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Winnipeg sports media: Farewell confessions from a pain in the ass

It is, as Cal Murphy was wont to say, time to sack the bats. It’s over. I’ve had my innings.

Scribbling about the River City jock scene for the past 43 years has been equal parts rush, curse, joy, job, passion, privilege, hobby, obsession, fun and pain in the ass. No doubt there are many who believe me to have been a pain in the ass since my byline first appeared on the pages of the Winnipeg Tribune in 1971. I can’t say that I disagree with them.

Being a pain in the ass comes with the territory. I mean, when you’re a jock columnist, you traffic in opinion. That means you’re often poking and prodding good, ol’ Home Team. A great many readers do not embrace that. The Jets, the Bombers, the Goldeyes…they’re sacred cows. As are the players.

So, yes, I plead guilty, yer honour. I have been a cheeky, irreverent, screw-you-if-you-can’t-take-a-joke pain in the ass.

Today, Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press are the two biggest pains in the ass in town. I don’t envy them. I read the comment threads that accompany their columns and I often wince. I empathize. I understand the gig. I know the difficulties of delivering a daily sports column. It’s burdensome. Some days you just want to mail it in. But you can’t. As long as your column flag flies at the top of the thing, you want your words to dangle, but never your participles. You stew over topics. You fuss over your turn of phrase. Sometimes you’re quite pleased with what you’ve written. Other times, not so much. Either way, it’s guaranteed that some reader is going to call you a moron.

I tip my bonnet to both Friesen and Lawless, and also to my favorite jock journalists of the day, not just in Pegtown but elsewhere—Ed Tait, Shakey Johnson, Cam Cole, Bruce Arthur, Cathal Kelly, Ed Willes. I admire them for their talent and their stick-to-itness.

I survived 30 years in mainstream media, which was approximately 15 calendars too many, and I’ve goofed around as a freelancer/blogger for the past 15 years.

So why have I chosen to stop now? I can’t say for certain. I know I find myself granting a greater amount of time to reflection. To what has been. To what might have been. And that’s odd, for I am a person who lives very much in the now.

Perhaps it’s my approaching birthday, which reminds me that I am about to begin my 65th year on the third rock from the sun and, at the same time, tells me that I should probably devote my attention to the two books I began scribbling months ago but put on hold. Both, like others I have written, are LGBT-themed with a sports and/or newspaper backdrop.

LGBT issues are important to me. Since my retreat from mainstream sports media, my writing focus has been on the gay community and its people, bringing their challenges, triumphs and ongoing crusade for level footing in society to a different audience. It has been rewarding, more so than anything I have written in sports, because it’s real life. They’re real people.

I think that is perhaps something we tend to lose sight of in our sports writing. We forget, or refuse to acknowledge, that we are dealing with people.

For example, we see Jennifer Jones and her Olympic gold medal mates as curlers rather than wives and girlfriends and mothers and daughters and sisters. We see Evander Kane as a hockey player and only acknowledge the human element of his being when he forgets to pay his parking tickets. We tut-tut and tsk-tsk their missteps, often to the point of being harsh and unforgiving.

This is wrong-thinking. Jennifer Jones and Evander Kane are not athletes who happen to be people. They are people who happen to be athletes.

I believe sports writing is much more dynamic, also credible, when we attach the person to the play. When we accept that athletes, like all of us, are flawed human beings who lead lives of imperfection. Phil Kessel should not be crucified for his refusal to discuss a lost hockey game with the Toronto media. He should be recognized as a shy, introverted person who is in considerable discomfort when placed in the spotlight. In other words, cut the guy some slack.

It shouldn’t be about the score. It should be about the people who produce the score. It should be about recognizing their frailties and strengths as human beings as much, if not more so, as their strengths and frailties on the playing surface. I can see what makes the player tick, so tell me what makes the person tick?

I confess to being guilty of all the trespasses I’ve mentioned at different stations during my 30 years in mainstream sports media. But being away from the arena has allowed me to learn the arena. To know the arena.

It’s the old story: I wish I knew then what I know now.

At any rate, my time is up. This is the final entry in The River City Renegade blog. That’s all she wrote.

(Sincere thanks to the more than 5,000 people who visited in the past 4 1/2 months, and to those who followed me in the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun for 30 years. It’s been a slice. I can’t say that it was all a slice of heaven, but it was a slice of something.)

