The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets and those pesky sun delays…the Puck Pontiff got the name right…good and bad at the Freep…go Cubbies go…and the Bombers are back in town

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

heritage-classic2Now that the big top has been torn down and cleanup on the sideshows is complete, we can return to regularly scheduled cynicism, skepticism, criticism, optimism and all the other “isms” that make scribbling about sports such a guilty pleasure.

I use the word “guilty” because there are times when I feel pangs of discomfort after skewering someone, but it’s usually a fleeting moment of emotion. I immediately remind myself that if anyone takes my barbs and bites seriously then they really need to get out of the house more often.

Anyway, the Heritage Classic has come and gone and I wish I had been there in good, ol’ Hometown for the five days of fun and frolic, but I vowed that I would only attend if Bobby Hull joined the hijinks. No Golden Jet, no golden-age girl. So I stayed home in Victoria where, unlike Winnipeg, no one has ever been heard to say, “there’s too much sun.”

Who’d have thought hockey and sunscreen went together? But I suppose sunshine was the great irony of the Heritage Classic. When the National Hockey League agreed to bring one of its outdoor gimmick games to River City, worst-case weather scenarios would have included frigid temperatures, white stuff falling, rainfall or roof-raising winds. But too much of ol’ Sol? That’s like Chris Walby saying there’s too much food and beer in the world.

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

I didn’t like it when Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his megabucks co-bankroll, David Thomson, named their NHL franchise Jets in 2011. I leaned toward a new beginning rather than a link to the past, both gloried (World Hockey Association) and inglorious (NHL 1.0). My preference was to call the club Falcons. Don’t ask me why. I just liked the name. If not Jets, though, the Heritage Classic and all its trappings couldn’t have happened. There would have been no gathering of the throw-back clan at The Pint, no Anders and Ulf induction to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, and no Geritol Generation Game featuring Team Ducky and the Edmonton Gretzkys. I mean, how do you sell nostalgia in the form of a Falcons-Oilers game? So I’m okay with Jets now. The Puck Pontiff and his billionaire buddy made the right call.

For those of us who were on the outside looking in Sunday when the Jets and Oilers faced off in the Heritage Classic, Melissa Martin offers a fabulous insider’s take of the goings-on. Her article in the Winnipeg Free Press describes many of the nuances of the day and puts you right among the rabble in and around the Facility Formerly Known As Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Someone might want to send a copy to Bobby Hull. Not that he’d care, but just because.

Not so terrific was Paul Wiecek’s most recent broadside of Jacob Trouba on the Freep sports pages. It’s starting to sound personal, which is never a good thing for a sports columnist. Following the Jets’ season-opening victory, Wiecek used just under 1,000 words to tell us what a dolt Trouba is for sitting at home in Michigan rather than join his Jets mates in their 2016-17 NHL crusade. The young defenceman is not just a loser, he is “the biggest loser.” His reasons for refusing to sign with the Jets are “hard to believe.” He mentions Trouba’s “petulance.” His trade demand is “reckless.” Yet he also writes this: “(Josh) Morrissey wants to play and do it wherever he is asked. Trouba doesn’t. I’m OK with that.” If Wiecek is “OK” with it, why belabor the point with insults and an attack that’s based on the result of one game? It might not be personal, but it sure reads that way to me.

wrigley-fieldI wasn’t born when the Chicago Cubs were last in the World Series (1945) and I wasn’t born when the Cleveland Indians last won it (1948), but unless you are a lifelong Cleveland fan how can anyone not root, root, root for the Cubbies in the Major League Baseball championship series? I’ve long had a soft spot for the Cubbies because of Wrigley Field and its ivy-covered outfield fence, daytime baseball, Ernie Banks and Harry Caray, but a Cubs win would also let poor Steve Bartman off the hook. A Cleveland win wouldn’t disappoint me, though. I have a special fondness for that franchise, as well, because it was the first American League outfit to field a black ballplayer, Larry Doby. Both he and Satchel Paige, the legendary pitcher from the Negro League, became the first black players to win the World Series with the ’48 Indians.

Say, whatever happened to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers? Oh, that’s right. They were kicked out of their home so the Jets and Oilers—old and new—could play a little pond hockey. The Bombers are back in business this weekend, though, with the Ottawa RedBlacks in town for a Canadian Football League skirmish of no small measure. Second place is there for the Bombers’ taking. It’s an afternoon kickoff—let’s just hope it isn’t too sunny. I hate those pesky sun delays.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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 Winnipeg Jets dominating the Edmonton Oilers…Wayne Gretzky stinking for not stinking…a lady in red…Queen Liz…Suitcase Smith…what big ears you have Kris King…and fine writing

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

shoe

Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs.

Okay, as Howie Meeker was given to squawk when he was a Hockey Night in Canada blabber mouth, “Stop it right there! Back it up!”

I’ve heard quite enough blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about how often the Edmonton Oilers repeatedly put a good and proper paddywhacking on the Winnipeg Jets back in the day. I mean, I get it already. The Copper and Blue beat the Jets like a rented mule. In the National Hockey League. In the 1980s.

