The River City Renegade


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About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s panic pick…the Andrew Ladd trade…this Finn’s not the Flash…and the building of a Stanley Cup champion

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Logan Stanley

Logan Stanley

I’m not sure what we are to make of Kevin Cheveldayoff this morning.

I mean, he who sits at the right hand of Grand Master Chipper got his man at the top of the National Hockey League entry draft on Friday night, selecting Finnish phenom Patrik Laine with his first shout, but that was a gimme. A blind squirrel could have dug up that acorn.

It’s what Chevy did for his second act that lends itself to head scratching.

Going in, Cheveldayoff owned three of the first 36 picks (Nos. 2, 22, 36) in the NHL’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenage talent. By the end of Day One, he owned only two of the first 78 (Nos. 2, 18). Say again? Chevy went from three of the first 36 picks to two of the first 78, not getting his third call until No. 79.

I’m no Einstein, but it occurs to me that this is a peculiar bit of mathematical gymnastics. Perhaps it’s the Jets’ version of new hockey analytics—four steps forward and 43 steps back.

Whatever, in trading up four spots to secure a long, tall drink of water named Logan Stanley, Chevy either performed some serious sleight-of-hand that no one saw coming (save for the pack of bird dogs he hires to ferret out le creme de la frozen pond) or he is guilty of a Sergei Bautin-type miscalculation.

Puck pundits who are paid to know such things had Stanley ranked anywhere from 22nd to 42nd, which means there can be just one logical explanation for Cheveldayoff flip-flopping first-round picks with the Philadelphia Flyers and, at the same time, frittering away the Jets’ second-round selection—his knee jerked. Badly.

Yes, the Jets need left-handed-shooting defencemen like Don Cherry needs a fashion consultant, but is the Windsor Spitfires rearguard a prospect of such loft that you surrender the No. 36 pick?

In time, of course, we will discover if the 6-feet-7 Stanley becomes a bookend for the 6-feet-7 Tyler Myers—stand those two side-by-side and stretch out their arms and they’ll reach from Portage and Main to Portage la Prairie—or a bust.

For now, though, it smells like a panic pick.

Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine

We can close the book on the Andrew Ladd trade. For those of you keeping score at home, the Jets packaged their former captain along with Matt Fraser and Jay Harrison to Chicago in barter for Marko Dano and the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick. So, officially, it’s Ladd, Fraser and Harrison for Dano and Logan Stanley, but realistically it’s Ladd for Dano and Stanley.

Little-known facts about some of the Jets’ draft picks: If he could be another person for one day, Patrik Laine would be Roger Federer; Logan Stanley is afraid of snakes; Luke Green once raced motocross; Jacob Cederholm is afraid of spiders and the coolest person he’s ever met is Tie Domi (which would indicate the young Swede needs to get out more often and meet more people).

As Howie (Squeaker) Meeker was wont to say, “Stop it there! Stop it right there!” No more calling Patrik Laine the Finnish Flash, the Finnish Flash 2.0 or anything else that includes the word Flash. There’s only one Finnish Flash. You can see him in the Heritage Classic oldtimers game in October.

Speaking of Teemu Selanne, I’m not sure why so many knickers are in a knot because Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks was named the NHL’s top freshman at age 24. I don’t recall any such gnashing of the teeth when Selanne took home the Calder Trophy at age 22.

Jesse Puljujarvi

Jesse Puljujarvi

Hard to figure the Edmonton Oilers. No NHL outfit is in greater need of an upgrade on the blueline, but what does GM Peter Chiarelli do at the entry draft? He uses his first two shouts to take forwards, Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Benson. Will they ever learn?

In the final reckoning, the Oilers might have plucked the better of the two fab Finns at the top of the entry draft, but I’m glad the Jets landed Laine. Why? His name is easier to spell. I mean, it took me a year to get Byfuglien and Scheifele right, and Hellebuyck is still giving me fits. So I didn’t want to deal with Puljujarvi.

Food for thought: As much as Cheveldayoff likes to chirp about his draft-and-develop strategy, someone ought to tell Mark Chipman’s right-hand man that there’s more to building a champion than calling out names on the draft floor every June. For evidence, look no further than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The outfit that won the Stanley Cup tournament earlier this month was equal parts draftee (12) and castoff (13). You don’t get the job done on home-grown talent alone.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.

