The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets being gobsmacked at the NHL entry draft…mama’s boys…a boy with two mamas…Wheat Kings and Flin Flon Bombers power…and everything’s just Ducky

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

Every time I watch the National Hockey League’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, I think of John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, one time maestro of a long gone, but not forgotten Winnipeg Jets franchise that actually made the playoffs.

John Ferguson

It didn’t matter which player Fergy and his scouts had plucked from the entry draft pool, first round or fifth. The same words would gush from his mouth: “We couldn’t believe he was still there.”

It was Fergy’s way of telling us that he and his bird dogs had pulled one over on every other outfit in the NHL. How could all those teams have been so blind as to overlook so-and-so? D’oh!

And so it is with Kevin Cheveldayoff and shinny sleuths in the employ of the present-day Winnipeg Jets, whose sole playoff experience in six years was like bad speed-dating. You know, one and done, don’t call me I’ll call you. GM Chevy and underlings would have us believe that their prize catch in Friday night’s auction of teen talent, Kristian Vesalainen, was among the select group of players they had targeted with their original pick, No. 13 overall. So, imagine their gobsmacked disbelief and delight when the Finn “was still there” at the 24th shout-out.

We were surprised he was there,” insisted director of amateur scouting Mark Hillier. “There were certain guys we were targeting at 13 and then 24, but he would have been in the mix at 13. We were happy to get him for sure at 24.”

It’s worth noting that Hillier’s pants weren’t on fire as he spoke, so I’ll play along and accept that he was telling the truth.

The question then becomes this: Why was Vesalainen still available to Cheveldayoff on his first trip to the podium at the United Center in Chicago? Has the kid got leprosy? The cooties? Beats me. I suppose we’ll have to ask GMs and bird dogs in Las Vegas, Tampa Bay, Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Boston, San Jose, St. Louis, New York, Edmonton and Arizona, because they’re the D’oh boys who took a pass and left the big Finnish forward to Chevy’s pleasure.

So, if we are to take the Jets’ braintrust at their word (and we all know that hockey people never, ever, ever tell fibs), here’s what they pulled off in the past week or so: They convinced veteran defenceman Toby Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause to shield one of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, Tyler Myers and Andrew Copp from the clutches of the Vegas Golden Knights; they surrendered 11 places in the entry draft queue (No. 13 down to 24) and a third-round pick to protect Enstrom and/or Marko Dano in the Vegas expansion draft; and they still—still!—landed the guy they would have chosen at No. 13.

That’s pure genius, craphouse luck or someone’s nose is growing.

Here are 11 names to keep in mind for future reference: Nick Suzuki, Callan Foote, Erik Brannstrom, Juuso Valimaki, Timothy Liljegren, Urho Vaakanainen, Joshua Norris, Robert Thomas, Fliip Chytil, Kailer Yamamoto and Pierre-Olivier Joseph. We’ll never know what Cheveldayoff would have done had he held on to the 13th choice, because he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman don’t make their business our business, but if any one of those 11 players chosen in the 13-23 slots has a better NHL career than Vesalainen, then flipping positions with Vegas to preserve a non-playoff roster must be judged a mistake. Unless, of course, Vesalainen scores a Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2020. Then it’s pure genius.

Apparently, hockey players are a bunch of mama’s boys, because mom almost always gets the first hug after her son’s name is called at the entry draft. And I think that’s wonderful.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan with his two moms, Fran and Nancy.

Speaking of moms and wonderful, Jaret Anderson-Dolan has two wonderful moms, Fran and Nancy, and it’s a wonderful story. Drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings, the Spokane Chiefs forward has been subjected to anti-gay comments and roadblocks (some Western Hockey League clubs wouldn’t touch Anderson-Dolan because of his family makeup), but the Kings were having none of that. “If anybody had a problem with his family situation, they should go screw themselves and find another job,” L.A. director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t care if it’s two moms, I don’t care if it’s two dads. What I know is the reason he is the kid he is, is because of his upbringing. It’s that nature versus nurture thing. We certainly weren’t scared off by it. You see where we took him. For me it’s nothing. It’s a matter-of-fact thing. It’s just a detail. It was nothing we ever discussed. He has two loving, wonderful parents that raised him to be a certain way, which is why he is the player he is today. We got a kid we coveted and I’m happy that he was raised the way he was and I’m happy he’s the player that he is.” Amen to that, brother Mark.