But what? The World Hockey Association never happened? Whose mule was being mauled then?

Let the record show that the Jets made a habit of stealing the Oilers’ lunch money in the WHA, holding a substantial 41-31-3 advantage in regular-season skirmishing and twice ousting them en route to two of their three successful Avco World Trophy crusades. The Jets whupped the Oilers 4-zip in a 1976 quarterfinal argument, and 4-2 in the ’79 WHA championship series. Final WHA score: Jets 49, Oilers 33.

Oh, and let’s not forget the WHA title tally: Jets 3 (five finals), Oilers nil (one final).

So there.

A vintage Wayne Gretzky, with Andrew McBain in slow pursuit.

A vintage Wayne Gretzky, with Andrew McBain in slow pursuit.

Yo! Wayne Gretzky! You’re right. You stink, man. But you don’t stink because you went without a point in Saturday’s slo-mo Alumni Game between your vintage Oilers and the vintage Jets, who ruled the day, 6-5. You stink because you didn’t stink like that 30 years ago.

Someone who didn’t stink back in the day and still doesn’t stink is Jennifer Hanson, noted singer of O Canada and wearer of skimpy, red dresses. That was a nice touch to bring Jennifer in to deliver a rousing rendition of the national anthem for the 31,317 folks who attended the Geritol Generation Game.

Okay, the vintage game wasn’t a sellout. Big deal. I don’t want to hear anyone say approximately 1,700 unoccupied seats at the Facility Formerly Known As Football Follies Field in Fort Garry makes River City a second-rate hockey town. It’s a great hockey town. One of the best in Canada or anywhere else that people skate on frozen ponds.

queen-liz2Seeing that ginormous portrait of Queen Liz displayed on the outside wall of The Pint pub last week brought to mind a vintage quote from vintage Jet winger Morris Lukowich. “Terry Ruskowski was on our team,” Luke once told now-departed Ottawa Sun scribe Earl McRae. “He married a former Miss America. She and my wife were together in the stands for a game. She looked up at the big picture of the Queen and said to my wife, ‘That lady, does she own the Arena?’ ”

Lukowich and Ruskowski, of course, were significant contributors on my favorite Jets outfit, the 1979 champions who toppled Gretzky and the Oilers to claim the final WHA title. Also central to that success was nomadic netminder Gary (Suitcase) Smith, whose late-season arrival coincided with the return of captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg from the repair shop. “(Smith) came walking into the locker room,” Ruskowski recalled a few years back. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Ax Smith because I’ve been on around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals-against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you…I’m not that good.”

What would Little Red Riding Hood say to vintage Jet Kris King? “My, what big ears you have.” Apparently, it isn’t just King’s ears that have grown. The former grinder also has developed a nose for the net, scoring twice in the Geritol Generation Game. Skating alongside Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk helps, of course. I do believe those two could turn Jimmy Mann into a goal scorer. On second thought, probably not.

Some good scribbling from local scribes in advance of the old coots game. Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press served up two terrific pieces, one about Bobby Hull attempting to woo Gretzky to the Jets, and the other revisiting the night Dave Ellett’s double-OT goal slayed the Oilers in Game 4 of their 1990 Stanley Cup playoff series. The staying power of the Ellett goal mystifies me, though. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it was meaningless. The Oilers won the ensuing three games, the series and the Stanley Cup.

Apparently, Bobby Hull missed quite a party by not attending this week’s Heritage Classic hijinx in good, ol’ Hometown. But did the party miss the Golden Jet? Apparently not. Too bad, so sad.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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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Winnipeg Jets: Bobby Hull skipping out on the Hall of Fame ceremony was totally disrespectful

Bobby Hull ought to be ashamed of himself.

I mean, okay, he’s having a hissy fit. Most of us have had a hissy fit, or two. But know this about Hull: His is a selective hissy fit, aimed squarely at good, ol’ Hometown.

Hull snubbed the inaugural Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame ceremony on Wednesday because, as many of us suspected and as his former linemate Ulf Nilsson confirmed, “he’s upset about some things that are being brought up from the past.” Read: Domestic abuse/violence.

Well, yes, some local media opinionists, bloggers and fans tsk-tsked last summer when the Jets announced a) the creation of their Hall of Fame and b) that Hull, Nilsson and Anders Hedberg were to be enshrined as part of the throw-back hijinx leading to the Heritage Classic on Sunday at a football field-turned-hockey rink in Fort Garry. As I scribbled a month ago, why would Hull want to deal with more of that?

But wait. Upon further review…

Bobby Hull doesn't hide from fans and media in Chicago.

Bobby Hull doesn’t hide from fans and media in Chicago.

Long before Bobby Hull’s likeness was chiseled in stone and plunked outside the United Center in Chicago, media opinionists, bloggers and fans in the Toddlin’ Town brought up his sordid past of whacking women about the ears. Yet the Golden Jet still attended the unveiling ceremony.

