About a guard dog for Puck Finn…the goalie blind Winnipeg Jets…soccer stupidity in hockey…a classy King…classy curlers…and adios to a classy Ken Fidlin

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

puck-finn2As Dire Straits advised us in the early 1990s, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug. We know which one Patrik Laine was on Saturday afternoon, and let’s agree that the Winnipeg Jets rookie extraordinaire was the victim of a clean hit. Not clean-ish. Clean.

If you can’t agree, please proceed to another blog, because I’m not prepared to debate it.

I will, however, happily engage in a verbal to-and-fro re the suggestion that the Jets ought to send an SOS to former guard dog Anthony Peluso.

I mean, seriously? Anthony Peluso?

Yes, some among the rabble think it a swell idea to insert Peluso’s bare knuckles into the Jets’ lineup to discourage ruffians like Jake McCabe of the Sabres from taking liberties with the likes of Puck Finn, as he did in Buffalo. Well, sure. And some people also believe Donald Trump in the White House is a swell idea.

Look, it’s bad enough that a roster spot is occupied by Chris Thorburn, a loyal foot soldier whose sole purpose when not munching on popcorn appears to be dropping his hockey mitts and wrestling a foe of equally limited skills for 30 seconds or less. Unless this is 1975 and the Broad St. Bullies are pillaging the National Hockey League, adding another no-talent thug who would be tethered to the end of the bench or banished to the press box is not a wise use of personnel.

So no. Anthony Peluso is not the answer.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

As one who has suffered multiple concussions (10 at last count), I know what a dark and nasty place La La Land can be. The nausea, the dizziness, the ringing in the ears, the headaches, the imbalance, the forgetfulness…horrible. I was first concussed at age 13. Got hit in the head by a baseball. When I awoke in St. Boniface Hospital, the kid in the bed next to me had control of the TV. I asked him to put on Hockey Night in Canada. It was mid-July. I thought it was winter. I hope Laine knows it’s winter and there’s plenty of hockey to be played. More to the point, I hope Puck Finn doesn’t miss too much of it.

Almost lost in the hue and cry that arose after McCabe sent Laine to La La Land was the numbing reality that the Jets coughed up a huge hair ball in losing 4-3 to Buffalo. Ahead 3-1 less than 20 minutes from time, they gagged and it didn’t help that they received more minor league-level goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck. I’m not prepared to close the book on Hellebuyck, but I do find it odd, also annoying, that general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his bird dogs can recognize blue-chippers up front (the Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele, as an e.g.) and on the blueline (Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey) but they continue to be goalie blind. Should it really take six years to find a legitimate starting goaltender?

Interesting to note that Jets head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t discuss the NHL standings with his workers. “I don’t talk about the standings and I don’t talk about any of that in the room,” he says. “It’s on a board somewhere and they can look at it if they like.” Perhaps that explains their lack of urgency some nights.

Netherlands' Arjen Robben, right, reacts after being tackled by Brazil's Michel Bastos, left, during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Brazil at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Friday, July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
We can do without this and the shootout in hockey.

At the risk of sounding like Don Cherry, it occurs to me that Europeans have brought two things to hockey—soccer’s twin evils of diving and the shootout. Yes, of course, some hockey players (hello, Bill Barber) were acting like Italian footballers in their death throes before the great European wave arrived on our shores, but it got so bad that the NHL was motivated to pass anti-diving legislation in an effort to nip it in the bud. As for the shootout, I’m sure most of us would agree that it’s the devil’s handiwork. Under no circumstances should the gold-medal match at the World Junior Championship be determined by gimmickry. The Canadian and American kids put on a boffo show the other night, and they deserved better than soccer stupidity to decide the issue. I mean, it’s not like anyone was in a hurry to leave the rink.

So nice to see Dave King acting like a kid on Christmas morning after Canada’s success at the recent Spengler Cup tournament in Davos. King, who was Luke Richardson’s associate coach at the Swiss event, is among the finest men I met in 30 years of covering sports in mainstream media. He was always classy, always honest and always obliging. No doubt he still is.

