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Winnipeg Jets: Hope for a future without Chris Thorburn or Anthony Peluso

Time for a reality check, kids.

I realize you’re all giddy about the package of prospects Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs collected this weekend in the sunshine of Sunrise, Fla., but I have this real nasty (some call it annoying) habit of providing a pinch of perspective to all things Winnipeg Jets. Thus, I feel obligated to remind you that, come October when the local lads commence their 2015-16 crusade, no player in the opening-night lineup will be named Kyle Connor or Jack Roslovic.

There will, however, be a winger named Chris Thorburn. And most likely another named Anthony Peluso.

Sigh.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to use Thorburn and Peluso (the former more than the latter) as measuring sticks vis-a-vis the growth of the National Hockey League franchise, on-ice division. The way I have it figured, as long as either is wearing Jets linen, he is clogging the club’s developmental arteries.

I mean, Grand Master Chevy has been working this gig since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011. He’s been the overseer of five NHL entry drafts. He has laid claim to 38 freshly scrubbed wannabe Jets, including the aforementioned Connor and Roslovic this weekend. Each year he leaves the annual garage sale to a hail of hosannas (mainly from his lap dogs in the local media) for his handiwork in adding another set of trinkets to his collection of teenage talent.

And yet we are left with Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso. Still.

Double sigh.

The fact that not one of the Grand Master’s recruits has been capable of kicking Thorburn or Peluso to the curb leaves me to wonder if the scouting staff is found to be wanting, or if the coaching crew requires a session with Dr. Phil.

Feel free to discuss among yourselves.

A Gift from Sweeney Odd: Don’t run off with the notion that I’m sour on Grand Master Chevy’s fancy footwork in Florida.

I realize this June crap shoot is all about stocking the organizational Hope Chest and not meant to address present-day needs. And, by most reckoning, Chevy and his bird dogs did boffo business.

Let’s be honest, though. Because the Jets GM tried and failed to move up in the entry draft pecking order, he was at the mercy of the 14 outfits handing out jerseys and ball caps before his first call. The selection of Kyle Connor with the 17th shoutout was not a stroke of genius. It was Christmas morning.

Seriously. The only thing Don (D’oh!) Sweeney didn’t do for the Jets was wrap a ribbon around the American schoolboy. The Boston Bruins newly minted GM, hereafter known as Sweeney Odd, had a shot at Connor with No. 13. He passed. He had a shot with No. 14. He passed. He had a shot at No. 15. He passed. We can only assume that Sweeney Odd’s mind had fogged over after dealing away Dougie Hamilton and the Looch, Milan Lucic, and he awoke the morning after the draft asking, “I did what?”

Whatever the case, Kyle Connor was an unexpected gift from Beantown, which is why this thing is a crap shoot. (Apparently, there’s no truth to the rumor that Grand Master Chevy pulled a hamstring running to the stage after Garth Snow of the New York Islanders also passed on Connor with the 16th pick.)

Stars ‘n’ Gripes: Some patriotic noses might be out of joint in Jets Nation because the club is beginning to look as American as John Wayne movies and apple pie.

Well, just chill.

I mean, adding four U.S.-born draftees (Connor, Roslovic, Erik Foley and Mason Appleton) doesn’t convince me that Grand Master Chevy has hatched some sort of diabolical plot to satisfy a fetish for Uncle Sam’s lads. This isn’t like Mikhail Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project in the 1980s, whereby the GM of the day attempted to transform the roster into the Central Red Jets (where have you gone, Sergei Bautin?).

There’s substantial supporting evidence that suggests Americans play the game at a rather lofty level (hello, Patrick Kane). To ignore them would be folly.

Draft Day Notable Quotable: “The No. 1 characteristic of a Toronto Maple Leaf is a good human being. Period. So if you don’t fit that, you’re not going to be here,” says bench boss Mike Babcock.

What are we to make of that when Phil Kessel is given his marching orders?

Typing-Before-Thinking Tweets: This from Steve Simmons of Sun Media on possible NHL expansion—“Just what no real hockey fan asked for: Expansion.”