Bobby Clarke, Nolan Patrick and Ron Hextall.

My favorite visual during the entry draft was the sight of one Brandon Wheat King standing on stage with another Brandon Wheat King while a Flin Flon Bomber looked on approvingly. I refer, of course, to former Wheatie Ron Hextall, the Philadelphia Flyers GM who selected Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick. If young Nolan develops into the second coming of Flin Flon’s Bobby Clarke, the Flyers will be a force.

I don’t know who chooses the inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame (I imagine the Puck Pontiff has the final say), but whomever certainly got it right with Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky goes into the Hall later this year, joining Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the ingrate Bobby Hull, who refused to attend his own party last year. Next up should be Ben Hatskin and Lars-Erik Sjoberg. What say you, Mark Chipman?

I swear, I heard a talking head say one of the kids drafted Saturday morning in Chicago weighs 141 pounds. One hundred and forty-one pounds! Cripes, man, Dustin Byfuglien’s late-night snacks weigh more than that.

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

 


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Dial 1-800-UR-5HOLE if you know a goaltender who can help the Winnipeg Jets

They’re baaaack! And one of them is totally PO’d with the Winnipeg Jets.

I refer, of course, to my two Hens in the Hockey House, who know all and aren’t afraid to tell all about the only National Hockey League club that apparently believes quality goaltending is an afterthought.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: I’m kind of nervous about getting into a discussion about the Jets with you…you look really sour. Kind of like the way Melania Trump looks every time The Donald tries to hold her hand. Are you not fond of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork?

Answer Lady: Does a vegetarian order a double Whopper with cheese? Is the White House fond of fake freaking news?

Question Lady: Oooooh, you are some kind of owly. But, hey, now that you’ve mentioned the White House, I note that the Pittsburgh Penguins say they’ll accept an invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if President Trump tosses down the welcome mat to celebrate their Stanley Cup victory. Do you think Trump actually knows any of the Penguins by name?

Answer Lady: Probably just Evgeni Malkin. If there’s one thing Trump knows, it’s Russians. Actually, Malkin could become the first Russian to visit the White House during The Donald’s era who won’t have to hide in a closet.

Question Lady: So much has happened since the Penguins were feted for their championship. I don’t even know where to begin. I…

Answer Lady: Sorry to interrupt, but I guess that makes you just like the Jets—they don’t know where the hell to begin either! So far, their off-season has been brought to us by the letters W, T and F!

Question Lady: Ouch. That’s harsh.

Answer Lady: Harsh? You want harsh, girlfriend? Harsh is jacking up ticket prices at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—and probably the cost of hot dogs and beer, too—and then doing sweet petite to improve a roster that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. That’s harsh. And flipping ballsy.

Question Lady: Okay, but what makes you think Chevy’s finished giving the club a makeover?

Answer Lady: Oh, get a grip, girl. He’s going to give his roster a makeover like Johnny Depp is going to break bread with the Trumps.

Question Lady: Geez, that’s your second or third Trump reference already. What’s up with you and The Donald?

Answer Lady: What can I say? I get a kick out of real life cartoon characters.

Question Lady: Okay, back to the Jets. What were you saying about Chevy?

Answer Lady: Chevy does the same thing every…freaking…summer. His scouts instruct him what pimple-poppers to claim in the NHL entry draft, then he does the Howard Hughes thing and becomes a recluse. He hides out at his cottage. But I don’t blame it all on Chevy. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, is the commander-in-chief. Most people know that, even if mainstream media won’t mention it. Chipman is just like that new goomer in Phoenix who’s running everyone out of town. The only difference is that the Puck Pontiff isn’t as obvious as Andrew Barroway.

Question Lady: Were you surprised that Barroway got rid of Shane Doan, the last surviving member of the Jets original NHL franchise?

Answer Lady: Doan’s best-before date expired about the same time as Jaromir Jagr’s. But why is a guy who’s owned an NHL franchise for less than a month making that decision? What’s Barroway’s hockey background? What’s his hockey expertise? Don Cherry’s empty beer bottles have seen more shinny than Andrew Barroway. Shouldn’t Doan’s status be a general manager/head coach’s call? Whatever, a guy like Doan, who’d been the face of the Coyotes franchise for two decades, deserved better than an eight-minute chin-wag and a handshake from GM John Chayka in a coffee shop.

