be the subject of trade rumors because of it. I have a personal theory that he does it just to provoke the media. So what if the media wise up to his shenanigans and stop writing and talking about the goofy stuff? What if they write and talk about his on-ice efforts only?

Answer Lady: Environment Canada will issue an emergency weather warning—hell has frozen over.

What If Lady: Evander has been bragging about scoring 50 goals in a season. I’m a big Kane fan, so I think that would be brilliant. But what if he only scores 19 again?

Answer Lady: Can you say Jack Eichel?

What If Lady: True North spent $6 million this summer for renovations to the MTS Centre, and that included a whack of new toilets. I hear they’re boffo biffies, but what a waste (pardon the bad pun). What if they had spent that money on another player or two instead?

Answer Lady: You want to talk about spending money on crap? Try $19.5 million on crappy goaltending. Try $3.6 million on a crappy fourth-line forward who belongs in the AHL. What’s another $6 million for a bunch of biffies when you’ve already tossed more than $20 million down the crapper on two players?

What If Lady: That’s kind of harsh. True but harsh.

Answer Lady: Okay, our work is done here for today. Let’s go check out those new toilets on the 300 Level. I’ve got some beer to get rid of.

What If Lady: Me too. Those shorter beer queues are simply marvy.

 

fish wrap

 

We now interrupt our regularly scheduled cheekiness to bring you this important weather alert: Hell hath frozen over.

That’s right, kids, at least one local news scavenger has discovered what some of us have known for quite some time—Evander Kane likes to yank the media’s chain.

Gary (La La) Lawless, who oft serves up heaping helpings of Kane-imosity, recently offered a fresh take on the Winnipeg Jets polorizing left winger, and he has decided to play nice. For now.

Kane spends the working portion of his life in Winnipeg,” girthsome Gary writes in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “When he’s here, he visits hospitals and donates time and money to helping others less fortunate than he. What else do we want from him? A signed affidavit he likes it here? Enough already.

Early on, Kane’s act caught some of us off guard and rubbed the wrong way at times. Over time, it’s become apparent that Kane is comfortable in the spotlight and not afraid to stir the pot with his well-followed Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The kid is cheeky. Give me his looks, youth, talent and money and the resulting sideshow would make Evander look like a wallflower.

Some of us, this writer included, need to offer up a bit of a mea culpa.

Kane is no villain, even if he sometimes likes to play one. And if you think he doesn’t know what he’s up to and isn’t aware of the reaction he’s about to produce, you haven’t been paying close attention. Kane is smart and calculating.”

As far as mea culpas go, I’d say that’s a good start. Well done, La La.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.


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Domestic violence: It’s the sports media’s new chew toy, but for how long?

Adrian Peterson is my father. I am his child. I have felt the bite of his tree branch on my back, my buttocks and my legs. I bruised. I bled.

And now I bleed for his four-year-old boy.

I don’t know if I’m a product of child abuse, or a survivor of child abuse. Perhaps I am an escapee. Whatever the case, I was raised in an environment of tyranny and the man who beat me with a belt buckle and the back of his hand was a flawed human being. As is Adrian Peterson.

And Peterson is among the reasons why placing professional athletes upon a pedestal is not among my weaknesses.

As much as I admire the skill of most play-for-pay jocks, I have, for the longest time, viewed them as human beings. They spit when brushing their teeth. Just like you and I. They wipe their kids’ runny noses. Just like you and I. So why wouldn’t they also rape and murder and steal and abuse and cheat and lie and get behind the wheel of a car after swilling a keg of beer?

I cannot recall the precise moment when I first stood in agreement with the reality that sports figures were mere mortals, albeit with a special talent, but I believe it wasn’t too many days removed from the Christmas morning when I discovered that Santa Claus was actually my Uncle Jim.

I mention this because of the “off with their heads” chorus that has raised its pitch in the wake of rather sordid and unlawful behaviour—not to dismiss the drama of a murder trial—that has placed athletes squarely on the human side of the playing surface in the past 10 days.

  • We have seen video evidence that shows us Ray Rice punching out his financee/now wife Janay and dragging her limp body from an elevator.
  • We know that Adrian Peterson took a branch from a tree and used it to administer a “whooping” on his four-year-old son, a misdeed that has drawn an indictment of child abuse in Texas.
  • Many of us watched Oscar Pistorius beat a murder one rap in a South Africa court.