Long before Bobby Hull was put on the Chicago Blackhawks payroll as an official ambassador, media opinionists, bloggers and fans in the Windy City brought up his sordid past of whacking women about the ears. They still do. At least one news scavenger has demanded that he be fired. Yet the Golden Jet continues to flit about Chitown, slapping backs, shaking hands and clinking glasses with the rabble.

No matter how damning the dialogue, Bobby Hull didn’t, and doesn’t, hide from Chicago, where he became an underpaid National Hockey League legend.

He just hides from Winnipeg, where, as the World Hockey Association’s marquee player, his bank account became as flush as his face now is.

Think about it. Opinionists in Chicago condemn Hull in the harshest of terms and he soldiers on, smiling and glad-handing. Yet he refuses to show his flushed face in Winnipeg. What, our booze isn’t good enough for him?

If Bobby Hull can gird his loins and stand before the rabble in the Windy City, he could have bloody well done it in River City.

Hull, of course, doesn’t owe the city of Winnipeg anything. His contribution to the birth and growth of professional shinny in good, ol’ Hometown is second to only Ben Hatskin’s. But I submit he probably owes Hedberg and Nilsson an apology. He abandoned them.

Anders Hedberg, left, and Ulf Nilsson.

Anders Hedberg, left, and Ulf Nilsson.

There the two Swedes sat on Wednesday, side-by-side on a podium, fielding questions from the assembled news snoops. Hedberg, the human lightning bolt of a right winger, looked vibrant, healthy and impeccably attired in a dark suit, crisp blue shirt and a blue tie with white polka dots. The passage of time has been kind to him. Nilsson, the crafty and foxlike centre-ice man, was more grandfatherly and rumpled in an open-collar shirt and drab sports jacket. Clearly, he’s never let success go to his clothes. But his sense of humor is intact. He joked about his new knees and hip replacement.

As they spoke, though, it was impossible to ignore Hull. He was present by his absence.

Sad,” is what Hedberg said of his Hot Line mate’s snub of the event. “But he is old enough to make his own decision. And it will not destroy our evening, or Winnipeg’s evening. We’re celebrating hockey, and that can be done without whoever. Even Bobby Hull.”

I couldn’t be certain if there was a touch of testiness, bitterness or hurt in his voice.

If anyone is truly out of sorts, I imagine its Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman and True North Sports & Entertainment, because they’ve done the right thing in linking the present to the past. They looked beyond Hull’s off-ice trespasses and invited him to be central to this week’s celebration, yet he gave them the cold shoulder. He disrespected them. He disrespected Hedberg and Nilsson. He disrespected everyone who’s worn Jets linen. He disrespected the faithful who fawned over him during his six seasons in the WHA and those who stand by him today.

I guess Winnipeg just isn’t Bobby Hull’s kind of town. Maybe it never was. Apparently, Chicago is.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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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Winnipeg Jets: A personal ‘best of this and best of that’

I’m not fond of all-time greatest lists because they’re too often compiled by people who are not all-seeing.

Take, for example, the recent anointing of Dave Keon as creme de la Toronto Maple Leafs. As someone who witnessed the wonder that was Keon, initially on the family’s black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and then live and in living color with the New England/Hartford Whalers, I offer no quarrel with the salute to the diminutive, balletic centre-ice man. More to the point, I endorse it. Fully.

ducky3I wonder, though: How many among the 30 “experts” and 300,000 fans who gave voice to the Keon coronation actually saw him perform? How many can say they watched Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy, who finished second and third, respectively, in balloting to select the greatest of the greats who have worn Maple Leafs linen in the past 100 years?

Syl Apps retired in 1948, two years before I was born. Teeder Kennedy hung ’em up in ’57. I don’t have the vaguest memory of him.

Time passed is the flaw in the all-time-greatest ointment, and it explains how a thug like Tie Domi can find himself on the same list as Dave Keon. I mean, seriously? Tie Domi belongs in the same company as Dave Keon? Ya, like I belong in the same ballet as Sophia Lee.

All of which brings me to the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, I agree, the mention of Domi and ballet in the same breath serves as a rather odd, if not odious, segue to a discussion about the local hockey heroes, but work with me, kids.)

The creaky, old boys and the not-so-creaky Teemu Selanne will be back in town this week to participate in True North Sports & Entertainment’s genuflection to the Jets’ gloried past in the World Hockey Association and its limited achievements during the first go-round in the National Hockey League. Many of them, no doubt, shall arrive in River City greater of girth and with hairlines in rapid retreat, but hopefully old habits kick in when they take time away from the mirth and merriment of their reunion to play some pond hockey with the creaky, old Edmonton Oilers.

Slow-motion cameras won’t be a requirement, of course, because the actual-time speed is apt to be in super slo-mo—save for Selanne—but I’m guessing the Alumni Game on Saturday has as much appeal power as the Heritage Classic featuring the present-day Jets and Oilers on Sunday. (For those of you inclined to place a friendly wager on Team Hawerchuk in the old boys’ skirmish, be certain you get favorable odds because Team Gretzky has them out-Hall of Famed, 5-1, with one inductee-in-waiting.)