Speaking of classy, former world champs Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Ryan were two of the reasons I enjoyed working the curling beat back in the day, and now their names are in the news again. Only this time, it’s their kids chasing glory. Laura Burtnyk and Hailey Ryan teamed up to win the Manitoba Junior women’s title, while J.T. Ryan skipped his team to the men’s crown. The kids will be wearing the Buffalo on their backs at the Canadian championships later this month in Victoria, and it’s never wise to bet against a Manitoba outfit at a national curling event. Especially if their names are Burtnyk and Ryan. Go get ’em, kids.

Ken Fidlin
Ken Fidlin

Another good one has left the toy department. That would be the now-retired Ken Fidlin, longtime jock journalist with the Toronto Sun. Fids and I arrived at the Sun at the same time, in late 1980, after his Ottawa Journal and my Winnipeg Tribune both ceased operation in the same 24-hour period. I bailed after a year and a half in the Republic of Tranna, moving to Calgary and then back to Pegtown, but Fids never left and the Little Paper That Grew was always better for it. He’s a terrific writer and an even better person.

Postmedia truly has done a nasty number on sports writing in Canada. Fidlin joins a lengthy parade of quality writers and people who have been bought out, forced out or walked out on the newspaper chain in the past 12 months—George (Shakey) Johnson, Cam Cole, Bill Lankhof, Dave Stubbs, Randy Sportak, John MacKinnon, Joanne Ireland and Kirk Penton, among others. I suppose Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun will be next on the chopping block. Sad.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing crap about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

If newspapers don’t like pro sports franchises controlling the message, then do something about it

Let’s not be naive about this controlling-the-message business.

We all do it. Or at least we attempt to do it. Government does it. Coca-Cola does it. McDonald’s does it. General Motors does it. The Catholic church does it. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills do it. Parents do it. Professional sports franchises do it.

And—I hope this doesn’t come as a bulletin—newspapers do it, too. Every day.

peg papersWhat do you think is happening in most newsrooms in North America this very day? I’ll tell you what: Editors are gathering around a large table (or small, depending on the size of the sheet) and, either in person or via conference call, they’re deciding what message(s) to send to the great unwashed. Not only that, they are deciding how to torque said message, depending on the whims and biases of the editorial board and/or ownership.

A member of the Winnipeg Jets has a slight brush with the law?

Who’s the player?” a managing editor demands to know.

Patrik Laine,” the sports editor advises him.

Oh. We like him. He has 20 goals. We can’t bury a nice kid like Laine. We’ll bury the story instead. Report the facts but, remember, he’s just a kid. Kids make mistakes. Be gentle with him.”

There’s one more thing…Ondrej Pavelec was with Laine. They both got arrested.”

Perfect. Pavelec is in the minors now, so we don’t give a damn about him. There’s your lede—young, impressionable Laine’s being led astray by former Jets goaltender who once spent a night in jail on a drunk driving charge and kept it a secret from the club while negotiating a multi-million-dollar contract. We’ll bury Pavs.”

Yes, newspapers can be that deceitful and conniving, and the faster they get that click bait on their website the better.

There’s more.

Newspapers control the content in the Letters to the Editor section. They control the online comments that accompany articles to the point of censorship. The Winnipeg Free Press is forever running propaganda pieces about rising readership and circulation, even as print newspapers and their ink-stained employees throughout North America are falling like bowling pins. The Winnipeg Sun will do the same if the numbers are favorable.

Spin. It’s all about spin. Promoting and protecting the brand.

So, can newspapers tsk-tsk the Jets or Winnipeg Blue Bombers from dictating club spin and vigorously controlling the club message if the dailies are doing that very thing? Seems to me it’s a goose and gander situation.

In our 140-character, dot.com, Snapchat, Instagram world, the divorce rate between pro sports outfits and newspapers has advanced rapidly, and breaking up is not hard to do for the clubs. They have devised a method of spreading their gospel that is brilliant in its simplicity: Poach the best available print journalists from local rags and pay them to do the their official bidding on the team website. Presto! You’ve strengthened your product and lessened your reliance on theirs.