 

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About the return of the Prodigal Pun…keeping Patrick Kane out of trouble…draft day busts…Sin City…and stocking an expansion team

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

George Stromboy

George Stromboy

So, tight and shiny, ill-fitting suits are no longer in vogue on Hockey Night in Canada, and horrible, cringe-inducing cornballism is back. The hip host is out and the old, greybeard is in.

Well, okay, Rogers Media hasn’t made it official yet, but all indicators point to the ouster of George Stroumboloupouloupouloupoulous as host of HNIC and the return of the Prodigal Pun, Ron MacLean. Which is sort of like replacing Drake with Bing Crosby.

No doubt this development shall be received with a rousing chorus of rah-rahs from the rabble on Planet Puckhead who care about such matters, but I’m not so sure Stromboy is/was the problem.

You want culprits for HNIC’s nosedive in ratings? Start with the game itself. Most National Hockey League regular-season skirmishes are exciting like Don Cherry is bashful. And it doesn’t help that the majority of matches Rogers delivers to our living rooms feature bottom-feeding outfits from our home and native land. Really, who beyond the borders of British Columbia would want to watch the Vancouver Canucks? Does anyone outside of the nation’s capital know the Ottawa Senators exist?

Then there’s Stromboy’s supporting cast. Seriously, P.J. Stock? A career minor-leaguer, he suited up for a grand total of eight NHL playoff games and does commercials for adult diapers. Ya, that’s real star power. Nick Kypreos? He owns a Stanley Cup ring, but was a spare part who played just three of 23 games in the New York Rangers’ 1994 title run. Glenn Healy? The most annoying man on TV since the original Canadian Tire Guy. A career backup goaltender. Notable for playing the bagpipes. Insider Damien Cox? Oy vey.

fox

The Fox NFL Sunday gang.

By way of comparison, consider the lineup that Fox NFL Sunday trots out: Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback and multiple Super Bowl champion; Howie Long, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Michael Strahan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Jimmy Johnson, two-time Super Bowl champion coach and College Hall of Fame coach. The insider is Jay Glazer, who actually appears to have a personality, unlike Cox, who stares creepily into the camera and no doubt sends little children scurrying to the cover of their bedrooms.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Stromboy’s—and I have little doubt he shall find another TV studio with red chairs to call home—but if he’s the fall guy he should be only the first domino to tumble.

Will Arnett, I am informed, is an accomplished actor, nominated for several Emmy Awards. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He’s a good actor. What he isn’t, is a good comedian. I’m sorry if you’re a fan, but he was a very unfunny host of the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night. His Mr. Genius skit with Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan was as wince-inducing as Ron MacLean’s puns.

How will Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate his MVP-winning season, by punching out a cab driver or molesting a woman? Apparently, the Blackhawks have asked Kane to stay in the Toddlin’ Town this summer rather than have him return to his favorite haunts in Buffalo. Ya, as if that’s going to keep him out of trouble. I mean, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of cab drivers and women in Chicago.

Alexandre Daigle

Alexandre Daigle

Interesting headline in the Winnipeg Sun this morning: “Jets can’t go wrong in Friday’s draft.” Really? Can you say Alexandre Daigle, kids? Can you say Patrik Stefan? Or Rick DiPietro? There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NHL entry draft until they become a sure thing. The Winnipeg Jets will pluck Finnish forward Patrik Laine from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenagers on Friday night, then hope they haven’t gone wrong.

If you were Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, would you trade the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft for the negotiation rights to Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round choice, which falls at No. 27? I would. Then open the vault for homeboy Stamkos.

What an interesting country we live in. I mean, upon his death, hockey great Gordie Howe was glorified and deified for six decades of using his elbows to bust jaws and send people to the dentist. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throws one errant elbow and he’s crucified. Go figure.

vegasDon’t count me among the skeptics suggesting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas won’t work. It will work because Gary Bettman, the pointy-nosed and bobble-head commish, will make it work come hell or high odds. If he hasn’t bailed on Arizona by now, he’ll never bail on Sin City.