Anyway, this gathering of the clan puts me in mind of the best of the best, Jets version.

Many of my vintage can say we’ve seen them all, from the original Jet, Norm Beaudin, to today’s current flavor of the month, Patrik Laine, and some of us can say we saw more than most because we had the good fortune of an insider’s view home and away. That doesn’t make me an expert. It simply means I saw the Jets from a different vantage point.

It’s with that in mind that I submit some personal “best of” Jets lists…

peter-sullivan2My Favorites to Watch

1. Kent Nilsson: Pure magic. The most-talented player to wear a Jets jersey. Bar none.
2. Peter Sullivan: Silky smooth. I don’t care if he was defensively deficient. He was dazzling with the puck on his stick.
3. Anders Hedberg: The Swedish Express. His acceleration off the right wing was unparalleled.
4. Teemu Selanne: Ditto what I said about Hedberg.
5. Alexei Zhamnov: Spectacularly subtle. Perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms, but he was supremely skilled without a shred of flamboyance.

Most Grit

1. Ulf Nilsson: The punishment he absorbed and endured in the WHA was barbaric and criminal.
1a. Anders Hedberg: See above.
1b. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: See above.
1c. Ted Green: How he played so well in so much head pain is a mystery. I used to cringe watching the Seed hobbling on and off buses and airplanes, knowing he was in crippling pain.
3. Terry Ruskowski: He finished the 1979 WHA final with one arm.

Most Fun

Tom McVie: He’d always spice his interviews with comments like, “I’ve been fired more times than Al Capone’s machine gun” or “If life made sense, it would be men who rode sidesaddle. Think about it.”
Willy Lindstrom: The great prankster. He always made a pit stop at a joke store on our visits to Quebec City, then would toss stink bombs and sprinkle sneezing powder on our flight out of town.
Gary (Suitcase) Smith: Smitty seemed to take life with a wink and a nod.

jimmy-mann2Moments of Madness

1: Mike Smith: Comrade Mikhail, as I called the Jets GM, sold Kris Draper to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 (U.S. currency, one presumes) and used nine of his 12 selections at the 1992 NHL entry draft to claim Russians, the first of whom was the legendary Sergei Bautin. Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project fell flat. Little wonder Dale Hawerchuk got out of Dodge a couple years earlier.
2. Jimmy Mann: The sucker punch that shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw was every bit as bad as Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore.
3. Tom McVie: Taking his teeth out and trying to fight coach Al MacNeil of the Atlanta Flames was comedy gold.
4. John Ferguson: Punching a hole in the wall of his bunker at Winnipeg Arena? Check. Dumping a bucket of ice on to the Buffalo Sabres bench? Check. Kicking a hole in a dressing room door? Check.

Most Frustrating

1. Andrew McBain: We called him “Fergy’s son” or “Fergy’s kid” because we couldn’t think of any reason he was on the team, except that he must have been GM John Ferguson’s illigitimate kid. Beaner fooled us, though, with 32- and 37-goal seasons before leaving the Jets.
2. Scott Campbell: Asthma did poor Scotty in. His was never able to tap his full potential.
3. Ray Neufeld: Not because he underachieved, but because I silently cheered for him to succeed more than any other Jet. He became a fan whipping boy due to the Dave Babych trade, and I wanted Neuf to be a star. Never happened.

Best Quote

1. Dave Babych: Always gave thoughtful answers.
2. Terry Ruskowski: Honest, emotional, passionate.
3. Dale Hawerchuk: Ducky was the face of the franchise for so many years and he always delivered the goods.
4. Andrew McBain: No matter how hard the media rode him, Beaner didn’t balk on interviews.
5. Eddie Olczyk: I didn’t talk to Eddie O a great deal, but I could tell he had a future in talking.
5b. Barry Melrose: Friar Nicolson and I called him Kelvington after his home town in Saskatchewan. He loved talking into a microphone or tape recorder.

He’s Got Gonads

1. Tom McVie: Anyone who would bench Bobby Hull, one of the team owners, for arriving at the rink late has size XXXL gonads.
2. Morris Lukowich: A bantam rooster with a tiger in his tank. Luke never picked on anyone his own size, because they were all bigger than him.
3. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Built like Barney Rubble, the Little General shied away from no man, not even Bad News Bilodeau and the rest of the cement heads who would run him through the boards in the WHA.

laurie-boschman2Good Guys

1. Laurie Boschman: So belligerent on the ice, so soft-spoken and genuinely nice off it.
2. Dave Babych: A big, friendly bear of a man.
3. Terry Ruskowski: A good Canadian Prairie boy.
4. Barry Melrose: Fun guy, always joking with Friar and I.
5. Jude Drouin/Pierre Hamel: They took care of me after I collapsed on a flight home from Toronto.