They won’t stop there, either. Pro sports franchises will find fresh ways to increase the disconnect between press row and their inner sanctums, thus making it more difficult for news scavengers to perform their duties.

newspapers2What must newspapers do to combat this? Well, bitching won’t help. They can caterwaul about lack of access as much as Jets’ coach Paul Maurice whinges about the National Hockey League schedule, but that doesn’t solve anything. They have to be innovative.

The way the Sun and Freep work the Jets and Bombers beats is dog-eared. Dated. They still cover the two clubs the way we did it in the 1970s and ’80s. It seemingly hasn’t occurred to them that the traditional game story died the moment a fan could reach into a pocket or purse and place a breaking news story in the palm of her or his hand. Really, is anyone waiting for a newspaper to land on their doorstep in the morning so they can read about something they watched and heard on a hand-held gadget 12 hours earlier?

Same old, same old doesn’t work in this push-the-send-button climate. Coverage needs to be more off-beat and upbeat, with more personality and cheek. Snappier and snazzier. More bloggish, if you will. Hit ’em with hot takes rather than an antiquated reliance on monotone, rehearsed quotes in a comatose post-game story that drones on. Have some fun with it, even if it puts noses in ivory towers out of joint.

And newspapers must remember that they have the greatest weapon of all in their arsenal—harsh truths.

Truth sells. Ditto opinion. Not the kind of lap-dog opinion that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or Bombers CEO Wade Miller want to read. We’re talking opinion that readers among the rabble want. Unvarnished, unharnessed and honest truths that you’ll never find on a club website.

Newspapers must stop choking on their indignation and feeling sorry for themselves. It isn’t up to pro sports franchises to revert to the old ways of doing business, it’s up to the newspapers to discover new and better ways of doing their business.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.

Shhhhh…this is a press box…please don’t disturb the writers who are eating popcorn

Most people, I dare say, have not spent an afternoon or an evening in a press box, observing the little girls’ and boys’ games that big girls and boys play for great gobs of money or international acclaim.

So allow me to tell you a little something about the press box.

The press box, as I remember it, is generally occupied by gruff, hard-bitten, beer-swilling, middle-age wretches who failed miserably at sports and are now settling that score by writing nasty things about those who didn’t fail miserably at sports. And those are the female journalists. The men are unspeakable.

press-box2Again, as I recall, your basic male jock journo is white, middle-to-vintage in age, thinning on top, a confirmed heterosexual, unkempt, unfit (I’m being very kind when I say that), he’s dressed like he ought to be retired in Florida (with his pants hiked up to his arm pits), he’s usually seen filling his face with free popcorn or hot dogs (with the obligatory mustard drippings on his wrinkled golf shirt), and it’s not uncommon for him to be recovering from a hangover when he arrives at the rink or stadium for a night-time assignment.

There is nothing high brow about the male jock journo when observed in his natural habitat. As much as wry wit can be found in abundance in the press box, it is also a cesspool of irreverent, caustic, biting and ruthless humor. Adult humor. It would be rated R. You’d probably allow your 10-year-old daughter or son into a peep show before exposing her or him to three hours in a press box.

Seriously. If the scribes were to scribble what was said in the press box, they’d be sued, arrested or shot on sight. Yup, it’s that raunchy and raw.

Perhaps that’s changed. After all, I haven’t sat in a press box perch in almost 20 years.

I doubt it, though.

I mean, a football beat writer with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff McLane, was ordered out of the press box during an Eagles game on Sunday because he was a loud-talker. Seriously, the guy got punted for being a loud-talker.

Now, I realize that the so-called City of Brotherly Love has a rep for being less than a warm-and-fuzzy locale. It was said long ago that the citizenry of Philly go to the airport just to boo bad landings. But come on. They kick a guy out of the press box for being a loud-talker? That’s like telling Santa he can’t go on his annual gift run because he’s fat and jolly. Santa is supposed to be fat and jolly. He has to be fat and jolly. And a male sports scribe has to be loud.

Well, okay, I suppose a case could be made that a male jock journo need not be loud. But trust me, he is. It’s in his press box DNA. So is being obnoxious.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what went down between McLane and the Eagles public relations staff on the Sabbath. I wasn’t there. But I’m quite certain that there was more at play than the Inquirer reporter being a loud-talker. There had to be.

Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has addressed the larger issue of professional sports teams attempting to control the message by eliminating the naysayers and those in the Fourth Estate who dare ask the difficult, uncomfortable and challenging questions, and I don’t think he’s far off the mark. Actually, he’s likely spot on.

The question I ask is this: Does anyone really care if the press box is full or empty?

Not likely. Among the rabble, there is little sympathy for the devil and, quite frankly, I’m not sure that the girls and boys on the beat should care if they’re sitting in the press box or not. I mean, is the free popcorn really that good? If it is and that means writing fluff, will the last jock journo to leave the press box please remember to turn out the lights?

What does a press pass for the Winnipeg Jets actually get a news scavenger these days? Access? I suppose that depends on your definition of access. To the Jets, access is making a player available to say “we just have to keep our feet moving and play the right way.” Then some PR flunky arrives to rescue him from the indignity of a post-game interrogation. To the jock journo, that isn’t access. It’s a waste of time.

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

The most interesting insight in Wiecek’s excellent piece was confirmation of something many of us already knew or suspected—the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, is a control freak of the highest rank. The way the Freep sports columnist tells it, the Jets’ co-bankroll is known for his in-game temper tantrums and, for fear a scribe might alert the rabble the next time he holds his breath and stomps his little feet, the Puck Pontiff banished the print posse to the press box outback. They’re now in a different area code and time zone than His Hockey Holiness’s bunker. Ballsy move by Wiecek, especially given that the Drab Slab is the official newspaper of the Jets. Whatever access he already didn’t have, he’ll have even less. Not that he should care.

John Ferguson didn’t worry about crap like that back in the day. His atomic explosions as Jets general manager are as legendary as his fists during his playing days as one of the toughest hombres in National Hockey League history. At worst, he would wince if we wrote about him dumping a bucket of ice on the Buffalo Sabres’ bench or kicking/punching holes in the walls of his bunker on press row, but he usually greeted us with an embarrassed wink and a grin.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.

 

Madame Redneck sees it all before it happens…

madame-redneck2Through the magic that is Skype, I have been to the Rocky Mountain back woods, where the reclusive and mysterious Madame Redneck resides in a shanty with a dozen feral cats and a seemingly never-ending supply of Kokanee.

I have witnessed her gaze into her crystal ball, read her Tarot cards and use her bony, nicotine-stained fingers to sift through the tea leaves.

This is what the mysterious Madame says will unfold in the toy department in 2017…

* The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, will also become the Pigskin Pontiff when True North Sports & Entertainment assumes control of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Asked how much he paid for the Canadian Football League club, Chipman says, “Pay? Pay? Are you kidding me? Pay? Have you not been paying attention? They haven’t won the Grey Cup since kindly Cal Murphy still had his first heart. Bless his soul.”

* Chipman’s first order of business as a Two-Sport Pontiff will be to dismiss CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea and replace them with Craig Heisinger, because he replaces everyone with Zinger.

It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Zinger gushes after accepting his new position(s). “Not many people can say they washed Teemu Selanne’s jock and now Justin Medlock’s jock. I’ve been blessed.”

* There will be a playoff game at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry after the Bombers finish second in the West Division. Alas, the 8,298 frigid folks in attendance will leave disappointed when Medlock, who Zinger trades to the B.C. Lions, kicks a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game to give the Leos a 34-32 victory.

Aha! All the smart asses in the media said it couldn’t be done,” Mike O’Shea barks from his perch as analyst on the CFL on TSN panel. “Just goes to show all those smart asses in the media that I was right last year! It can be done!”

johnny-football
Johnny Football

* Because his predecessor, Walters, left him without a quarterback under contract, Heisinger will sign National Football League washout and all-around bad boy Johnny Manziel to a five-year contract. Asked by news snoops if there is concern about Manziel’s sordid past, Heisinger is quick to prop up his new QB.

We don’t think Johnny Football is a risk at all,” Zinger assures one and all. “Johnny Football comes to us a humble, rehabilitated man. Johnny Football could have demanded the moon from us, but Johnny Football didn’t ask us to show him the money. All he asked for is a chance and a six-pack of Labatt’s Blue as a signing bonus. Off the record, we were willing to go as high as a two-four of Blue to sign Johnny Football. Just don’t tell him.”