Rice, a running back with the Baltimore Ravens when he wasn’t laying a licking on his lady, has been banished from the National Football League. Peterson is in football purgatory, not allowed to participate in any Minnesota Vikings team functions until the Pro Bowl ball carrier’s legal situation is resolved. Pistorius, meanwhile, awaits his fate on the much lesser guilty verdict of culpable homicide in the Valentine’s Day shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, and the possibility exists that the so-called Blade Runner might one day again be adorned in South African colors during athletic competition.

Domestic violence surely has provided the sports media with a new chew toy.

The pontifications have been harsh, also relentless. Voices have cried out in the manner of a righteous, traveling salvationist delivering hell-burning, Bible-thumping condemnation, not only of Rice, Peterson and others whose names have appeared on a police blotter or a court docket, but also of the NFL’s much-maligned puppet master, commissioner Roger Goodell. Scribes have dipped their pens into wells of poison ink.

Trouble is, I fear many of the people using commissioner Goodell for a pinata and tsk-tsking Rice and Peterson never gave more than five minutes of thought to domestic violence/child abuse until they viewed the evidence of Ray Rice going all Mike Tyson on his girlfriend.

I spent 30 years in mainstream media. How often was domestic violence/child abuse the topic du jour when scribes and broadcasters gathered for pints and eats? Zero. So am I to believe they actually now care, or are they merely pushing the hot-button issue?

And, please, spare me the sanctimonious spewings of Ray Lewis, the former Baltimore Ravens defender who quite possibly got away with the murder of two men 14 years ago. ESPN putting this lawbreaker in his usual spot with Boomer and the boys on Sunday NFL Countdown, and granting him voice to the trespasses of Rice and Peterson was the highest level of rancid. What next from the Worldwide Leader, Tiger Woods the marriage counselor?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m glad the issue is out there. It’s important that we talk about such matters so change can be affected. But, like I said, it’s a new chew toy and I worry about its shelf life.

Right now, the sports media are riding a horse named Morality and she’s been running with her ears pinned back and her nostrils flared for the past week. She is at full gallop. She’ll be reined in, though. Guaranteed. The media then will hop on another horse and take her for a ride.

Which leaves us where?

Well, at some point, Ray Rice will receive his public pardon. Ditto Adrian Peterson. This will happen because the public eventually sees itself in morality’s mirror. It has a tendency to pardon evil-doing athletes like Rice, Peterson and Michael Vick, whose lawless acts included the torture of dogs, because they themselves might have done something similar. Or perhaps their brother, sister or neighbor did.

That’s the significant reality that has been amiss in this discussion: Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice are not football players who happen to be human. They are human beings who happen to play football. Theirs, like those of all humans, are lives of imperfection, full of frailties and flaws that sometimes reach beyond any reasonable boundary of acceptance. In short, they’re going to screw up.

As much as sports can be a study in courage (not the type of courage it takes to rush into a burning building to save lives, but courage on an athletic level), it is also a study in human failings. Athletes are flawed human beings, just like your butcher, your baker and your corner grocer. The separation, of course, is that we don’t position the butcher as a role model, do we? We don’t put his picture on the front of a Wheaties box. Professional athletes, on the other hand, are role models by default, whether they like it or not. Our condemnation of their misdeeds is amplified due to the loft of their celebrity.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is also an imperfect human being. He has screwed up. But you tell me which is worse: a football commissioner who botches his ruling on domestic violence or a South African judge who lets a man get away with murder.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.


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Winnipeg sports: 45 years later, a look in the rear view mirror

It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.

Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.

Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.

I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.

I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.

I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.

I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.

So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.

(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)

These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)

Matty

Matty

Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.

Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.

Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.

Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.

Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”

John Ferguson

John Ferguson

Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.

Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!

My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.

Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.

Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.

Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.

Tommy McVie

Tommy McVie

Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.

Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.

Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.

Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.

Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.

Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.

Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.

Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.

Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.

Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

Best player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.

Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.

Cal Murphy

Cal Murphy

Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.

Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.

Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners in booing the singing of O Canada en francais, a man called my home later that day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.

Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.

Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.

Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.

Vic Peters

Vic Peters

Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.

Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.

Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.

Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.

Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.

“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”

“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”

“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”

Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.

Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.


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Winnipeg Jets: The plan of no-plan has no beginning and no end, grasshopper

When is the future?