Curmudgeons Before Their Time

1. Randy Carlyle: Mostly it was an act (I think), but Kitty played the role of the two old farts on The Muppets.
2. Mario Marois: Forever bitching about the heat on the bus.

Most Underrated

1. Teppo Numminen: I think he was only appreciated in Winnipeg. Had he played in Toronto or Montreal, they’d still be talking about him.
2. Ron Wilson: Dawg: Subtly efficient.

What Were They Thinking?
(When they Drafted this Guy)

1. Sergei Bautin: Still hard to believe that comrade Mikhail Smith squandered a first-round pick on this pylon.
2. Jimmy Mann: Strike one against Fergy.
3. Hannu Jarvenpaa: Scored four goals in an exhibition game. Scored 11 the rest of his career.
4. Evgeny Davydov: Mikhail was kidding, right?
5. Ryan Stewart: Three games, one goal. Say no more.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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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Winnipeg Jets: If I’ve got Georgia on my mind, Tom McVie’s teeth are missing

I cannot think of Atlanta without recalling the night the lights—and Tom McVie’s teeth—went out in Georgia.

Yes, it was theatre of the absurd in early November 1979 when a ransacked Winnipeg Jets’ roster skated south of the Mason-Dixon Line to do their thing at the Omni Coliseum, a facility that most of the local citizenry avoided whenever the playing surface had been converted from hardwood to ice.

Atlantans embraced hockey like they did Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who liked to play with matches and took a torch to the town during the American Civil War, leaving it a smouldering mess of burning buildings, dying embers and ashes.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what the National Hockey League had done to the Jets.

Kent Nilsson was among the players the Jets lost to the NHL.

Kent Nilsson was among the players the Jets lost to the NHL.

These Jets who skated into Atlanta were the skeletal remains of an outfit that, only six months earlier, had concluded the final World Hockey Association crusade with a third title. Gone were Kent Nilsson, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Barry Long, Kim Clackson and Paul MacKinnon, all but Preston the reclaimed spoils of a seven-year conflict between the NHL and WHA.

In their stead were willing and dogged, albeit less-impactful, skaters who, through determination and the demands of their taskmaster coach, McVie, were on a roll, unbeaten in five matches as they arrived in Atlanta.

That’s when the lights went out that night in Georgia.

Although not ruffians of the Broad Street Bullies ilk, the Flames, while suitably skilled, were a big and bothersome bunch who didn’t require a great deal of prodding before releasing the inner beast. And, after asserting themselves on the scoreboard with an 8-0 advantage, that puck pugnacity went on full display less than nine minutes from time, much to the enjoyment of a sparse gathering that surely numbered less than 10,000 but included a rather striking, blonde lass who sat directly behind the Winnipeg goal during the pregame exercises.

“The boys seem a bit distracted,” I joked with Reyn Davis of the Winnipeg Free Press.

“I wonder why?” he replied.

I’m not here to suggest that the fair maiden’s presence influenced the Jets’ performance that night, but she most assuredly served as a distraction because this southern belle seemingly believed that clothing was optional and she was not at all shy about displaying her ample assets.

Tom McVie, presumably with his teeth in.

Tom McVie, presumably with his teeth in.

At any rate, the Flames continued to give the Jets a different kind of dressing down on the ice and mayhem ruled the night. Phil Russell threw down on Dave Hoyda (twice), Willi Plett and Jimmy Mann went bare knuckles, Brad Marsh rag-dolled a much smaller Morris Lukowich, and two Flames tag-teamed a helpless pacifist, Mike Amodeo. Jets forward Jude Drouin thought that a bit much, thus he vacated the bench in an attempt to rescue his overwhelmed teammate. In scant seconds, the ice was a frozen sea of uncivil activity, with only McVie and his counterpart, Al MacNeil, tethered to the bench area.

If the scoreboard wasn’t enough to send McVie off his nut, the uneven brawl served as the trigger, and what ensued was something straight out of the Vince McMahon, WWE playbook. McVie began barking at MacNeil, like a yappy, little dog with his necked bowed. He got louder, his face turned redder and he stepped closer to the glass partition that separated the two coaches. Then he stopped. Calmly, McVie took off his sports coat. He took off his neck tie. He took off his wrist watch. He unbuttoned his shirt. He then—wait for it—took out his teeth! He tucked his tusks into a coat pocket. He now was ready to duke it out.

I turned to Reyn in our press box perch. His jaw had dropped.

“Did you see what I think I just saw?” I asked him.

“If you mean you saw Tommy take his teeth out, you did,” he confirmed.

MacNeil, meanwhile, had been barking back at McVie and, seeing the Jets coach disrobe, he also stripped off his neck tie.

McVie attempted to scale the barrier between the benches, but his tiny feet kept sliding on the glass. He gave it another go. And another. Eventually, Drouin returned to the Jets’ bench and re-engaged McVie with his better senses.

Once the dust had settled, eight players and McVie were given the remainder of the night off.

Al MacNeil went from Atlanta to Calgary with the Flames.

