The River City Renegade


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Winnipeg Jets: Is Paul Maurice really that good a coach?

I lied. Sort of. Kind of. It wasn’t an intentional lie, understand. It wouldn’t even qualify as a little, white lie.

When I wrote last month that I was shutting down The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog, I meant it. I was done after more than 40 years of scribbling about all matters on the Winnipeg sports landscape. Now, as you can see, The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog is again very much up and running.

Perhaps I merely needed time away. Some space, as they say (whoever they are).

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

There have been things I wanted to write about in the presence of my own absence, most of them pertaining to the Winnipeg Jets, who continue to send front-line players to the infirmary yet still conspire to win games and make a genuine push toward participation in next spring’s Stanley Cup tournament.

I truly do not know what to make of this National Hockey League outfit. I mean, is Paul Maurice that good a coach? His backline has been ransacked, but he plugs the holes with spare parts provided by general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff or the farm in Newfy Land and the beat goes on, tickety-boo.

I must confess that, until this week, I had aligned myself fully with the skeptics. There is, in hockey, an axiom that tells us “You are what your record says you are.” Well, that didn’t wash with me. I remained unconvinced that these Jets, a group with no post-season pedigree, were built of playoff brick and mortar. Then they skated into the Toddlin’ Town and laid a proper paddywhacking on the Blackhawks, 5-1. You win with that defence—Adam Pardy, Paul Postma, Jay Harrison, Grant Clitsome and Ben Chiarot? In Chicago?

That’s not to dismiss the sizeable contribution (literally and figuratively) of Dustin Byfuglien, the born-again blueliner who’s been wearing his happy face ever since coach PoMo freed him from his purgatory of right wing. Big Buff has been gobbling up ice time like burgers at a BBQ. He spent just under 28 1/2 minutes roaming the Madhouse on Madison freeze Tuesday evening, and he managed to do so without crippling calamity.

This, of course, is a notable departure from the past, when Byfuglien patrolled the blueline like he had a live grenade in his hockey britches. To say Big Buff was prone to pratfalls is to say Don Cherry is apt to wear loud clothing while dissing Europeans.

So now this is the question: What does coach PoMo do when Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart rejoin the fray?

He will, no doubt, do the right thing because Maurice seems to have a knack for doing the right thing.

None of this, by the way, should be taken as an indictment of coach PoMo’s predecessor as the Jets’ bench puppet master, Claude Noel. The club’s unexpected perch in a playoff position as we carve our Christmas turkeys does not mean Noel is a lousy coach. It merely confirms what many of us believed long before his dismissal last January—he was the wrong coach for this group.

Whereas these players zoned out Noel, Maurice has them in a zone.

Naturally, skeptics remain. At least one pundit, Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, directs our attention to the Jets’ pre-break form chart which indicates they have feasted on sub-.500 outfits (12-1-3) and struggled vs. stronger sides (6-9-4).

“If they continue on the same trajectory, this team will fade down the stretch,” Gary La La writes, noting that the Winnipegs will line up against plus-.500 teams in 32 of their final 47 skirmishes.

Could be it’s an accurate assessment. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time this franchise has performed a faceplant in the back half of a once-promising crusade, and operating sans your top four defencemen surely will take a toll.

I’m still not convinced that we’ll see spring shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie after April 11, but I am sold on one thing: Paul Maurice. Apparently his players are, too.

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) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

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Coal or Goal: Hockey Santa delivers the Christmas goodies for the naughty and nice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOAL AND COAL: To my very own self for being inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour, and for being such a ditz as to suggest Paul Maurice was a broken-down coach.

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) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t 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., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.


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Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association: Making a bold statement for diversity, equality and acceptance

So, my friend George and I are engaged in a chin-wag. He is a low talker and I often must strain, or ask him to repeat himself, in order to receive the full weight of his words, which usually originate from a base of knowledge and wisdom.

“I’ll be inducted into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association hall of fame next month,” I advise him.

George lights up.

“That’s wonderful,” he says sincerely (and I can actually hear him without leaning forward). “But, Patti, this isn’t about you.”

I pause for ponder. What’s this “not about me” nonsense? The hell it isn’t about me. It’s all about me. I’ve been waiting for this to happen since the turn of the century. I was feeling like Susan Lucci. She was nominated 18 times before finally winning a daytime Emmy Award, and I’d already received 15 snubs from the MSSA since my escape from mainstream jock journalism in 1999. I went to extremes in my quest to attract their attention. I mean, if I was going to feel like Susan Lucci, I figured I might as well look like her, too. So I had M-to-F gender reassignment surgery in 2009. Still nothing. The MSSA didn’t like me pre- or post-op, and I’d officially run out of genders.

“Geez,” I asked myself, “what does a girl have to do to get noticed around here?”

Well, they finally did notice and now George is telling me that being inducted into the MSSA Roll of Honour isn’t about me?

Truth is, he’s correct. It isn’t about me. It’s about diversity, equality and acceptance. It’s about the MSSA becoming the first mainstream sports organization that I know of in Canada to honor a transgender female in such a manner, and I’m not sure they appreciate the significance their deed carries in the gay community.

Mainstream jock journalism, understand, is very much a good, ol’ boys bit of business. In my 30 years writing for five newspapers, I worked with just four female scribes—Peggy Stewart, Rita Mingo (Winnipeg Tribune), Mary Ormsby (Toronto Sun) and Judy Owen (Winnipeg Sun). All my other colleagues were male, 99.9 per cent of them white and 100 per cent of them confirmed heterosexuals.

Talk about a closed clubhouse.

It’s true, though. I never worked with an openly gay sports writer. Either gender. More to the point, I’ve never known an openly gay sports scribe in Canada. I suspect a lesbian would be accepted into the clubhouse more readily than a gay guy, but to my knowledge that girl has yet to come out.

Yet now we have the MSSA embracing a transgender female, voting for her induction into its Roll of Honour.

Should that be important? You’d like to think not in the 21st century, but it is. I mean, transgender individuals still seek the same federal human rights protections as gay men, lesbians and other minorites vis-a-vis hate crimes and discrimination. Bill C-279, which would enable equal protection for transgender men, women and children, has been sitting in the Canadian Senate for more than a year and a half because some of our so-called leaders still have great difficulty with equality for the transgender.

So, what the MSSA has done is large and resonates in the gay collective. Since I posted news of this development on Facebook, more than 70 lesbians (total strangers, save for one) have commented. Here’s a sampling:

Congratulations! That is a huge step forward for women and lesbians in this country…perhaps the world!”

Congratulations, Patti Dawn Swansson! You’re making history, being the first lesbian awarded this honour, and continuing a (short) tradition of women receiving this recognition. HOORAY!! *throws biodegradable confetti*”

Wow Patti!! Thats huge news!!! My Hat is off to you!!”

Your accomplishment is inspiring to hear and impressive. Congratulations!”

So, you see, my friend George was right. It isn’t about me. It’s about these women and all others in the gay collective. We are proud of the members of the MSSA, we applaud them and we thank them.