* The Winnipeg Jets will not qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament and, when asked to provide an overview of his club’s season, head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t mince words.

What did you expect to happen?” he mutters. “Our young men just played 82 games in less than six months. That’s a lot to ask of these young men. There’s only so much you can ask of these young men.”

Reminded that the other 29 outfits in the National Hockey League also played an 82-game schedule in six months and 16 of them will carry on to participate in as many as 28 more playoff skirmishes, Maurice snaps.

I don’t appreciate you questioning our young men,” he bleats. “I can make you f%*&ing cry.”

auston-matthews
Auston Matthews

* Jets Finnish sensation Patrik Laine will finish second behind Auston Matthews in NHL rookie-of-the-year voting, prompting GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to offer a rambling response on behalf of Puck Finn.

Clearly, this was the result of an eastern bloc bias,” Chevy says. “Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs are using a better draft-and-develop model than us? I don’t think so. Does this mean the Toronto Maple Leafs have a better process than us? Again, I don’t think so. Does this mean Auston Matthews is a better player than Patrik? I don’t think so, but I suppose that’s for others to argue. Sometimes these things happen and, with Patrik, it happened. We didn’t want it to happen, but I recall reading somewhere that Bobby Hull never won the rookie award, either. So it happened to Bobby as well. We like where Patrik is and where he’s going, just like we like where all our young players are and where they’re going. Sometimes there will be hiccups, but I don’t look at this as a hiccup. I look at it as confirmation that our process is working and that the playoffs are right around the corner. How far away that corner is, I can’t tell you. But, as I’ve been telling you for six years now, I know there’s a corner out there somewhere and we’ll turn it one day, hopefully with Patrik and all our young players showing us the way to that corner.”

The Two-Sport Pontiff, meanwhile, echoes his GM’s comments and adds, “I’m just glad we don’t have to pay Patrik the rookie bonus. That doesn’t mean we operate on the chintz. It just means that I can tell Chevy to spend that money more wisely. Like by re-signing Chris Thorburn.”

sun* Someone at Postmedia will finally notice that there are only three people left to buy out or force out of the Winnipeg Sun toy department, so it will attempt to hire freelancers to put some flesh on the tabloid’s bones and combat the nine bylines that appear regularly in the Winnipeg Free Press sports pages.

It’s either that or shutter all the doors and windows,” a Postmedia mouthpiece says. “Now that Kirk Penton is gone, I don’t know how Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Ken Wiebe can compete with the Drab Slab if we don’t give them some help. Know anyone who’ll write for free?”

Recognizing that the Sun is ripe for the picking, True North Sports & Entertainment will swoop in with an offer Postmedia can’t refuse. Postmedia agrees to let TNSE take the tabloid off its hands for $1 plus applicable tax.

Can you believe it? It cost us more to buy this two-bit rag than the Bombers,” says Puck, Pigskin & Paper Pontiff Mark Chipman, who now owns everything in River City except the Winnipeg Goldeyes and the Disraeli Bridge, “but I think it’ll be worth all 100 pennies once we brainwash the appropriate people and show them how to do things the True North way. Friesen, Wyman and Wiebe can all keep their jobs, but they’ll be house organs who write nothing but puff pieces.”

Asked what will happen if they refuse, the Triple P Pontiff says, “I’ll get Paul Maurice to make them f%*&ing cry.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.

In 2017, I do not resolve…

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. What’s the point? I know I wouldn’t keep them.

I mean, I could resolve to cease my regular criticisms of jock journalists. And I could really, really mean it. Girl Guides honor. Cross my heart and hope to die. But then one of the girls or boys on the beat would scribble or say something goofy, dumb, ridiculous or all of the above and it would be like a tub of chocolate swirl ice cream—I would have to have at it.

Thus, I do the opposite. I make New Year’s non-resolutions. That way, I can’t go wrong. I know I’ll break every one of my non-resolutions long before the year is done and I’ll be happy about it.

With that in mind, here are my New Year’s non-resolutions for 2017…

2017-not-resolutions

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.