Al MacNeil went from Atlanta to Calgary with the Flames.

Reyn and I later found McVie near the Jets changing room. He was subdued, but not full of contrition, noting the disparity in the dimensions of two of the combatants, Brad Marsh of the Flames and the Jets’ feisty but pocket-sized Morris Lukowich.

“I can’t have my smaller players getting beaten up,” he said.

Over on the other side, MacNeil was more inclined to play the victim and make light of the ruckus.

“I told him if he wanted to come over, come over,” MacNeil said with a mischievous, impish grin. “He took off his tie and took out his teeth and started shouting obscenities. He was very irrational. I hope they do something about him. You can’t be letting people make threats like that, especially when he takes his teeth out.”

The NHL flashed a different set of sharp teeth, suspending McVie for three games and docking him $500 in pay.

After leaving Atlanta, the Jets went into a nose dive, winning just three of their next 12 assignments. But, hey, there was a sunny side to all of this: McVie managed to keep his chicklets in his head the remainder of the season.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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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Winnipeg Jets: Their victory over the Soviets was the signature moment for an undervalued team

Perhaps because a broad brushstroke of hockey nostalgia is about to sweep across good, Ol’ Hometown, I find myself reaching back to distant times and a shinny barn long ago reduced to rubble.

I couldn’t begin to inventory the number of days and nights I spent in the Winnipeg Arena during my three decades writing about hockey in River City, but I confess that the large majority of the games I witnessed have faded to black, lost in the foggy moors of my ever-eroding memory. Mostly, they come back to me in vignettes. A highlight here, an incident there.

There are, however, three matches that remain indelible: 1) The Winnipeg Jets’ victory over the Soviet Union National team; 2) Game 6 of the 1979 World Hockey Association championship; 3) the first Tuxedo Night.

jets-sovietsThe latter two I recall because one carried historical significance, in that it was the WHA’s final act and the local lads took permanent ownership of the Avco World Trophy, while the other was noteworthy for its marketing quirkiness and behind-the-scenes madness that brought closure to Bobby Hull’s career in Jets linen. Poor Bobby was all dressed up with no place to go on Tuxedo Night, and his clumsy exit is a humorous, oft-told chapter of folklore that I’m certain will be recited and embellished when the old boys gather for their Heritage Classic hijinks this week.

That’s strictly Sideshow Bob stuff, though, when measured against the caging of the great Russian Bear. That was the defining moment for a team and its players whose accomplishments often were pooh-poohed by the hockey establishment because of the company they kept. The WHA and its member teams, you see, were looked upon like the Canadian dollar is today—not up to par. Devalued. Or so the prevailing logic went.

But wait. Don’t talk to us about second-class citizens. The Jets beat the Soviet National side, dammit!

I can still see Ulf Nilsson delivering a short, delicate pass to Dave Dunn, a big, lumbering defenceman with a square, planter-like pot for a helmet. No one had ever mistaken Dunn for, say, the smooth-as-silk Peter Sullivan or Kent Nilsson. More to the point, his was a hunch-shouldered, laborious skating style that evoked imagery of a beast of burden pulling a milk wagon. Yet there was Dunn, suddenly with some lickety-split in his stride as he departed the neutral zone and navigated his way into enemy territory.

Looking up from the end boards, Dunn spied Hull standing at the lip of the crease, and he dished a backhand pass to the Golden Jet, who flicked the puck past Vladislav Tretiak. Game, set and match. The Jets had beaten the Soviets, 5-3.

It is the irony of Dunn’s daring, as much as Hull’s three scores and Ulf Nilsson’s four points, that revisits me when I ponder the events of Jan. 5, 1978.

I recall watching from on high, in the Arena press box, as Dunn accepted Nilsson’s feed and began his foray along the right wing boards and into a corner. I thought it totally out of character for him to be so ambitious. Dunn’s technique and skill level were directly at odds with the shock-and-awe swagger of his playmates, Nilsson, Hull and Anders Hedberg. Not to mention the three Soviet forwards on the freeze at that moment—Valeri Kharlamov, Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov. Dave Dunn belonged in that group like Donald Trump belongs at your teenage daughter’s pajama party.

This can’t possibly end well,” I muttered to myself.

It did, though, and the Jets had their signature game, the one match we can point to after this great passage of time and say “that’s how good those guys were.”

***

This wasn’t a championship skirmish. It wasn’t even a regular-season assignment. It was, as soccer people are wont to say, a “friendly.” A pleasant interlude of sporting pleasure to perhaps soothe the sting of another long and dreary Winnipeg winter.

Yet any frolic with the Soviet National side during the Cold War, circa 1970s, carried political overtones, if not intrigue, plus the promotional wallop of a heavyweight tiff.

Dave Dunn

Dave Dunn

And so it was when the Jets, with their blend of smooth Swedes and good, ol’ bent-nosed Canadian boys, engaged the best of Mother Russia. None among the combatants arrived at the rink to make nice. This was a “friendly” like Donald S. Cherry was a member of the Politburo.