Question Lady: With Dave Tippett now the former head coach in Arizona, do you think Paul Maurice should be looking over his shoulder?

Answer Lady: Name me an NHL head coach who shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder. Other than Mike Backcock, that is. If the local lads soil the sheets in the first couple of months next season—and if Tippett is still available—cries of impeachment shall ring out from the rabble. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vegas bookies list Maurice as the odds-on favorite to be the next head coach fired, especially given that the Puck Pontiff and Chevy don’t seem interested in providing the poor sap with any new weapons. Like a freaking goaltender!

Question Lady: Come on, girlfriend. You don’t really believe the Jets will do nothing, do you?

Answer Lady: Here’s my prediction—their big free agent signing will be Chris Thorburn. Yes, that Chris Thorburn. Chevy gave credence to that possibility the morning after the Vegas Golden Knights laid claim to Thorbs’ bare knuckles in the expansion draft. Thorbs will be back. Remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: Yikes! I think the rabble will be lighting torches and brandishing pitch forks if that happens. It’d be like a scene out of an old John Wayne western movie where the angry mob storms the sheriff’s office to get the bad guy and string him up.

Answer Lady: Like I said, little lady, remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: What about that tall drink of water from Finland that the Jets plucked in the first round of the entry draft on Friday night? Can he help?

Answer Lady: Does Kristian Vesalainen play goal? Negative. Does he play defence on the left side? Negative. The Jets need goaltending help STAT. But the way other NHL outfits are gobbling up the available talent, they’ll have to settle for any old schmuck wearing a mask.

Question Lady: Hey, Batman wears a mask! Maybe he can play goal for the Jets!

Answer Lady: It’s even too late to get him. Batman just died.

Question Lady: Holy five-hole and kaPOW! I guess Chevy will have do it via free agency or trades.

Answer Lady: Trades? Chevy isn’t allowed to make trades without pontifical blessing. All he does is talk about the trades he almost made.

Question Lady: Is there anything about the Jets that you like?

Answer Lady: Of course. Absolutely. This isn’t a hot mess like in Vancouver. I like the Jets’ incredible young talent. Boffo kids. They’ve got game. Unfortunately, the decision-makers don’t. They’re afraid of their own shadows. That’s why I’m frustrated and PO’d. I see GMs in other NHL towns plugging holes, filling gaps and fleshing out their rosters, but all we hear in River City is the sound of crickets.

Question Lady: Well, I must take my leave. Time to travel and enjoy summer. You?

Answer Lady: No plans. I guess I’ll see you in October. Until then, don’t forget your sunblock and, if you stumble upon anyone wearing a mask in your travels, tell him to call 1-800-UR-5HOLE pronto. That’s the Jets’ goaltender hotline.

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


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Winnipeg Jets: You wouldn’t want to break up a gang that missed the NHL playoffs (that’s sarcasm, kids)

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

No, no, no, no, no. The idea isn’t to maintain the status quo. The idea is to improve. You know, address needs (hello goaltending, defence). Plug holes (hello goaltending, defence). Replace broken parts (hello goaltending, defence).

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Not the Winnipeg Jets, though. While all hell is breaking loose in the National Hockey League, they say, “Oh, what the hell, we’ll just sit this one out.”

I mean, apparently Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his point man, Kevin Cheveldayoff, are quite content with what they have, because the Jets’ co-bankroll and his co-general manager took extraordinary measures this week to preserve a roster that did not pass muster in its most recent NHL crusade.

Need I remind one and all that the Jets failed to qualify for Stanley Cup skirmishing this past spring? They fell short of the playoff line by seven points. And that’s the group the Puck Pontiff and Chevy don’t want to mess with?

Sigh.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though. I mean, at the close of business at their customary time of early April, head coach Paul Maurice was asked what the Jets would look like next October, and Coach Potty-Mouth replied: “It’s gonna look an awful lot like this team but five months older.”

Oh joy. Stop my beating heart.