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 and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore). She also now knows 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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Sports media: Who critiques those who critique?

I have been asked (more than once) why I am such a loud critic of mainstream sports media, most notably the lads who record the daily deeds of play-for-pay practitioners in Winnipeg.

The reason is quite basic: Because they’re there. And, because they’re there, it has long been—and remains—my position that jock sniffers ought not to be exempt from the same performance-based scrutiny and assessments that they themselves place on those who work in the business of frolic, whether their target is a player, coach, management or ownership.

Let’s consider the recent scribblings of Gary Lawless as an e.g.

He has written a stinging, aggressively worded piece advocating the ouster of Gary Etcheverry, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beleaguered defensive co-ordinator. He skewered the man. He wants him fired. No muss, no fuss, just kick him to the curb. Now.

“(Head coach Mike O’Shea) should Band-Aid his defensive co-ordinator and move on,” Lawless writes. “Tear it off quickly to minimize the pain. Keeping Etcheverry on staff is the wrong move from the tactical and survival perspectives. The entire city wants Etcheverry clipped. No one would question the move.”

Lawless cannot be discredited for delivering opinion (assuming it has a foundation in fact and fair analysis). That, of course, constitutes a large part of his gig as main sports voice at the Winnipeg Free Press. It is, however, one thing to act as the self-appointed adjudicant of all things Bombers and quite another to presume to speak for the totality of a populace. While others perhaps share his views, Lawless’s column speaks for himself and the Freep, not an entire city (unless I missed something and he actually won last month’s mayoral election). For him to believe otherwise suggests he is an extremely vain or horribly misguided man.

Those who follow this blog know that Lawless is among my favorite whipping boys. He and Little Stevie Blunder (Steve Simmons of Sun Media) have often been in my crosshairs, for a variety of reasons. Both are columnists and radio/TV commentators. They are public figures who flog other public figures. Thus, I ask: Should it not work both ways?

Ah, but who critiques those who critique?

Where in our newspapers or on their websites do we find writers taking writers to task? William Houston and Bruce Dowbiggen once scribbled sports media columns in the Globe and Mail. Gone. Chris Zelkovich did the same for the Toronto Star. Also gone. The print sports media in Canada does not eat their own. Not publicly, anyway. Privately, it’s a different head of lettuce. They are very much disposed to ransacking the reputations of other scribes.

Bottom line: If it’s sports media critique you seek, there’s only one place it can be found—in the blogosphere. And the MSM guys don’t like it.

I have written that there is no creature roaming the third rock from the sun with thinner skin than a print sports journalist. I have been advised, for example, that Lawless refuses to read my blog because I have been too biting in my criticism. Yet he freely trafficks in naysaying on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

As do most others in sports media.

Last week, I listened to Daren Millard, Scott Morrison and Gord Stellick of Sportsnet criticize the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee for bypassing Eric Lindros yet again. Then I listened to Dave Hodge criticize those who would criticize the HofF selection committee (without naming names, of course).

Yet, no matter how long and hard I search, I cannot locate a sports talk show on Canadian television that critiques sports talk shows on Canadian television.

Mainstream sports media (print division) in our country offers much to critique, not just for what is written and shown, but in its very makeup. It is, for the most part, a fraternity of white heterosexual men. An old boys club, if you will. Females need not apply because we all know women know diddly about sports, and men don’t want their daily dose delivered by a girl. And the thought of a gay man writing sports…ugh. Go cover the ballet, Nancy boy.

It isn’t much different on the electronic side. The chin-waggers on discussion panels are all white heterosexual men, the notable exception being TSN’s Off the Record. Host Michael Lansberg has often featured female voices, but not necessarily media-based female voices.

So, yes, I lift a loud voice in critique of the media. I’ve been there and I’ve done what they’re doing. And if they’re going to be there, I want their there to be top-drawer and all-inclusive.

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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I didn’t need Pokey Reddick’s pearls of wisdom to do my job, so why does the Toronto media need Phil Kessel’s quotes?

Back in the day, when National Hockey League goaltenders weren’t the size of a Brink’s truck, tiny Pokey Reddick refused to talk to me.

Yup, he gave me the cold shoulder.

Seems ol’ Pokey was of a mind that I had displayed extremely bad manners by informing Winnipeg Sun readers that his performance level during a Winnipeg Jets training camp in the 1980s was in need of a serious pick-me-up. I submitted that, were there not an upgrade in his numbers, the other half of the Pokey and the Bandit goaltending tandem, Daniel Berthiaume, would be anointed the starter.