Really? I’m sure the good people in Quebec City who have been involved in an ongoing crusade to bring the NHL back to Le Ville will be disappointed to discover that they aren’t “real” hockey fans.

This from Damien Cox of Sportsnet after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup—“Best era of Chicago hockey I’ve seen, even the best Hull years.”

Unless he was watching the Blackhawks from his mother’s womb, his crib or during nap time at day care, it’s a serious stretch for Cox to pass himself off as an eye witness to the “best” of anything re Chicago and Bobby Hull. Cox, you see, wasn’t even on his mother’s breast when the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1961. He was born in August that year, four months after the fact. The Blackhawks also visited the Stanley Cup final in ’62 and ’65, at which time Cox would have been eight months and three years old, respectively.

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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Some red cards and yellow cards for you, you and you, and one “Gooooooooal!” for the Fab Four

It occurs to me that in honor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s time for some red cards, some yellow cards and a big salute…

red cardI don’t know who to red card first, Kyle Walters or Mike O’Shea.

I suppose it should be Walters, the chap who, as chief cook and bottle washer of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, extended a training camp invitation to Jordan Yantz. He said this was the real deal. Said the former University of Manitoba Bisons quarterback would be granted “every opportunity to win a job.”

“This isn’t a charity case, this isn’t any of that for-the-good-of-the-Canadian-quarterback stuff,” the Bombers GM told scribes.

As if.

This was such an obvious charity case that it probably qualifies as a tax writeoff.

The Bombers had two dress rehearsals in advance of their 2015 Canadian Football League crusade that commences on Saturday night in Yantz’s home town of Regina, and he never took a snap in either game. That’s what passes for “every opportunity” in Bomberland?

Walters gets a red card for the load of BS he dumped on news scavengers, and head coach O’Shea gets a red card for not giving Yantz at least one set of downs.

yellow card2Here’s the ultimate irony for Tiger Woods: By shooting three rounds in the 80s this year on the PGA Tour, including one in the just-concluded U.S. Open, he is now playing just like your basic weekend hacker but he no longer gets to play on weekends.

I’ve tried to think of another athlete of Woods’s stature who has experienced such a harsh, hurried and more inglorious plummet from the summit than His Royal Randiness. No one comes to mind. Yes, the skills of others, such as Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali, eroded over time and it was painful to watch their careers wither before our eyes. But with Tiger…well, this is cliff diving into a cement pond.

When Woods hands in his final scorecard and remains four wins shy of Jack Nicklaus’s standard of 18 golfing Grand Slam victories, he surely will include a footnote: If only I’d kept my pecker in my pants.

red cardOn the subject of vanishing acts, either Michael Sam has been placed in a witness protection program or he’s part of a David Copperfield now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t illusion. I say that because, in a day and age when seemingly everyone (except me) has a phone that is part camera, part tape recorder and part video recorder it’s astonishing that there has not been a peep from Sam since he bugged out of the Montreal Alouettes training camp.

The last confirmed sighting of Sam was almost two weeks ago. Where is TMZ when we need them?

I don’t know who’s been counseling Sam since he came out as gay, but I wouldn’t hire those people to advise me on what time of the day is best to brush my teeth. The Oprah reality thing, the Dancing with the Stars thing, the disappearing act…odd, odd, odd. Once he was out a gay, the advice should have been simple: Just play football, Michael.

gooooooool nuI call up the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Ed Tait, Paul Wiecek, Gary Lawless, Tim Campbell, Melissa Martin, Scott Billeck, Jeff Hamilton, Jerrad Peters and Doug Brown. That’s nine local scribes.

I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section, meanwhile, and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and Ted Wyman (in cameo appearances). That’s four local scribes.

Cripes, man, the Freep can field a complete baseball team while the Sun can barely scrounge up enough guys to enter a bonspiel or have a decent game of poker.

Custer’s 7th Cavalry was the last outfit outnumbered this badly.

So quiz me this: How is it that the Fab Four at the Sun somehow manages to fight the good fight against the Nattering Nine at the Drab Slab? Either one side is punching above its weight or the other side is pulling its punches, because the boys at Team Sun don’t get beat often and they manage to get in some good licks of their own.