Toby Enstrom

Just to recap, here’s what the Jets did (or didn’t do, depending on your point of view) to prevent their non-playoff roster from being disturbed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft on Wednesday:

  1. They asked Toby Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause so none of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, Tyler Myers or Andrew Copp (why, why, why?) would fall prey to the whims of Golden Knights’ scavenging GM George McPhee in the freshly minted club’s haul of mostly mediocre talent. Enstrom agreed (such a loyal foot soldier, our Toby).
  2. They concocted a scheme whereby GM the GM in Vegas agreed to pluck a player not named Toby Enstrom from the list of available Winnipeg skaters/goaltenders. The cost: 11 places in the queue at Friday night’s NHL entry draft. The Jets swapped the No. 13 shout-out in the first round of the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers for Vegas’ No. 24 call.
  3. To summarize, the Jets ultimately surrendered 11 spots (13 through 23) in the entry draft for fear they would lose one—just one—of Perreault, Lowry, Armia, Myers, Copp, Enstrom or Dano to the Golden Knights. Excuse me, but those are the very guys who missed the freaking playoffs. What part of that do the Puck Pontiff and Chevy not understand?

Again, sigh.

The only way this makes any sense is if the Jets were convinced that the player they were poised to pluck at No. 13 on Friday night would be available at No. 24. Which means they were prepared to go way, way, way off the board. Sort of like the much-maligned Mikhail Smith did with Sergei Bautin oh so many head-scratching drafts and one failed franchise ago.

The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff are forever preaching draft and develop, so it makes little logic that they opt to sacrifice 11 positions to keep an overpaid, aging, injury-prone, undersized defenceman with one year remaining on his contract—that’s Enstrom—in the fold at the expense of someone who might have been with the Jets for the next decade.

Silly me. I was hoping the Puck Pontiff and Chevy would do something really bold and daring. You know, like actually move up in the entry draft to take a run at local boy Nolan Patrick. Instead, they move in reverse. All together now—and this time with feeling—sighhhhhh.

How might we view this Jets’ decision a few years from now? Guaranteed we’ll be talking about “the one that got away,” because at least one of the 11 players chosen in the Nos. 13-23 slots on Friday night will become an impactful player in the NHL. Perhaps not immediately, but certainly in two or three years. Here are some of the people chosen 13-23 this century: Erik Karlsson, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Devan Dubnyk, Alexander Radulov, Tuukka Rask, Claude Giroux, Max Pacioretty, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jordan Eberle, Jake Gardiner, Dylan Larkin, Jakob Chychrun, Kasperi Kapanen, Sven Baertschi, Joel Armia, J.T. Miller, Oscar Klefbom, Cody Ceci, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Olli Mattaa, Andre Burakovsky, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor and Anthony Mantha.

As for the 24th pick, read it and (mostly) weep:

2000: Brad Boyes
2001: Lukas Krajicek
2002: Alexander Steen
2003: Mike Richards
2004: Chris Chucko
2005: T.J. Oshie
2006: Dennis Persson
2007: Mikael Backlund
2008: Mattias Tedenby
2009: Marcus Johansson
2010: Kevin Hayes
2011: Matt Puempell
2012: Malcolm Subban
2013: Hunter Shinkaruk
2014: Jared McCann
2015: Travis Konecny
2016: Max Jones

Chris Thorburn

Brace yourselves, kids: It’s possible that you haven’t seen the last of Chris Thorburn, claimed from the Jets by Vegas. “He was going into being an unrestricted free agent July 1, and I’m not sure where things will be in those regards,” Cheveldayoff said Thursday. “But we haven’t closed the door on him.” Please, please, please George McPhee, sign Thorbs. What’s already in Vegas should stay in Vegas.

Fashion alert: I must say, I’m really digging those Vegas Golden Knights jerseys. Top drawer. And that’s a killer logo. I’m not prepared to say they’re the most boffo set of threads in the NHL, because it’s hard to beat some original six linen, but the Vegas people did it right.

Here’s a real shocker: Steve Simmons of Postmedia has found yet one more thing that he doesn’t like. Blending the NHL expansion draft and awards show is “nonsensical,” don’t you know? He yearns for a stand-alone awards show. Ya, that’s the ticket. Let’s all cozy up to our flatscreens to watch an extremely unfunny host tell extremely unfunny, cornball jokes and watch Connor McDavid walk on stage half a dozen times to receive a trinket. Good grief, man. The NHL awards gala is an exercise in boredom and the addition of the expansion draft provided an injection of interest.