Got a kick out of a Paul Wiecek piece in the Winnipeg Free Press re next year’s expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas Rat Pack roster. The Jets, like all 30 current NHL outfits, will lose one player, a reality that “some think is going to hit the Jets as hard—or even harder—than any team in the league.” The way Wiecek has it reasoned, one of the following will have to get out of Dodge: Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Alexander Burmistrov. Oh, how will the Jets possibly survive?

I went to the Winnipeg Sun website last Sunday morning and the Calgary Sun popped up. Seriously, five stories on the Calgary Flames on the sports front and zero on the Winnipeg Jets. This is what happens when one media giant owns 99 per cent of the newspapers in Canada.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.

 


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Kevin Cheveldayoff: Translating the Winnipeg Jets GM’s Chevy-speak

That was quite the deliverance from Kevin Cheveldayoff earlier this week. Say this for the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets, he does not cut to the chase.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Fear not, though, kids. I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics and, during my 30 years in mainstream jock journalism, I developed a fool-proof method of translating shinny dialect into plain, ordinary, everyman’s English. Chevy-speak is a tough nut to crack, but I’ve managed to reduce his 28-minute chin-wag with news scavengers down to approximately 1,000 words.

Here, then, is what Chevy said and what he really said

Have you finalized your pecking order for next Friday’s National Hockey League entry draft?

What Chevy said: “The list is getting pretty much in ink. Unless something really dramatically makes a shift that you just don’t see, our minds are very set.”

What Chevy really said: “Listen people, there’s an ink eraser on my ball point pen, so—whoo boy!—if the Toronto Maple Leafs pull a page from the Edmonton Oilers’ draft manual and royally screw up (hello, Nail Yakupov!), we’ll be all over Auston Matthews like chin whiskers on Joe Thornton. But I suspect we’ll be selecting Patrik Laine with the No. 2 pick.”

Are you actively trying to trade young defenceman Jacob Trouba?

What Chevy said: “This is an interesting time of year. I’ve seen lots of different scenarios out there of teams that are pushing hard that I haven’t even heard from and I’ve talked to different teams that have asked different questions that I’ve certainly asked myself. I’m not trying to trade anybody. I think in this game there’s a distinct possibility that anybody can get traded. And again we’ve got some good young players here. We’ve got two of them that are up for contracts in Trouba and (Mark) Scheifele and we’re going to do our best to get those contracts done and in the books. So trying to trade him? No.”

What Chevy really said: “If Trouba thinks he’s going to get $7 million a year out of me, I’ll ship his ass out of here faster than you can say ‘Have fun in Edmonton.’ ”

rae and jerry'sWill your first pick in the entry draft, No. 2 overall, be able to step directly into the Jets’ lineup next season?

What Chevy said: “I think there was a lot of reference as to having…there’s the three players mentioned in the same breath all the time…those players each and every year differ, sometimes a player can step right into your lineup, sometimes they can’t. I think the players at the top end of the draft this year look like they’re ready to step in. How much they contribute, what type of role they play, all those kinds of things are really left for them to determine. That’s what training camp’s about. We’ll see how it goes.”

What Chevy really said: “Well, duh! If Patrik Laine doesn’t take a job away from Chris Thorburn or Anthony Peluso, I’ll personally buy all my friends in the media a steak dinner at Rae and Jerry’s.”

Have negotiations with Jacob Trouba and his agent been difficult?

What Chevy said: “The rumors and stuff that everyone hears, it’s interesting, because they don’t come from inside the negotiation room. They come from imaginations and different scenarios that this time of the year just naturally brings. In this game here, you just don’t know. In the National Hockey League there’s things that happen very quickly, there’s things that take time, there are scenarios that present themselves that maybe you do look at a trade, there are scenarios that present themselves that you look at signing a guy long term or short term. So, sitting here, standing here today there’s nothing that’s not on the table, but it’s good to have options to try and move forward with.”