Thus, it’s kudos to the Sun.

Still, I’d like to see them add a voice or two to give the section a bit more wallop. A female voice would be a welcome addition, too.

yellow card2Okay, we’ve got the Winnipeg Jets, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets.

We’ve got the Manitoba Moose, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Manitoba Moose.

We’ve got the Winnipeg Goldeyes, named after the baseball outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Is there no one in River City with an imagination? I mean, seriously. Three professional sports franchises and not an original handle in the bunch?

I know Mark Chipman, co-bankroll of Jets the Sequel, was bullied into naming his club after the dead and buried Jets of yore, but what’s his excuse for the regurgitation of the Moose? As for Sammy Katz and his Goldeyes, I didn’t like the name when he introduced it in 1994 and I don’t like it today. Mention the Goldeyes to me and I assume you’re talking about the St. Louis Cardinals farm team that played out of Winnipeg Stadium in the early 1960s.

So I say thank goodness for Uncle Vince Leah, the legendary sports scribe who named the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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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Winnipeg Jets: Kevin Cheveldayoff is a %^$#$#&^ if he allows Michael Frolik to walk

As a rule, I don’t swear. I like to think I can make my point sans profanity.

But right now, I want to turn the air 50 shades of blue. Desperately. I want to drop F-bombs like a 1960s hippie dropping acid. I mean, are the Winnipeg Jets serious about this Anthony Peluso thing? This is the opening gambit in an off-season that would draw them closer to the elite of the National Hockey League? Signing a low-talent, back-alley thug?

Forget the financial numbers. Whether there’s $675,000 in his pay envelope or $6.75 million, the re-signing of Peluso is like trying to correct a vitamin D deficiency by sending someone down into a coal mine.

Anthony Peluso is an NHL-calibre player like Don Cherry is an ambassador for Tourism Stockholm.

Because I don’t live inside Kevin Cheveldayoff’s noggin, I can only guess the reason(s) behind the re-signing of a resident guard dog who is unleashed approximately four out of every 60 minutes on those nights when he is required to do something other than munch popcorn. If, as has been suggested by some, Peluso is back on board to serve as an ill-tempered deterent to those who would bully the Jets’ more pocket-sized workers such as Nik Ehlers or Nic Petan, I have a better idea—stop drafting players no bigger than Papa Smurf.

I’m sorry, but this is Mad Scientist at Work territory. I haven’t scratched my head this often since that bad bout with dandruff 40 years ago.

Seriously, I cannot think of one good reason—not one, I say—for the Peluso signing.

I mean, how many hands of stone does one team require? They already have Chris Thorburn’s bare knuckles. Can’t he ride shotgun for the Smurfs? Why the need for four fists?

I know I’m not flying solo here. Many others are as puzzled as myself. We had awaited, with much anticipation, Grand Master Cheveldayoff’s initial move to upgrade or firm up a roster that was given its ouster from the just-concluded Stanley Cup tournament in the minimum four games. And what do we get? Not Michael Frolik or Drew Stafford. Not even the return of the prodigal son, Alexander Burmistrov. We get Anthony freaking (I told you I wanted to swear) Peluso. And, as an added bonus, Ben Chiarot.

Sigh.

I know, I know. Chevy’s work has only just begun. There’s more to come. There has to be.

Between now and next weekend’s annual NHL garage sale, an entry draft in which we are certain the Jets shall be selecting freshly scrubbed players not named McDavid or Eichel, the Grand Master must make a move on Frolik. Sign him, trade his negotiation rights or watch him skate away in exchange for a pocket full of nothing.

Surely this is priority No. 1. To allow Frolik to bid adieu as an unrestricted free agent on July 1…well, let’s just say Anthony Peluso cannot possibly fill those skates.