I don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, and I spend even less time tweeting. So how is it that I have 220 followers and why would anyone follow me? I mean, it’s not like I have anything important to say in 140 characters or less. Or more than 140 characters for that matter. But to those 220 followers, I vow this: I’ll keep cranking out the crap as long as Steve Simmons keeps finding things to bitch about.

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

 


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About the end of Winnipeg Jets 1.0…Shane Doan never dissed Winnipeg…another buttinski NHL owner…interplanetary expansion…token talk about Brooke Henderson…and a win for Claire Eccles

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

I’m not sure if we should be grateful to Andrew Barroway or give him a swift boot in the butt.

Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan

I mean, he didn’t simply do the dirty to Shane Doan when he kicked the Arizona Coyotes captain to the curb the other day. He also deep-sixed Winnipeg Jets 1.0. Officially.

Oh, I suppose one of the other 30 National Hockey League outfits might want to take a flyer on a 41-year-old forward with hard miles on him come October, so there’s a possibility, however remote, that the one remaining remnant of a franchise that forsook a city in 1996 will skate another day. That wouldn’t disturb the reality that Winnipeg-Phoenix is no more, though.

Doan was the last link, you see. The final warm body to have worn both Jets 1.0 and Coyotes linen.

The man that Yotes owner Barroway discarded like an old pair of tattered socks was still a freshly scrubbed teenager when he arrived in River City for a tour of duty that took him from the frozen flatlands of the True North to the sun-baked Arizona desert, covering 22 years, 20 full NHL seasons, one lockout-shortened season, one completely aborted season, two countries, four Canadian prime ministers, four American presidents, one failed franchise, one bankrupt franchise, 1,540 games and zero Stanley Cup parades.

I suppose that last item on the inventory will always be the rub for Doan. No titles.

He had no chance, though. Not in Winnipeg, where he surfaced just in time to watch the moving vans roll up to the doors, and not in Phoenix, where the moving vans were usually parked—with the engines running—right next to the Zamboni. Winnipeg-Phoenix is, in fact, the only surviving member of the World Hockey Association to never capture hockey’s holy grail.

Now, with the Coyotes’ outright release of Doan, that connection is no more. The Yotes have rid themselves of the last of our guys. And suddenly I’m feeling an urge to give someone a high five.

Winnipeg Jets rookie Shane Doan

I don’t know about you, but I never bought into the bunk about Doan dissing Winnipeg when whispers arose that the Phoenix franchise would be re-relocating to its original home in 2011. He simply stated a reluctance to uproot his bride, Andrea, and their four children. He didn’t want to move anywhere. Repeat: Anywhere. “I never once said a single disparaging word about Winnipeg,” Doan told The Hockey News. “I simply stated that the connection that I had with Phoenix was because I’d been there for 15 years, the same thing as I would have if I’d been in Winnipeg for 15 years and someone told me I had to leave.” That didn’t stop fans and select members of mainstream media from dumping on Doan. Most notable was a juvenile and amateurish rant by Gary Lawless, then a columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press.

I thought Jets bankroll, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, was the only NHL owner who likes to play general manager, poking his nose into the general manager’s business as part of his daily routine. Turns out Barroway is a big buttinski, too. At least that’s the way Doan tells the story of his ouster. “Ya,” he told the Burns and Gambo Show on Arizona Sports 98.7, “it was the owner’s decision. When he got possession of the team…he chose that he wanted to go with the younger group and that me being around might’ve kind of delayed things. Sometimes you’ve got to rip the band-aid off.” Doan’s right. He got ripped off.

Here’s a discomforting thought if you’re a member of Jets Nation: Before they actually play a game in the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights will have better goaltending that the Jets.

I note that NASA squinters have discovered 10 planets that could potentially support life. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman immediately announced that one of those 10 planets would get an expansion franchise before Quebec City.

Good piece on Nolan Patrick and family by Ted Wyman in the Winnipeg Sun. What a score it would be if Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff did some fancy footwork and moved up in the queue to claim the local lad at the NHL entry draft on Friday. Alas, the Puck Pontiff doesn’t allow Chevy to think outside the box.