What Chevy really said: “I repeat: If Trouba thinks he’s going to get $7 million a year out of me, I’ll ship his ass out of here faster than you can say ‘Have fun in Edmonton.’ ”

Patrik Laine sounds like a cocky kid, claiming he should be the No. 1 overall pick ahead of Auston Matthews. Any concerns about Laine shooting from the lip?

What Chevy said: “I think anybody that goes out there and plays and goes into the forum and into the ice surface and competes at the highest level has that level of confidence in themselves, and well they should. They’re all very good hockey players and, again, you get a short period of time at the combines to get a glimpse of it and…again, that’s why you do a lot of due diligence behind the scenes and other opportunities to talk to friends, school teachers…”

What Chevy really said: “We all know what happened to the last player who thought his stuff didn’t stink. I think Evander’s track suit was still wet by the time he arrived in Buffalo. Don’t worry about Laine. Give us a week and we’ll have him spewing the same old boring cliches as the rest of the guys.”

Often the NHL is a copycat league, so is there any urge to follow the lead of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

What Chevy said: “I think everyone looks at what’s going on, but I think you have to look from within. It’s kind of like, you don’t just change direction of a semi or a tanker or anything like that. You can’t just say we’re going in this direction. I think it has to be a philosophy that works for your organization. You have to look at what you have, what you have coming, what you have available to yourself, and every team is not going to have the same type of mix. So I think it’s a real dangerous, dangerous thing to sit here and say, ‘Well, just because Pittsburgh or just because Chicago or just because L.A. won the Stanley Cup that this is the direction. I think that the greater you can forge your own identity and grow that organically I think is what’s majorly important. And, again, I think it takes understanding what you have and not trying to shoehorn things into the wrong positions, and that’s what a good coach and coaching staff does.

What Chevy really said: “Give me Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and I’ll copy cat the Pittsburgh Penguins; give me Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith and I’ll copy cat the Chicago Blackhawks; give me Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick and I’ll copy cat the Los Angeles Kings.”

How will an expansion team in Las Vegas affect your plans?

What Chevy said: “Again, the reports are the reports. It’s presumptuous on anyone’s part to talk about facts until they become facts, or if they become facts. The Board of Governors is coming up and certainly that will be when anything definitive will come out. I’ll just go back to our last general managers’ meeting when we were given a brief overview that if expansion did happen what the parameters might look at. The good thing is, we were told that if there is expansion it would not come until next season, so there’s a planning element that could be involved if the vote does happen.”

What Chevy really said: “Please, please, please, let there be an expansion team and let the Las Vegas Snake Eyes or One-Eyed Jacks or Royal Flush draft Ondrej Pavelec.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.


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About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

No. 4, Bobby Orr

No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.

 


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Patrik Laine: Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?

Oh, dear. Whatever will the Winnipeg Jets do with Patrik Laine?

He has confidence like Don Cherry has bad suits, with gusts up to galloping cockiness.

He’d rather listen to Eminem than rock on to Winnipeg’s own Guess Who, Neil Young or Randy Bachman and BTO.

He gets a kick out of his chin-wags with the media and doesn’t deliver yawn-inducing quotes. If he’s in the mood, he’ll conduct an interview while lying in bed.

He isn’t fond of signing autographs for greasy men twice his age who’ll turn his signature into a profit on eBay.

Oh, and did I mention that if you have difficulty with any of the above, you can kiss his 18-year-old Finnish butt, only he puts it a little more delicately?

People can think what they want to think,” he says. “I don’t care.”

Talk about a track suit waiting to get wet.

That’s what happened to the last player who rubbed some of the squeaky-clean off the Jets brand. Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who does not suffer fools lightly, took brattish Evander Kane’s track suit and dipped it into a tub of ice water, his punishment for not arriving at a team gathering adorned in appropriate attire. Message sent. Message received. Kane was banished to Buffalo.

Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine

Hey, I’m not saying Patrik Laine is the second coming of Evander Kane. I’m sure he’ll pay all his bar tabs and parking tickets. And, whereas Kane had a chip on his shoulder the size of Big Buff’s dinner plate, Laine, based on media buzz, is an absolute delight. He’s as fast with his lips as he is getting off a one-timer. He’s been filling notebooks, at both the recent National Hockey League draft combine and in San Jose, where he and other notables from this year’s crop of teenage talent gathered to observe and absorb the goings-on at the Stanley Cup skirmish featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins and homestanding Sharks.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it?

The Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment doesn’t want its workers filling notebooks. TSNE has a Cold War, Kremlin-like paranoia about controlling the message.

Kane, if nothing else, had personality. Although they repeatedly issued sound bites to the contrary, his act rubbed Jets ownership and management the wrong way. Laine has personality. I can’t imagine that will prevent them from claiming the flashy Finnish forward with the No. 2 call at this month’s NHL entry draft in Buffalo. But they might already be sizing him for a muzzle.

What we have here, you see, is a culture clash.

The Jets are buttoned-down. They prefer their players to be as the three wise monkeys Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru—hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. Chin-wags with news scavengers are put on a stopwatch. Questions are limited in number. A PR flack is forever lurking, lest an unsuitable query be advanced or, horrors, a player delivers a bon mot that does not dovetail with team dogma.

Laine, on the other hand, is buttoned-down like Donald Trump is shy. Every bit of evidence presented to date supports the notion that he is a free spirit with loose lips and a keen sense of showmanship. He is the Flamboyant Finn.

Let’s put it this way: Laine has yet to play his first game at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, but I already know more about him than I do Mark Scheifele or Jacob Trouba, who’ve been under the Jets’ spell for five and four years, respectively.

So, is Laine a fit for the Jets?

All of this, of course, becomes moot should the Toronto Maple Leafs lose their minds between now and the June 24 draft and use the No. 1 call overall to secure Laine, thus dropping Auston Matthews in the Jets’ lap. It is not, however, an eventuality on which Jets Nation should set store. The rule of thumb in hockey is that, given a choice between a big, strong, all-purpose centre-ice man and a winger with an itchy trigger finger, you take the centre every time. Unless the winger’s name is Guy Lafleur (see: 1971 draft) or Alex Ovechkin (see: 2004 draft).

Thus, the Leafs will pluck Matthews from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenage boys, leaving Laine and his loose lips to the Jets.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, start your notebooks. I hope.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.


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About Jim Kernaghan…the Grim Reaper…charismatic jocks…and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Wall of Honor

I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Jim Kernaghan

Jim Kernaghan

The trouble with aging isn’t in the living, it’s in the dying.

Not in our dying, understand, but in the passing of so many of our contemporaries, the people we grew up with, worked with, learned with, played with, laughed with, cried with. The people we watched and admired. The people who inspired and delighted.

No one here gets out alive. We know that (although Keith Richards appears to be pushing the envelop). But the reminders come too rapidly once we have arrived at a certain vintage.

On Friday, Muhammad Ali leaves us. Two days later, Jim Kernaghan is gone.

Those who knew him best might suggest that it’s just like Kernaghan to check out so soon after the former heavyweight boxing champion died. That would be ‘Kerny’. Chasing the story. Still. Always.

Kernaghan, one of the flowers of Canadian jock journalism during a 42-year print run that stretched from 1964 to 2006, was someone to be admired and respected as a person and writer. He spent a considerable amount of time chronicling the fascinating deeds and derring-do of Ali, initially for the Toronto Star then the London Free Press. He was on site to deliver daily dispatches to readers for more than two dozen of the champ’s 61 fist fights, including the night he bade farewell in a cringe-inducing tiff with Trevor Berbick.

That was in Nassau, Bahamas, early in December 1981. I remember spending time with Kerhaghan in a Paradise Island bar, talking Ali, trying to soak up his knowledge and listening to tinny Christmas carols being played by a steel drums band.

I never thought I’d ever be sitting in a bar in the Bahamas, a couple of weeks before Christmas, listening to Jingle Bells and Silent Night being played on steel drums,” I said to him. “It’s real strange and different.”

You can’t have a big fight without strange and different,” he said. “Especially if Ali and his people are involved. They’re always strange and different.”

I never saw much of Kernaghan after the Ali-Berbick bout, because I soon was off on other adventures that landed me at the Calgary Sun and Winnipeg Sun. But I never forgot his kindness and I never stopped reading him. He was terrific.

Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

I know Kernaghan was there. I know legendary Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell was there. And I know I was there. If there were other Canadian jock journalists at the final Ali fist fight in Nassau, I don’t recall. Two of our unholy trinity are dead. As are five of the boxers on the Drama in Bahama card: Ali, Berbick, Greg Page, Scott Ledoux and Jeff Sims. Makes me wonder why the Grim Reaper has spared me.

Just wondering: Would there be a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or an Ahmad Rashad if Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. hadn’t become Muhammad Ali in 1964? Somehow I doubt it. There’d most likely still be a Lew Alcindor and a Bobby Moore.

Ali’s passing put me in ponder of the charismatic jocks and/or sportsmen I was fortunate enough to meet and write about during my 30 years in mainstream media. They are:

  1. Muhammad Ali: One of a kind.
  2. Pinball Clemons: A pure joy to be around.
  3. John Ferguson: The former Winnipeg Jets general manager was a keg of dynamite, but he had a compelling, powerful personality. Everyone knew when Fergy was in the room.
  4. Cal Murphy: Yes, the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach and GM was curmudgeonly and oft-cranky, but he was also a sackful of howls. Oh, how he would make us laugh. And he filled notebooks.
  5. Vic Peters: The curling legend had an every-man air that was very inviting and appealing.
  6. Chris Walby: The big man on the Bombers’ O-line seemed ever-present. Even when he wasn’t in the room, he was in the room. If you catch my drift.
  7. Pierre Lamarche: Most of you probably don’t recognize the name, but Pierre is a long-time big shot in Canadian tennis. I covered him at the Canadian National Tennis Tournament in the early to mid-1970s, when the event was staged at the Winnipeg Canoe Club. He was a big, happy-go-lucky French-Canadian who delivered great quotes and brightened your day.
  8. I’d say Bobby Hull, but I can’t get past the domestic violence stuff.
Indian Jack Jacobs

Indian Jack Jacobs

So, the debate is on: Which names belong on the Wall of Honor at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? And in what order? Well, much respect to Chris Walby, one of my top-five fave Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but no, he ought not be the starting point when the Canadian Football League club begins to salute its legendary workers. You begin with Indian Jack Jacobs and the Galloping Ghost, Fritz Hanson. I never saw either of them play, but I know what they did, and anytime you need to build a new stadium basically because of one man (see: Jacobs, Jack) he has to be first in the roll call. Next up would be Bud Tinsley, then Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Herb Gray, Gerry James, Frank Rigney and Walby. That’s your starting nine. Old friend Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun has other ideas, but it’s apparent that he’s unaware they played football in River City prior to the Bud Grant era.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.

 


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Muhammad Ali: Kicking the ‘shit’ out of Sonny Liston and getting a kick out of life

I don’t pretend to have known Muhammad Ali, even though I am like many folks of my vintage who like to think we knew him.

Ali arrived in my consciousness early in the 1960s, when he began shooting off at the mouth (a la flamboyant grappler Gorgeous George) and wrested the world heavyweight boxing championship from the dreaded, mob-linked thug Sonny Liston. He was called Cassius Clay then, and I recall listening to the first of his two fights with Liston on the radio.

The grownup men had gathered in our kitchen, the non-interested women sat in the living room.

“Come on, Clay!” I yelped with the enthusiasm of any 13-year-old sprig. “Kick the shit out of him!”

This was the one and only time in my youth that I used profanity in the presence of grownups and, although there was mild tittering at the kitchen table, I was scolded, yet spared the harrowing punishment of my mother shoving a bar of soap in my mouth and giving it a good scrubbing. Perhaps it helped that Clay did, in fact, kick the “shit” out of Liston.

Whatever, little could I have imagined that, not quite 18 years after that Feb. 25, 1964, incident I would meet the great man.

***

ali6It was early December, 1981, and I stood within heckling distance of Greg Page, a growing concern among the world’s preeminent heavyweight fist-fighters.