Thus, when I approached Pokey the following day and asked if we might have a brief chin-wag, he stomped his little feet, spat out a terse, “No!” and marched away.

I was not shocked, discouraged or upset. There were no knots in my knickers. And I surely did not view it as newsworthy. I mean, an athlete with his lower lip at half mast, acting like a sniveling, spoiled brat? Sorry, nothing to see here, folks. No film at 11.

I never attempted to have another tete-a-tete with Reddick. Didn’t matter if he allowed zero goals or 10 goals. I simply did not care what he might have to say, and I surely did not require his banal bromides to do my job. If he played well, I wrote it. If his net looked like a coal bin at the end of the night, I wrote it.

I am reminded of this because of the icy cold shoulder Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs delivered to TSN 1050’s Jonas Siegel on the weekend. I agree, the brusk brushoff can be filed under R for Rude. That is, when gab guy Siegel sought the zip-lipped Leaf to collect bons mots that might explain a mind-numbing 2-6 loss to the Buffalo McDavids on Saturday night, Kessel took the low road in hissing “Get away from me.” It was bad-mannered, with gusts up to surly.

But here’s what it wasn’t: News. At least not until Siegel took to his Twitter account and ratted out Kessel, and now he’s saddled a horse named Self Righteous and he’s riding her at full gallop. Siegel promises to engage in a one-man, non-stop, ratting-out crusade against the Leafs’ best skater. Oh, yes, each time Kessel doesn’t speak, Siegel will inform his TSN 1050 listeners in the Republic of Tranna that Kessel doesn’t speak. That is his vow. (I imagine that will score big with his boss during the next radio sweeps period.)

“It’s not up to us, I think as a media corps, to protect him,” Siegel said. “From this point, I’m not going to hide the way he acts anymore.”

Oh, so that’s what Siegel has been doing ever since Kessel’s arrival in the Big Smoke was greeted by a mainly hostile press five-plus seasons ago. He’s had his back. Lucky Phil. Had he known this, I’m guessing he wouldn’t have been so callously dismissive of Siegel on Saturday. At the very least, he would have said, “Get away from me…pretty please.”

Seriously. Siegel’s snit smacks of I’m-gonna-tell-the-teacher schoolyardism. Are we all back in Grade 5 here? So Phil Kessel doesn’t talk. Big boo freaking hoo.

I’m sorry, but Kessel isn’t wearing the black hat in this episode of Gunfight at the Not-OK Corral. Siegel is. He has gone diva (minus the feather boa and the over-the-top eye liner and big hair). He has taken a personal snub and transformed it into a sideshow at the Barnum & Brendan Circus (the next act under Toronto’s big top will feature head coach Randy Carlyle as a human cannonball). And for what purpose? To enlighten us that Phil Kessel would rather that he never saw another microphone or notebook beneath his beak?

Earth to Jonas Siegel! Earth to Jonas Siegel! We know already. It isn’t a recent discovery.

The Tranna media’s mania over Kessel’s no-speak is a peculiar bit of business. Prior to a 2013 playoff series, he was ravaged by Little Stever Blunder (Steve Simmons of Sun Media) and Damien Cox, then of the Toronto Star, for deking out on a post-practice gab session. Not more than a fortnight ago, Simmons topped his weekly 3-dot column with an anecdote about the Leafs winger that was an undisguised cheap shot, the sole purpose being to paint Kessel as every bit the boor.

This is what we call obsessing.

Another scribe, Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star, once wrote this of Kessel: “Can the Leafs win anything of significance if their pudgy designated goal scorer sports multiple chins in a league dominated by gluten-free, goji-berry-favouring fitness nuts?”

Charming. Is it any wonder he keeps his lips zipped?

Phil Kessel doesn’t need the media and they should realize they don’t need his quotes.

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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Don Baizley belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame

“I don’t know if I can put into words what Don (Baizley) meant to the game. I don’t know if there’s any one individual I’ve met in my life who’s had a more meaningful, more profound impact on the modern game of professional hockey.”

—Mark Chipman, co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets

 

Don Baizley is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, nor the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.

He should be in both. As a builder.