Brooke Henderson

Just a thought: If a Canadian male teenager had won four Professional Golf Association tournaments—including a major—in the past two years, he’d be hailed as the second coming of Arnold Palmer. Or at least George Knudson. But when Brooke Henderson wins her fourth event—including a major—in two years on the Ladies PGA Tour, it’s a sidebar at best. Brooke wasn’t near the top of any sports page I saw after she’d won the Meijer LPGA Classic on Sunday, and the adolescents dressed as men on TSN The Reporters gave a token, less-than-two-minutes mention to the Smiths Falls, Ont., teenager before launching into a chin-wag that somehow found its way to frat-boy banter about U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka’s girlfriend, whom Michael Farber compared to a putter before advising Steve Simmons that “you can’t kiss that girl.” I’m speechless.

Update on Claire Eccles, the only female in the West Coast League: The Victoria HarbourCats lefthander from Surrey, B.C., won her first start on Sunday, beating the Kitsap BlueJackets 7-2 at Royal Athletic Park. After two appearances in the summer baseball league comprised mostly of NCAA Division I players, this is her pitching line:

2IP  1H  2R  2ER  1BB  1HBP  0K  9.00ERA (relief)

3IP  3H  2R  2ER  3BB  0HBP  1K  6.00 ERA (starter)

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

 


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About Marko Dano moving to Glitter Gulch…silence from the Winnipeg Jets…no whining from the Pittsburgh Penguins…Mike O’Shea calling Drew Willy to have him come back…empty seats in the Republic of Tranna…best CFL coach ever…lack of star power in golf…and gays in pro sports board rooms but not in dressing rooms

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

So, Marko Dano’s new mailing address might be Glitter Gulch, and this is a problem for the Winnipeg Jets how?

Seriously, all the teeth-gnashing and angst about which player the Vegas Golden Knights plan to pluck from a Jets roster not good enough to qualify for the recently concluded Stanley Cup tournament is so much ado about nil.

Marko Dano

Does anyone truly believe that the local hockey heroes can’t get along without Marko Dano? Or Michael Hutchinson? Or any of the lads available to Vegas in the National Hockey League expansion draft?

Exposing Dano to the whims of the new kid on the block is not a deal-breaker. If his name is called when the players selected by Vegas are revealed on Wednesday, it will have zero impact on the Jets. Zero. They missed the postseason with Dano, they can miss it without Dano.

Having said that, I don’t get the Jets’ infatuation with Andrew Copp. I see him as a fringe NHLer. A fourth-line forward who shouldn’t get more than 10 minutes of ice a night. If it was a choice to protect Copp or Dano from the Vegas vultures, I’m keeping the latter.

The Dallas Stars need a goaltender, they get one. The Carolina Hurricanes need a goaltender, they get one. The Calgary Flames need a goaltender, they get one. The Montreal Canadiens need scoring, they get some. The Golden Knights need draft picks, they’re collecting them like a squirrel stashing away acorns. The Jets need…well, apparently nothing. Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his valet, Kevin Cheveldayoff, will lay claim to a whack of freshly scrubbed teenagers later this month at the NHL entry draft, then hit the snooze button for the rest of the summer (except perhaps to gift Chris Thorburn with a fresh three-year contract).

It’s about Paul Maurice. Remember all that “oh, woe are we” whining about the schedule we heard from the Jets head coach when his outfit was required to play 32 games in 60 days at the start of the 2016-17 crusade? Well, the Pittsburgh Penguins just played 25 games in 61 days. I think we can agree that playoff hockey is a different animal than shinny in October, November and December. It’s much more intense, demanding, draining and flat-out brutal. It’s sort of like dog years, but not quite. That is, I’d say one playoff game is equal to three regular-season assignments, so the Penguins actually played 75 games in 60 days en route to their second successive Stanley Cup title. Yet not once did I hear their head coach, Mike Sullivan, sniveling about the schedule.

