I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Quiz me this, kids: What does Mark Chipman have against Ben Hatskin?
I mean, okay, the notion of bridging the Winnipeg Jets’ present to the past in the form of a Hall of Fame is an admirable enterprise. And few of a certain vintage will quibble with the inaugural inductees—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull. The Hot Line, after all, delivered two World Hockey Association titles to River City and, if we are to believe Glen Sather, it served as a blueprint for the run-and-gun Edmonton Oilers who made a mockery of the National Hockey League during the mid-1980s.
But Benny is ground zero. He is the father of professional hockey in Winnipeg as we know it. There would not be an NHL franchise in River City today if not for Hatskin, whose dreaming and scheming lured Hull away from the Chicago Blackhawks in 1972.
“I don’t think the NHL would have ever been in Winnipeg without the vision that Ben Hatskin and others had to bring the WHA to Winnipeg in ’72,” is how Chipman put it to Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun in 2012. “The credit for the name that we still use today begins and ends there. And signing Hull completely legitimized the league and gave Winnipeg a chance to be the gold standard team within the league.”
Why, then, is His Holy Hockeyness not saluting Hatskin?
According to the club website, “the new Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame is being created to honour the impact and accomplishments of the team’s hockey legends and celebrate the rich history of professional hockey in Winnipeg.”
If it’s meant to be a players-only club, fine. Then say so. Otherwise, in any celebration of “the rich history of professional hockey in Winnipeg,” you must start with Ben Hatskin.
Chipman knows this. He has acknowledged this. So, why the reluctance, or flat-out refusal, to deliver Benny his due, other than spew a few kind words on the occasion of the original Jets’ 40th anniversary? Does Chipman harbor an anti-Ben bias? Is ego at play here? That is, does the grand poobah of True North Sports & Entertainment fear that a tangible tribute to Hatskin will shake some of the glitter from his own hockey halo?
Chipman, more so than his deep-pocketed co-bankroll, David Thomson, has heard the hosannas ring out loud and long, from far and wide, for his role in the resurrection of NHL shinny in River City. The bravo chorus has been deserved.
But this isn’t a chicken or egg thing. We know who and what came first. Ben Hatskin and the World Hockey Association. Then Bobby Hull. The rest is, as they say, history.
Do the right thing, Mark Chipman.
It’s a slight and a horrible omission that the late Lars-Erik Sjoberg isn’t going into the Hall of Fame in lockstep with Hedberg, Hull and Nilsson. The three Hot Liners gathered most of the glory in the WHA days due to their offensive exploits, but the man who made it all happen, and made it look so easy, from the back end was The Shoe. They didn’t stitch the ‘C’ on the Little General’s sweater by accident. Sjoberg also one-upped the three members of the fabled Hot Line—he won the Avco World Trophy three times compared to their two. He didn’t bail on the Jets, either. While Hedberg and Nilsson swanned off to Gotham and the Rangers, and Hull refused to play for John Ferguson, Sjoberg captained the Jets to their final WHA title and in their inaugural NHL season before retiring. The Shoe is a fit for the Hall.
In the case of Bobby Hull being inducted into the Hall of Fame, the Jets are following the lead of the Chicago Blackhawks by separating the hockey player from the guy away from the rink. There can be no quarrel over Hull’s worthiness as a shinny star and his contribution to the WHA. He’s an icon. Like all of us, though, Hull is a flawed human being. Among his flaws is the most distasteful bit of business that is the physical abuse of women. It was among the reasons a judge granted one of his ex-wives, Joanne, a divorce. But a known history of spousal abuse didn’t prevent the Blackhawks from a) erecting a statue of Hull outside the United Center, and b) hiring him as an official ambassador of the NHL club. Now the Jets are looking past Hull’s trespasses. My guess is that most in Jets Nation will do the same. I can’t. I don’t think men who beat women should be deified.
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.