I bring this to your attention today because the HHofF class of 2014 is to be inducted on Monday and none of the select six is named Don Baizley, the Winnipeg-based lawyer whose 71 years of being an honest-to-gosh good guy gave way to non-smoker’s lung cancer in July 2013.

As many of you know, Baizley maintained a small stable of clients that represented a who’s who in the National Hockey League and on shinny ponds on the other side of the ocean—Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Peter Forsberg, Kent Nilsson, Paul Kariya, Theo Fleury, among others. But to brand him as merely a player agent to the stars is insufficient. Baizley was a trail blazer. He helped redefine the game in the mid-1970s, prior to which both the NHL and World Hockey Association were parochial in scope. That is to say, if you weren’t Canadian or American by birth you need not apply.

Oh, sure, there were a handful of Europeans pre-1974. Pentti Lund, born in Finland but raised in Canada from the age of six, was NHL rookie-of-the-year in 1949. Slovak-born Stanislav Guoth, better known as Stan Mikita, was a much-decorated centre with the Chicago Blackhawks. Ulf Sterner played four games with the New York Rangers in 1965. Thommie Bergman was in the employ of the Detroit Red Wings in the early ’70s. Borje Salming was wearing Toronto Maple Leafs linen. Ditto Inge Hammarstrom.

Basically, however, Euros were as rare as buck teeth on a super model. The prevailing logic insisted Euros weren’t equipped with adequate-sized gonads to be successful in the NHL, where ruffians often ruled the day (see: Big Bad Bruins, Broad Street Bullies).

Then along came the 1974 Winnipeg Jets. And Dr. Gerry Wilson. And Billy Robinson. And Don Baizley.

Dr. Wilson, a surgeon whose specialty was sports-related owies, was doing a post-grad gig in Sweden in 1973 when a fleet right winger caught his attention. The name was Anders Hedberg. The good doctor also liked what he saw in a kid named Ulf Nilsson. And, hey, this guy Lars-Erik Sjoberg was none too shabby on defence. So Doc Wilson put in a call to the Jets, then the flagship franchise in the WHA, and they, in turn, dispatched bird dog Billy Robinson to Tre Kroner country for a look-see at these hot-shot Swedes. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hedberg, Nilsson, Sjoberg and goaltender Curt Larsson represented the first wave of Europeans to arrive on North American shores and, in due course, they proved beyond all reasonable doubt that their junk was plenty big enough to not only succeed, but to excel on the frozen ponds of North America.

Hedberg and Nilsson, in particular, were ceaselessly assailed by extremely disagreeable sorts such as Bad News Bilodeau and Frankie Beaton of the Birmingham Bulls, plus a boatload of barbarians employed by other WHA outfits. These “chicken Swedes,” after all, were taking jobs away from good Canadian boys. The nerve. So they were whacked, hacked and brow beaten to unparalleled levels. Their bodies were bruised as blue as the Jets jerseys they wore. Talk about culture shock. But they endured, in large part due to the guidance of Don Baizley.

Baiz’s influence on the game cannot be under-valued. He didn’t just get big bucks for his clients. He took them under his wing. He was their confidante. Their mentor. He provided them a comfort zone, a place where they could grow as hockey players and, more important, people.

His handling of the fabulous Swedes did not escape the notice of other Scandinavians. Soon Veli-Pekka Ketola was with the Jets. Heikki Riihiranta, the aforementioned Bergman, Willy Lindstrom, Mats Lindh, Dan Labraaten, Kent Nilsson were to follow. Those Euro-flavored WHA Jets played a dazzling, free-wheeling brand of hockey. Brute force gave way to beauty, which translated into titles and provided Glen Sather a blueprint in constructing his remarkable Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s.

So, you see, Baizley was at the forefront in the reshaping of the professional hockey landscape. He was there for close to 40 years, yet this man who helped change the face of shinny preferred to operate in the background. It was never about him. He was, if you will, the anti-Eagle.

I refer, of course, to Alan Eagleson, the notorious player agent who landed in lockup after playing fast and loose with his clients’ money. The Eagle was self-aggrandizing and self-promoting. If the Eagle was involved, everything else was background noise.

That wasn’t how Don Baizley rolled.

Baiz wanted to talk about himself like Gary Bettman wants to live in the north end of Winnipeg. He was more interested in others. He placed value on who you were and what you did. He always made you feel better about yourself and your work.