Page was moving briskly to and fro in a makeshift ring, bobbing and weaving and flicking left jabs and right crosses into the thick air of anticipation that accompanied all big bouts back when boxing still was big. In a few days, the product of Louisville, Ky., would be throwing down against Scott Ledoux, a Minnesota miner’s son and a plodding palooka best known for his mental toughness and inadvertently knocking the toupee from the head of bombastic broadcaster Howard Cosell. This was Page’s final prep as part of the undercard to the Drama in Bahama and its main event, Muhammad Ali vs. Trevor Berbick.

As I watched Page punch at shadows while all manner of misfits consorted with seedy, nefarious-looking leeches on the periphery, I felt a presence to my left flank. It was heavy. Imposing. I turned, ever so slightly. The man standing beside me was dressed in black. Shoes. Trousers. Untucked shirt hanging over a substantial girth. All black. I looked up. Way up.

Muhammad Ali was listed at 6-feet-3 and he would weigh in at 236 and change for his bout with Berbick, but he seemed so much taller. His crop of short, curly hair surely seemed at least seven feet above the soles of his shoes.

“Hi Muhammad,” I said. “How’s it going today?”

“The kid,” he said, nodding in Page’s direction, “thinks he’s as pretty as me. But he ain’t. Ain’t nobody as pretty as me.”

When I met Ali during the run-up to his Dec. 11, 1981, bout with Berbick, he wasn’t pretty anymore. His belly was layered with flab and he shuffled along. Parkinson’s syndrome had begun its assault, although we didn’t know it at the time. We just thought he was punch drunk, which is why no athletic commission in the United States was willing to grant him a license to fight again. He was forced to take his act to Nassau, Bahamas, where he and Berbick pitched duel on a parched patch of earth known as the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre.

The entire production was patchwork. The ring was set up on a pasture disguised as a sandlot baseball infield, at second base. Nobody thought to bring an official timer, so a stopwatch was used. Nobody thought to bring a ringside bell, so a cowbell was located. There were only two sets of gloves for a dozen fighters. All but Ali, Berbick and Thomas Hearns were required to squeeze together in one tiny, cramped changing room, like so many cattle in a pen.

ali1Only a month shy of his 40th birthday, by the time Berbick was done boxing his ears, Ali looked to be on the far side of his 60th birthday. It was to be the last of his 61 professional fist-fights, the final two of them humbling losses at the fists of Larry Holmes and Berbick.

All considered, it was an inglorious way for the most glorious of gladiators to bid farewell to a sport that for the best part of two decades had ridden the coattails of his boxing skills, charm, charisma and social awareness.

Still, I often cite covering that event for the Toronto Sun as the signature assignment of my 30 years in jock journalism.

In the few hours since his death on Friday, there has been an outpouring of admiration and affection for Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. (his “slave name,” as he called it). Many have said he was larger than life, but we know that isn’t so. No one is larger than life. But Ali’s life was larger than most. From the moment he whupped Liston, his life was large.

His joining the Nation of Islam, changing his name and refusing induction into the U.S. military amplified it.

It has also been submitted that Ali was the first athlete whose impact transcended sports. Again, no. Jack Roosevelt Robinson beat him to that punch when, in 1947, he became the first black man to perform in a Major League Baseball game. The difference was that Robinson was advised to zip his lips. To play the part of the humble worker. Ali, on the other hand, never shut up.

Much of what the three-time heavyweight champion had to say was silly, spoofish stuff. He would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” He’d recite hokey poems predicting the outcome of his fights, and the round in which his foe would fall. That part of his shtick entertained and amused the masses. He was a man-child, walking through life with a wink and a nod.

Yet for every chuckle there was a harsh criticism. And flat-out hatred.

ali4Many, like myself, saw him as a hero for saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong” and refusing to be shipped off to a senseless battle on the other side of the world. But his anti-Vietnam War stance rankled and raised the ire of millions of Americans. Even the aforementioned Jackie Robinson turned on him.

Ali didn’t care, though. He was willing to forfeit his lucrative boxing career and, indeed, go to jail, but he was not willing to compromise his beliefs and go to Vietnam.

Each of us is a song of life, and I’ll always remember Muhammad Ali as a song of joy and freedom.

“I don’t have to be what you want me to be,” he once told the braying jackals who would condemn him. “I’m free to be what I want.”

Words to live by.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 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 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 in 2015.