Drew Willy

What does Marc Trestman know about quarterbacks that Mike O’Shea doesn’t. Plenty apparently. I mean, it took O’Shea two complete Canadian Football League seasons and five games into a third crusade to realize Drew Willy wasn’t the answer at quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It took Marc Trestman less than one half of one exhibition game to arrive at the same conclusion for his Toronto Argonauts, thus he pink-slipped the former Bombers starting QB on Saturday. You don’t suppose O’Shea has already placed a call to Willy’s agent, do you? Talk about a frightening prospect.

Donald Trump will stop using Twitter before I part with money to watch exhibition football, and it seems that 99.9999 per cent of folks in the Republic of Tranna are of a similar mindset. The announced head count for the Argos’ one dress rehearsal at BMO Field was 5,532. I once saw that many clowns squeeze into a Volkswagen Beetle at the Shrine Circus when I was a kid.

I’ve heard and read a lot of “Don Matthews is the greatest head coach in Canadian Football League history” since the Coach of Many Teams died last week. Well, I beg to differ. I mean, what’s the measuring stick? Total victories? Wally Buono beats him. Winning percentage? Hugh Campbell, John Hufnagel, Marc Trestman, Bud Grant, Ralph Sazio and Buono beat him. CFL titles? Campbell, Buono and Frank Clair have as many, and Campbell did it in six seasons compared to Matthews’ 22. The best head coach ever? I’ll take Hugh Campbell or Bud Grant over The Don any time.

Once upon a time—and not so long ago—the first question you’d ask during one of golf’s major tournaments was “What did Tiger shoot?” and you’d expect to hear that Tiger Woods was at, or very near, the top of the leaderboard. The second question would be “What about Phil?” and you’d likely be told that Phil Mickelson was in striking distance of the lead. Those two were the heartbeat of the men’s pro tour. They were the latter-day version of Arnie and Jack. Now? The men’s tour is a mosh pit, with an assortment of players alternating as flavor of the month. It was Rory McIlroy, then Jordan Spieth, then Jason Day, then Dustin Johnson. Trouble is, there isn’t a swashbuckler among them. None has polarizing or riveting appeal. I wouldn’t say the PGA Tour has become a bore, but it ceased being must-see TV about the same time Woods got caught with his pants down and drove his car into a tree.

Quiz me this, kids: Why was the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the 1990s a good thing and the Golden State Warriors’ dominance the past few years a bad thing for the National Basketball Association?

Laura Ricketts

The president and chief operating officer of the NBA-champion Warriors, Rick Welts, is openly gay. One of the co-owners and a board member of Major League Baseball’s reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs, Laura Ricketts, is an out lesbian. Two openly gay people in power positions with championship teams and yet gay players are still afraid to come out of hiding. I’d say that tells us all we need to know about the 1950s culture that still exists in the dressing rooms of the top four major sports leagues in North America.

I sometimes subscribe to the old bromide that our mothers often delivered: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So I’m not going to say anything about the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather dust-up.

Add 3-on-3 hoops to Steve Simmons’ growing list of sports he doesn’t fancy. The Postmedia scribe writes this: “Coming to the next Summer Olympics. Three on three basketball. Honest. With a 12-second shot clock. Games are 10 minutes in length or end when the first team has 21 points. Somebody out there in Olympic land—or many IOC members—have lost their minds.” So, if you’re keeping score at home, Simmons wants 3-on-3 hoops, trampoline and women’s hockey eliminated from the Olympics. And he wants the best tennis players in the world to cease participating in mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. The reality that the Summer Olympics now will include mixed relays in athletics and swimming, as well as mixed competition in triathlon, table tennis, judo and archery must keep him awake at night. I mean, the poor sap might have to write about a female ping pong player if a Canadian does well.

I note that Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps plans to race against a great white shark. Man vs. animal is nothing new, though. Jesse Owens raced thoroughbred horses. Former National Football League receiver Dennis Northcutt raced an ostrich. NFLers Chris Johnson and Devin Hester raced a cheetah. And, of course, numerous men fought Mike Tyson.

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

 


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Victoria HarbourCats keeping the Claire Eccles girl-vs-boys story on the down low; gets first start on Sunday

At first blush, I’ll admit that I was skeptical and cynical about the signing of Claire Eccles. It reeked of gimmickry. Sexist gimmickry.

I mean, the girl-vs-boys angle is the simplest sideshow to sell in sports. It’s also one of the media’s favorite chew toys. For evidence, look no further than Billie Jean King, Manon Rheaume, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Mo’ne Davis, Hayley Wickenheiser and Danica Patrick.