During my 30 years in sports journalism, I never met a better person than Don Baizley. Not one. So when the giants of the game gathered in July 2013 to salute another giant of the game, you had to believe them when they told you that Baiz was an honest, humble, trustworthy, humorous, generous, loving man. It’s all true.

The guy was an honest-to-gosh hall of fame person.

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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Hey, look who’s talking about the Winnipeg Jets now

During my youth, the family would often enjoy a roast beef dinner on Sunday, then leftovers the following day. So that’s what we have on the menu this morning, kids—weekend leftovers.

Well, lookee here. The natterbugs on TSN’s The Reporters with Dave Hodge have discovered life beyond the borders of the Republic of Toronto. Hockey life. In the colonies. You read that right. Do not adjust your computer screen. The Gab Four actually mentioned the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames during their chin-wag. At the top of the show.

This, of course, would be their version of slumming. Or dumpster diving.

Each Sabbath morning, you see, host Hodge and his regular accomplices—Bruce Arthur, Michael Farber and Little Stevie Blunder (Sun Media’s Steve Simmons)—gather for an exercise in gum-flapping, and it is normally a Tranna devotional. How about them Blue Jays? Are the Raptors for real? Why aren’t the Argos feeling the love? Phil Kessel is fat and why can’t he be more like Wendel Clark?

Yadda, yadda, Harold Ballard.

So there they were on Sunday morning, discussing National Hockey League outfits not named the Maple Leafs. And players not named Kessel, Phaneuf or Lupul. One of those players not named Kessel, Phaneuf or Lupul was Ondrej Pavelec. Mostly, they gave him props for the Jets’ early-season success, although Farber went rogue by saying the much-maligned backstop remains “a below-average NHL goaltender and in the wash that will come out.”

Farber, by the way, called him “Pavlich.” Arthur called him “Ondredge Pavlich.” Simmons opened with something that sounded like “Ondrez Pavlek.”

I’m sure the’ll get it right once they actually watch On-dray Pav-e-lets and the Jets play a game.

NILL AND VOID: Is it too early to demand a recount on that Jim Nill-for-executive of the year award?

Nill is one of the good guys. A longtime exec with the Detroit Red Wings, the former Jets 1.0 forward was saluted far and wide for his reshaping of the Dallas Stars during the past summer. He did boffo work, most notably the recruitment of Jason Spezza. Yet when the Dallas general manager opened his lids this morning and glanced at the NHL standings, he was seeing Stars—at the bottom of the Western Conference heap.

So what’s the scoop, Jim boy?

“When you dig a hole, and then try to fill it back in, it never seems like there’s enough dirt to fill it back in,” he says. “So then you have to go find extra dirt. We’re really close to filling in the hole, but we have to all find a little extra dirt.”

Right. It’s dirty work, Jim, but someone’s gotta do it.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Bobby Hull’s original Jets jersey, circa 1972-73, fetched $122,057 at auction. How did ex-bride Joanne overlook that valuable piece of linen when she sold all his keeper trophies and memorabilia at her screw-Bobby garage sale during the 1970s?…I like Elliotte Friedman. He’s a pro and it’s obvious that he’s well-respected in hockey circles. But sometimes I wish he’d stop his 30 thoughts at about 20 thoughts…Hands up anyone who’s shedding tears for Patty Roy, coach of the woeful Colorado Avalanche. Didn’t think so…Isn’t it time someone called the Hometown Hockey Tour what it really is—a make-work-for-Ron MacLean project? There have been some good features, but it’s so sugary that I fear too much of it might send me into diabetic shock…Watching Curmudgeon’s Corner on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but think Don Cherry was playing a dangerous game of chicken with Rogers Media. Either they grant the Lord of Loud more time to spew from his Bully Pulpit, or they fire him…Is it just me, or does anyone else think there’s sometimes a greasy, groupie feel to George Strombouloupouloupoulous when he has a special guest in the Hockey Night in Canada red chairs? I thought he was going to ask Wayne Gretzky for an autograph on Saturday…Speaking of Gretzky, during his chin-wag with Stromboy, he said, “The greatest thing about the hockey players is they’re wonderful people.” I’m not sure the women on the receiving end of C-bombs from two Ontario Hockey League players would agree…When I learned that the New York Rangers were auditioning Tomas Kaberle, I thought it rather odd. If not desperate. But then they lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 3-1 at home. According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the Blueshirts looked like “an uninterested house-league team put together at the last minute.” I guess Kaberle would fit in after all…Out here in the boonies, we prattle on about Western Conference superiority. So how is it that the New York Islanders can go into Los Angeles, Anaheim and Phoenix and win three straight games? Phoenix I understand. The others I don’t…Couldn’t believe it when Steve Simmons of Sun Media confessed he doesn’t know what a beer snake is. Then I remembered his home base is Toronto. Maple Leafs fans are too busy tossing jerseys on the ice to make beer snakes.