Frolik isn’t simply a useful player. He is a Swiss army knife. He gives head coach Paul Maurice first line-to-third line flexibility on the right flank, he’s arrived at his prime years (he’s 27), he can work the powerplay, he’s capable on the penalty kill, and he’s durable and dependable (missed just one game in two seasons in River City). What’s not to like? Money, of course, is the issue, but if I hear the difference between signing or not signing Frolik is the $675,000 Cheveldayoff has commited to Peluso, there shall be an inclination to do more than swear.

If Chevy lets Frolik walk and he’s left with squat—which I’m guessing will happen—then he’s a *$&^%## $&**^%$ son of a #^%^&^&%$#!

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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The boys on the football beat in Winnipeg are second to none

It occurs to me that…

There is no city in the Great White North with as superb a stable of scribes detailing all things three-down football than River City.

Start with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. Best beat writer in the whole land. His accomplice at the Freep, Paul Wiecek, and Kirk Penton over at the Winnipeg Sun complete a menage-a-terrific that keeps readers fully informed of the goings-on of not only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but the entirety of the Canadian Football League.

I also like Herb Zurkowsky in Montreal and the tandem of Rob Vanstone and Murray McCormick in Regina, but the quality and quantity that Messrs. Tait, Wiecek and Penton churn out is unmatched.

* There were fewer, if any, finer people on the Winnipeg/Manitoba sports scene than Frank McKinnon.

Frank McKinnon

Frank McKinnon

Frank, who passed away at age 80 last week, was the first person I interviewed and quoted in a byline story as a rookie reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. It was at a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting, and he was gracious, obliging and generous with his time. We spoke often over the ensuing 30 years and the former head of hockey in the province never changed. He always was a delight.

When I reflect on all the truly wonderful people I met during my time in mainstream jock journalism, Frank’s name is at the top of the good-guy list, alongside former player agent Don Baizley and University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie.

* I’m wounded. Crestfallen. And it’s all Gary (La La) Lawless’s doing.

La La, you see, has made an attempt to find a proper place in the pecking order of hockey homebrews for Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks centre who’s three wins away from adding to his collection of Stanley Cup rings. The main mouthpiece in the Freep sports section reckons that legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the pre-eminent Manitoba born-and-bred shinny star. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Well, he claims to have talked to a number of writers and former scribes who cover(ed) the local shinny scene.

Well, I’ve been following hockey in Winnipeg since the 1950s. I’ve been scribbling about it for the past 44 years. Nobody’s been at it longer. Alas, my phone still isn’t ringing, so I assume it still ain’t La La calling. Perhaps I was out or in the shower when his call came. Or maybe he just didn’t call.

This hurts, Gary. You never write or phone anymore. Is it something I wrote?

* If you’re looking for an example of what some sports scribes do when they’re bored with themselves, take a looksee at this Cathal Kelly offering in the Globe and Mail last week.

Cathal Kelly

Cathal Kelly

Kelly piddles on our prairie cousins in Edmonton because…well, because, in the world according to Cathal, Edmonton has the bad manners to not be the Republic of Toronto. Apparently, Edmonton is supposed to behave like the backwater burg Kelly believes it to be and excuse itself from hosting elite sporting events. You know, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup that commenced with Canada’s 1-nil verdict over China on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium in The Chuck.

He cites the 2011 WWC as an example of how things ought to be done. That footy extravaganza was showcased in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a stately, magnificent structure that, again, in the world according to Cathal, makes Commonwealth seem like a shelter for the homeless.

“It’s actively ugly,” crows Cathol, a bald, bespectacled man of horn-rims that some might describe as, well, actively ugly. “The field is circled by a track—the perfect bush-league touch that says ‘high school.’ “

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Berlin Olympic Stadium, complete with track around soccer pitch.

Ah, yes. Nothing says high school like a running track around a football pitch. You know, just like the running track that encircles the football pitch in the BERLIN OLYMPIC STADIUM!

We wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good hissy fit, though, would we, Cathal? You just go right ahead and rant. Stomp your little feet and hold your breath. Perhaps one day your beloved Republic of Toronto will grow up to become a city big enough to host a prestigious event like the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

For now, though, it’s shut out of the soccer circus and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for the Pan American Games in July. Those would be the same Games that Winnipeg has already hosted. Twice.

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.