Few beyond the walls of the Jets’ changing quarters expected the WHA’s marquee team to topple the comrades. Even the most rabid of the rabble would have told you victory was less likely than Cherry taking a mail-order Russian bride.

I mean, this was the creme de la borscht of Soviet shinny. It was one thing to whup a club side from Mother Russia, like Wings or Dynamo or, yes, even the National team’s doppelganger, CKSA, more commonly known as the Central Red Army. A few WHA and NHL outfits already had been there and done that. But beat the communist colossus? Nyet.

To further underscore the enormity of the task, the Russkies already had given the Jets three wedgies in “friendlies” in Tokyo, Japan—7-5, 4-2, 5-1—prior to the comrades’ arrival on our shores (at which point Ivan promptly administered a 7-2 paddywhacking to the Edmonton Oilers).

So, yes, the Russian Bear was in full-throated growl.

The Jets, however, were not without bark and bite of their own.

Although appropriately respectful of a foe that collected World and Olympic championships like little boys collected bubble gum cards, the Jets delighted a gathering of 10,315 eye witnesses by laying waste to the Soviets early, building a 4-0 advantage on two goals each from Ulf Nilsson and Hull. Shortly thereafter, taskmaster Viktor Tikhonov removed Aleksandr Sidelnikov from the Soviets’ goal and replaced him with Tretiak.

As if on cue, the great Russian Bear stirred, making it 4-2 before the second period had expired, both goals coming off the stick of diminutive and unsmiling Boris Alexandrov. Vasily Pervukhin then supplied third-period drama, beating Jets goaltender Joe Daley two minutes and 43 seconds in. A collective murmur rumbled from the pews to the rafters in the old barn on Maroons Road. Fans feared the worst.

The Jets quelled the Russian uprising, though, guarding their one-goal advantage with Scrooge-like stinginess until Hull converted Dunn’s pass into his third score and the Jets’ fifth, eight seconds from time.

Never before had the Soviet National side been beaten by a club team.

***

Scant seconds after the fact, those of us with pens, notepads and microphones were granted access to the locals’ lair, where we discovered half the players still fully adorned in their Jets livery and the other half already baring well-sculpted chests, abs and arms. Some roamed to the four corners of their cramped quarters, smiling and slapping broad-shouldered backs and tousling the stringy, matted-down hair on sweat-soaked heads. A few sat in silent reflection, giving ponder to a job well done and nursing post-work refreshments.

Ulf Nilsson

Ulf Nilsson

They were properly pleased and proud, these Jets, also weary to the marrow.

They seemed in unspoken agreement that the early after-moments of their conquest of the CCCP was a time for softened celebration, rather than unrestrained revelry, and it is their muffled merriment and a quiet quote from Ulf Nilsson that I also remember about the goings-on of that magical night.

“The Russians are so hard to play against…I don’t think I ever beat them before tonight,” offered Nilsson, a native of Nynashamn who along with fellow Swede Hedberg and Hull combined to outscore the Soviets’ fabled forward troika of Mikhailov, Kharlamov and Petrov 10 points to zero. “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

That sentiment worked both ways, that night and so many others for the Jets and their flock.

(Footnote: To put the Jets’ victory in perspective, the Soviets went 5-0 against five other WHA outfits on that tour, beating the Oilers (7-2), Quebec Nordiques (6-3), Cincinnati Stingers (9-2), Indianapolis Racers (8-3) and New England Whalers (8-4) for a combined score of 38-14).

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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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My Hens in the Hockey House are talking about the Winnipeg Jets

Can’t let the puck drop yet, folks. Not until the Question Lady and the Answer Lady have had their say.

They’re my go-to girls. Consulting with them always is my final order of business before the Winnipeg Jets strike out on a fresh National Hockey League crusade, because, unlike some of our mainstream media friends, they don’t feel obligated to play nice for fear of offending the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men in the inner sanctum at True North Sports & Entertainment.

question-lady-and-answer-lady2The Hens in the Hockey House are unplugged and unfiltered. Always. If they see a spade, they don’t just call it a shovel. They tell us what kind of muck is on the shovel and how it got there. I would say they’re two female Donald Trumps, except they don’t have orange skin or horrible hair and they don’t brag about grabbing the groins of unsuspecting females.

So here they are, always gossipy, always glib and always prepared to deliver the goods to Jets Nation. Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Where to begin? With Jacob Trouba? With Ondrej Pavelec? With all those rookies? I guess Jacob Trouba is as good a place to start as any. Are the Jets going to miss his presence on the blueline?

Answer Lady: Like I miss ABBA. I loved ABBA. I don’t love the Jets D. I mean, look at the third defence pairing they’ll have Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—Mark freaking Stuart and your choice of Paul Postma or Ben Chiarot. And they’ve got a greenhorn, Josh Morrissey, in the top pairing with Dustin Byfuglien. Will big Buff be babysitting or freelancing? Defence will be the Jets’ Waterloo, which, by the way, is a boffo ABBA tune.