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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I’m a Winnipeg Jets junkie again…damn them!

I’ve just returned from a fortnight in detox. Had to get the Winnipeg Jets out of my system. Didn’t read anything about them. Didn’t hear anything about them. Didn’t watch them. Went cold gobbler.

Life was good. Nothing like the purified, invigorating air of shinny sobriety.

Then it happened.

I was sitting in my local watering hole on Friday, trying to remain oblivious to the din of post-work week celebrants as I contemplated the events of the past five years of my life, when one of the regulars approached.

“You’re from Winnipeg, right Patti?” he said.

“You know I am,” I confirmed. “But I’ve already heard all the Winnipeg jokes about mosquitos, winter, spring flooding, slurpees, the murder capital of Canada, the Blue Bombers and especially the Jets. So save your breath.”

“But people aren’t joking about the Jets anymore.”

“Why not? Last time I looked, they were in last place.”

“Not anymore, little lady. They’ve picked up points in seven straight games. They’re only a few points out of first place. They’re winning ugly, but they’re winning.

“What do you mean by winning ugly.”

“They’re doing it without scoring any goals.”

“That’s crazy. You can’t win in the National Hockey League without scoring?”

“The Jets do.”

“What happened? Kevin the Possum (GM Cheveldayoff) finally make a trade for a bonafide NHL goaltender? They get King Henry? Jonathan Quick? Ryan Miller? Dominik Hasek come out of retirement?”

“Nope. Ondrej Pavelec is still the goalie.”

This fellow now officially had my undivided attention. I stopped nibbling on my grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich, put it down and fixed him with a hard look of suspicion. The boys in this bar tend to tease me about all things Pegtown, you see, so I thought perhaps this was another exercise in “Let’s yank Patti’s chain.”

“Don’t do this to me,” I said. “Please, please, please do…not…do…this…to…me. I’m a recovering Jets junkie. I’ve been off them for two weeks. I’m as clean as St. Bernadette’s soul. I no longer suddenly wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering if coach PoMo really had Chris Thorburn playing on the second line or if I was just dreaming. I’m completely off Thorbs and Bogo and Pavs and Big Buff. I’ve been doing my rehab at Habs Nation. It’s a nice place to be. We have group sessions and talk a lot about the playoffs, because they’ve been there. And Stanley Cups, because they’ve won them. They retire jerseys, because they have Hall of Fame players. Lots of them. So don’t tell me the Jets are winning. I don’t want to go back there. I cannot go back there.”

Thus, I had a tough call to make. My choice on Saturday night was Montreal-Minnesota or Winnipeg-Ottawa.

I held the remote in my right hand. My trigger finger twitched like Charlie Sheen when a police cruiser approaches. Channel 13 or channel 23? P.K. Subban and Carey Price or Thorbs and Pavs? Bob Cole or Dave Randorf (my, but what a lovely set of teeth you have). Either way, I knew there would be pain, because I couldn’t avoid P.J. Stock or Curdmudgeon’s Corner (if Don Cherry spent less time whining about not having enough time to say what it is he has to say, he’d have plenty of time to say what it is he has to say), and I also knew that I’d be seeing that pudgy, quasi-annoying A&W guy out on the streets pestering people about the non-use of steroids, hormones or antibiotics in chickens and cows (hey, pal, it’s fast food; it’s not healthy whether you’re feeding the critters caviar or shooting them up like Alex Rodriguez).

At any rate, I’m here to report that addiction won the day over sobriety. I’m hooked on the Jets. Again. I think.

I mean, this was gawdawful hockey. It was borderline unwatchable. If not for Wayne Gretzky surfacing in a pinstriped, mob hit man suit and joining Stromboy in the red chairs during the second intermission, I might have fled back to the serenity of Habs Nation. Seriously. The Jets have morphed into the New Jersey Devils. That isn’t Paul Maurice behind the bench. It’s Jacques Lemaire.