Yes, sir, put a Jill in with the jocks and it’s news copy gold. And, hey, it’s a bonus for the marketing wizards if she’s what the lads call a “looker.” (Do you really think Patrick has been showered with all that publicity because she’s made a habit of getting her race car to the finish line ahead of the good, ol’ boys on the top NASCAR circuit? She leads the league in long hair and lipstick, not top-10 finishes.)

Claire Eccles

So what better way for the Victoria HarbourCats to put rumps in the pews of their quaint ballpark than to trot a girl-next-door type out to the pitcher’s mound and have her strike out all those hot-shot college boys from Trumpsylvania? Curiosity seekers are guaranteed to flock to Royal Athletic Park on the edge of downtown Victoria and cheer lustily each time Eccles is beckoned to make the hike to the hill, with the hip-hop beat of Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl accompanying her every step. Ka-ching!

Except that isn’t how the Claire Eccles baseball-with-the-boys tale is unfolding.

Oh, sure, there was an avalanche of attention from the Fourth Estate—hither and yon—upon the Surrey southpaw’s arrival in the B.C. capital. ESPN, the Washington Post, the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Sportsnet and MSN.com, among many others, eagerly glombed onto the Eccles story at the outset. But a week into the 19-year-old’s West Coast League experience, she has been summoned by head coach Brian McRae exactly once. For a two-inning gig.

If that’s a publicity stunt based on gender, the HarbourCats are failing miserably at Marketing 101.

That’s the point, though. Other than the announcement of Eccles coming on board, the HarbourCats have resisted any urge to play the gender card in an effort to inflate ticket sales. Bravo for them. She’s a baseball player, not a promotional circus act.

Mind you, that might be about to change, because McRae did the chin-wag thing with MSN.com 120 Sports on Tuesday morning and he declared Eccles his starter when the Kitsap BlueJackets come calling for a non-league game this weekend at RAP.

We’re gonna give her a shot, just like we give all the other guys that are here, to compete for innings,” McRae said. “She’s gonna start for us next Sunday and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

That sound you hear is the publicity machine cranking up.

I can’t imagine the pre-game noise being any louder than in July 2010, though. That’s when the Chico Outlaws and their so-called Knuckle Princess paid a visit to Royal Athletic Park. As it turns out, Eri Yoshida’s knuckler didn’t knuckle so well. The Japanese hurler allowed just one hit, but it was a grand slam, and she also walked seven batsmen and hit three others in her 2 1/3 innings of work. The thing is, advance hype attracted 4,753 to the ballpark that night, the largest gathering in Victoria Seals history.

Brian McRae

By contrast, when Eccles emerged from the bullpen last week to become the first female to pitch in the WCL, the head count was approximately 800. (She mopped up in a 9-0 loss to the Wenatchee RedSox and produced this pitching line: 2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 0 K, 9.00 ERA.)

It’s a safe bet that the HarbourCats Hollaback Girl will be hucking the rawhide in front of an audience three to five times that size on the afternoon of June 18 at the local ballyard.

I think having people like Claire come in and show everybody out there that it’s not a publicity stunt, that she’s getting an opportunity because she has a chance to be successful and help us, I think, in turn, that empowers other girls. I think you may see more and more women trying to play baseball,” said McRae, who clearly sees both the short- and long-term pictures. “Pitching is about the only thing I think, if a woman were to be able to play pro ball, where they could compete with the males, would be on the mound.”

And if Eccles, a University of British Columbia student who also pitches for Canada’s national women’s team, has designs on playing pro baseball?

She’s gotta get a little bit stronger, add some miles-an-hour to her fastball,” said McRae, who played 10 years in Major League Baseball. “We think she could throw 80 miles-an-hour if we cleaned up her mechanics and got her to use her lower body a little bit better. Her fastball tops out about 71, 72 miles-an-hour right now, and her knuckleball is in the mid-60s or so, but we think there’s more there that can get her to throw a little bit harder and be a little bit more effective.”

In the meantime, “It’s been kind of cool having her around.”

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, but she now lives one block from Royal Athletic Park in Victoria and might cross the street to watch Claire Eccles throw a baseball.

 


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About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

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