Question Lady: A lot of people think the Jets should send Trouba a message by letting him rot, rather than cave to his trade demand. What do you think?

Answer Lady: If by “rot” people mean let him sit out the entire season or go play in Europe, how does that benefit the Jets? Everyone seems to think general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff has the winning hand in this game of Winnipeg Hold ‘Em, but I don’t necessarily agree. If Trouba digs in his heels—really digs in—and Chevy refuses to lower his sticker price in trade discussions, he runs the risk of having wasted a first-round draft choice on Trouba. I don’t think he’s prepared to let that happen. Chevy wants Trouba playing, not rotting. Something has to get done.

Question Lady: A lot of the media say Trouba has been given bad advice by his agent, Kurt Overhardt. What do you think?

Answer Lady: The media would know this how? I doubt Trouba and Overhardt invite news snoops to join their intimate chin-wags. Unless they wiretap his phone, they have no way of knowing what’s been said and to whom. Yet they paint Overhardt as the bad guy or Trouba as a spoiled brat. This isn’t about bad guys and good guys. It’s about people doing business.

Question Lady: Okay, enough of Trouba. The Jets will be icing a lineup that includes rookies Patrik Laine, Brandon Tanev, Kyle Connor, Morrissey and goalie Connor Hellebuyck. And Nikolaj Ehlers is a sophomore at 20. Does this broad-stroke youth movement mean the Jets are in tank mode right from the get-go this season in the hopes of landing Nolan Patrick at next year’s draft?

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Answer Lady: Let me answer that question with a question…would you rather lose with Kyle Connor and Connor Hellebuyck or Anthony Peluso and Ondrej Pavelec? This is the natural order of things. I think it can be said that the Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men have conceded that this season won’t end well, but the players won’t tank. Ever. Not even for Nolan Patrick.

Question Lady: One writer, Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press, suggests that this is the first year of Chevy’s second five-year plan. Does than mean another five years of losing?

Answer Lady: There never was a first five-year plan, so this cannot be the second five-year plan. Chevy will never put himself on the clock. Only the Puck Pontiff can do that. As I’ve said before, the plan is a plan of no beginning and no end. It’s all very zen. We will see the results when we see the results, grasshopper.

Question Lady: But won’t owner Mark Chipman eventually run out of patience with Chevy if the team keeps missing the playoffs?

Answer Lady: The Puck Pontiff’s patience will expire if the Jets are losing and no one is there to see it happen.

Question Lady: Is coach Paul Maurice’s job safe, too?

Answer Lady: What do you think? They’ve saddled the guy with a bunch of kids who were asking Drew Doughty for his autograph six months ago. Now they’re expected to beat him one-on-one. Do the math.

Question Lady: I don’t know about that. Seems to me the Jets have a nice blend of youth and experience, no?

Answer Lady: You mean like Chris friggin’ Thorburn and Mark freaking Stuart? Good luck with that.

Question Lady: No, I mean like Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Bryan Little, Matty Perreault and Blake Wheeler. I think Wheeler is a great leader and will make a great captain, don’t you?

Answer Lady: I suppose Wheeler was the right choice as captain. For now. He won’t be here in another three years, though, so they should have given the C to Mark Scheiffele. He’s a Jets lifer.

Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine

Question Lady: What do you expect out of Patrik Laine in his rookie season?

Answer Lady: Good quotes.

Question Lady: No, I’m talking about production.

Answer Lady: So am I.

Question Lady: Be serious. Can Laine duplicate what that other fab Finn did for the Jets?

Answer Lady: If you mean Teemu Selanne, of course not. If you mean Hannu Jarvenpaa, let’s bloody well hope not. I mean, Hannu was a great guy, but he scored the grand sum of 11 goals for the Jets. I suspect Laine will have that many by the time Jacob Trouba comes crawling back, is traded or he starts playing in Europe.

Question Lady: What’s an acceptable number for Laine?

Answer Lady: First of all, let’s stop all foolishness. Laine is not the second coming of the Finnish Flash. Don’t call him Finnish Flash 2.0 or Finnish Flash the Sequel. If he develops into the Flashy Finn, fine. But I’d say a good over/under for him as a rookie is 20 goals. If he scores 20 or more, I’m sure the Jets will be delighted. Anything less, not so much.

Question Lady: Speaking of the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne is coming in for the Heritage Classic when the old Jets play the old Edmonton Oilers. He’s only been retired for one year. He’s probably still in game shape. What if he upstages Wayne Gretzky?

Answer Lady: Dave Semenko will beat him up.

Question Lady: Last question…do the Jets have any chance of making the playoffs?

Answer Lady: Well, two years ago, I said they wouldn’t and they did. Last year at this time, I said they would and they didn’t. This year, I say they have as much chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup tournament as I have of filling in for Frida or Agnetha at an ABBA reunion concert. Enjoy the season.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/sports/hockey/jets/jets-hoping-this-season-is-a-young-mans-game-396706101.html