Like asking what size of shoes will fit the toddler’s feet at age 16, it is a most difficult question to answer, grasshopper. We won’t know until we’re there. But how do we recognize when we have arrived there? Since the future only exists in the now, we might be there already.

That would be most unfortunate if you’re a member of Jets Nation.

It has been three-plus years since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City and began to morph into the Winnipeg Jets. In that span of time, considerable discussion about the National Hockey League franchise has focused on the future. But, again, when is the future?

There has been much talk about a five-year plan. Well, that is the Easter Bunny. It is the Tooth Fairy. It is the Sidney Crosby arrest in Ottawa. The five-year plan does not exist.

At least it does not exist in the minds of Mark Chipman and Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff. To my knowledge, there is no recorded entry of either the club’s co-bankroll or its general manager citing a manifesto that states the future arrives in five, 10 or 20 years. It would, after all, be folly of Kevin the Possum to start his own clock.

Time is a concept. It, like the mythical five-year plan, does not exist for the Jets. There is no beginning and there is no end.

“We will have success,” Chipman assured Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun last year. “I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly…”

But he cannot. Nor can Kevin the Possum. The Jets are not, however, without a plan.

“Our plan is very simple,” says Chipman. “It is about re-investment in our organization from top to bottom, from facilities to player personnel to key management.”

This, no doubt, explains the re-upping of Chris Thorburn for an additional three seasons of grunt work without productivity. It is a re-investment. As is the endorsement given the skill-challenged goaltender, Ondrej Pavelec, who has arrived for Camp PoMo with a leaner frame but also with much excess fat to trim from numbers that declare him to be the poorest and most-porous No. 1 keeper in the NHL.

This re-investment plan is a curious bit of business. I mean, re-investing in people who never fail to fail does not breed confidence in arriving at the future, whenever that is. It leans more toward folly, if not flat-out insanity. Much as Alan Watts described Buddhism as the religion of no-religion, re-investment is the plan of no-plan.

In reality, though, the Jets are not about re-investment. That’s simply a business catch-phrase Chipman tossed out. They are about hope. Hope is the true plan.

Chipman is crossing his fingers that he has the right person at the wheel in Cheveldayoff, who, in turn, is crossing his fingers that he has the right scouts in place, and the bird dogs, in turn, are crossing their fingers that the youngsters they advised Kevin the Possum to select at the entry draft develop into quality NHL performers.

So, bit parts like Thorburn and a second-string goaltender dressed up as a No. 1 are re-upped or endorsed as a bridge to happier days.

Alas, the Jets concluded business last spring as the bottom-dwelling outfit in the Central precinct of the NHL, and Kevin the Possum did nothing during the off-season to encourage optimism in a more favorable ending to the fresh campaign that shall be upon us in less than 30 days. The likelihood, therefore, is that the future will be put on hold. For a fourth straight year. Do I hear a fifth? And a sixth?

Chipman told Friesen that playoff participation is “100 per cent our expectation.”

That being the case, it’s time that time became a reality rather than a concept for the Jets. If the future is defined as shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie in April-June, then Chipman must start Cheveldayoff’s clock.

When is the future? Jets Nation deserves to know.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.

Winnipeg Jets: Sportsnet talking heads rank them 25th in the NHL

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rooftop riting biz card back sideThe Sportsnet hockey gab guys have spoken, and what they have to say about the Winnipeg Jets is not flattering.

To begin, Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al have declared the locals to be the 25th-ranked outfit in the National Hockey League. They grade general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff’s off-season snoozefest as B “for boring,” according to hyphenated scribe Jordan Heath-Rawlings.

But wait! The B becomes a C for the “shabby way they’ve handled Evander Kane.”

Then there’s this from our hyphenated writer:

“Will the Jets have a storyline to watch this season that actually takes place on the ice and involves a competition to secure a playoff spot? Or will it all be bitterness and hot takes by mid-February? Stay half-heartedly tuned in to find out!”

And this:

Yawn. That’s my prediction for the 2014-15 Jets. Yawn,” writes our hyphenated writer.”

I should point out that young Mr. Hyphenate’s credibility takes a huge whack when he tells us that Dustin Byfuglien still patrols the blueline, but that major gaffe aside, his piece and the rating of the “experts” is a serious dose of tough love. Alas, it would seem that the boys at Sportsnet are merely parroting what the majority of shinny observers beyond the borders of Jets Nation think about Team No Respect.

 

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