What I saw was a whole lot of same old, same old. Mark Scheifele is still on his knees more than his feet. Thorburn is still losing fights. Dustin Byfuglien is still wandering aimlessly. Zach Bogosian is still fortunate to have Toby Enstrom as an accomplice. Really, the only difference I noted in the Jets, individually, was between the goal posts. Pavelec actually looked good. Really good. Especially in the shootout of this 2-1 victory over the Senators. Imagine that. Ondrej Pavelec, stud goaltender. Who knew? Certainly not me. And he’s the reason the Jets have earned points in eight successive assignments.

So now I need another Jets fix. Damn them!

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: Winning ugly deserves an ugly uniform

A very unreliable source (a friend of a friend of a friend of Craig Heisinger’s third cousin’s sister’s seamstress) has informed me that the Winnipeg Jets will be the first National Hockey League team to display advertisements on their jerseys.

“It’s true,” my very unreliable source said. “People say the Jets have been winning ugly, so they figured they might as well have ugly uniforms. And, believe me, these unis are five kinds of uuuuuuugly!”

This development comes on the heels of a comment this week from NHL big-wig John Collins, who informed the ’14 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference that uniform advertising is “coming and happening.” He just didn’t expect it to come and happen this soon.

Jets’ bankroll Mark Chipman would neither confirm nor deny the report, but he did acknowledge (sort of) that fans might not immediately embrace the concept of ads on Jets jerseys.

jets jersey ads“The people in Jets Nation and what they think are very important to us,” he said. “Without our fans, we wouldn’t have any fans. And without fans…well, I really don’t want to think what life would be like without our fans because without them there would be no fans and, as Claude Noel was wont to say, there would be no joy if they weren’t paying some of the tallest ticket prices in the NHL. But, to those who oppose ads on our jerseys, I say this: With the additional revenue, our general manager can now afford to add another three years to Chris Thorburn’s contract at a wage normally reserved for top-six forwards.”

There’s some speculation that the Jets might debut their new duds tonight in Ottawa when they play the Senators.

“I can’t comment on that,” said Chipman. “You’ll just have to tune in to see.”

One prominent person pooh-poohed the notion of turning NHL players into skating billboards.

“Typical Bettman!” yelped Don Cherry, star of Curmudgeon’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada. “Anythink the Europeans do, he likes! The teams over there got more ads on their unforms than a Shopper’s Drug Mart flyer, so he figures that’s a GOOD THINK! Maybe this is his way of making the Europeans feel more AT HOME! Gotta keep them European boys HAPPY! Doesn’t matter that three-quarters of the players are from NORTH AMERICA! Gary’s gotta pamper the Europeans! Next think ya know, Bettman will have the refs carryin’ red cards and yellow cards in THEIR POCKETS! And another think…I can’t believe they’re gonna do this in Winnipeg! Must need the money or somethink. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, though? They voted in an NDP GOVERNMENT! Bunch of PINKOS!”

Chipman met Cherry’s criticism with a shrug and a smile, saying, “That’s just Don being Don.”

“I don’t think he’d have any complaints if we placed an ad for Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Hockey on our jersey. Hey, that’s not a bad idea! Canadian taxpayers have made Grapes a millionaire, so he could afford to give something back to the game other than 26 volumes of scar tissue and blood. Maybe he’d be willing to buy big Buff’s back. Probably not, though. Buff’s not a good Canadian boy.”

Our very unreliable source indicated that there would be half a dozen ads on each Jets jersey, except Dustin Byfuglien’s and Toby Enstrom’s. Big Buff’s sweater is large enough to accomodate 12 ads, eight on the front and four on the back, while there’s only room for three on tiny Toby’s.

“If we do this—and I’m not saying we are and I’m not saying we aren’t—it won’t be tacky and tawdry,” Chipman insisted. “True North is all about class, so you won’t be seeing Evander Kane skating down the left wing with a picture of a peeler joint and a half naked pole dancer in neon on his back. At True North, we’re all about family values.

“Truthfully, I can only see one negative in this idea: It’s going to play hell on Bob Cole. The game’s one big blur to the old boy as it is, so if we go slapping a whack of ads on our jerseys he’s going to think he’s looking at one of those 3D pictures with a picture hidden inside. Poor Bob will go bonkers, like Mr. Pitt on Seinfeld.”

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.