The River City Renegade


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My morning take…

This morning’s Stanley Cup soundtrack:

Sidney Crosby—Ramble On (Led Zeppelin)
Pittsburgh Penguins—We Are the Champions (Queen)
Alex Ovechkin—(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones)
Washington Capitals—Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin)
Ryan Getzlaf—Get It While You Can (Janis Joplin)
Anaheim Ducks—Feelin’ Alright (Joe Cocker)
P.K. Subban—I Walk the Line (Johnny Cash)
Nashville Predators—Hotel California (The Eagles)
Erik Karlsson—A Well Respected Man (The Kinks)
Ottawa Senators—Dream On (Aerosmith)
Connor McDavid—You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)
Edmonton Oilers—Yours Is No Disgrace (Yes)

 


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About Blake Wheeler’s snooty attitude…the athlete-media dynamic…fake news…untouchable Winnipeg Jets…and needing 23 more wins

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

It was a simple question, one put forth in the wake of yet another failed mission in a crusade full of failed missions and an equal measure of frustration and angst.

Blake Wheeler

Blake Wheeler

Your room was closed an unusually long time tonight. Was there a meeting?” Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press inquired of Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on Friday night at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

What do you think?” replied Wheeler, turning and fixing Wiecek with a stare that suggested he was the worst form of pond scum. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut? Obviously there was a conversation had between us, obviously I’m not gonna give you anything that was said in this room.”

Obviously Wheeler was being a dink, obviously he didn’t have to be a dink.

Wiecek didn’t ask what was said behind those doors that stayed closed for 17 minutes. He likely didn’t care. He merely wanted confirmation that the Jets were late in allowing news snoops into their changing chamber because they had held a chin-wag following the 22nd loss of their National Hockey League schedule. He didn’t pose the question in a provocative, challenging or confrontational manner. Still…

What do you think?” came the snotty reply, the words dripping with unbridled contempt. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut?”

Look, I understand these are tense times in Jets Nation. That happens when your head coach has told anyone who cares to listen that all his players are “horse shit,” your supposed No. 1 goaltender can’t stop a runny nose, and you’ve just received a pair of paddywhackings, 7-4 against the Montreal Canadiens and 4-3 vs. the gawdawful Arizona Coyotes, who win about as often as Dustin Byfuglien passes on second helpings. Given those dire circumstances, the last thing a player wants or needs is a parry-and-thrust with people holding notepads and microphones. Newspaper deadlines be damned.

Trouble is, once that ‘C’ was stitched on to his Jets jersey, Wheeler became the official voice of the workers. Dealing with news scavengers, in good times and bad, is part of the gig. And I would expect he do it with a civil tongue.

The Jets captain could have—no—he should have said something like, “Yes, we had a players’ meeting and, before you ask, I’m not prepared to share what we discussed.” That’s how a true professional would have handled it. Not Wheeler though. He had to be rude, biting and dismissive. But, hey, if the president-elect of the United States can get away with calling the great Meryl Streep a bottom-feeding thespian, surely a hockey player dissing a news snoop is small potatoes.

I’ve never met Blake Wheeler. I doubt I ever will. I admire the way he plays the game, with a favorable blend of skill and naked intensity. And, really, that’s all that should matter. But, again, he’s the team captain. If Wheeler doesn’t like the media component of the job, simply surrender the ‘C’. Then he can be just like his mime-like buddy Big Buff, who apparently only shares his five-word pearls of wisdom with the Fourth Estate when the moon is full.

fake-newsFewer professional athletes genuinely embrace the ritual of news scavengers invading their space, before or after games. It’s tolerated as a necessary evil. But I’ve got news for Blake Wheeler and those of his ilk: Most news snoops I know and worked with don’t enjoy visiting changing rooms, either. I’m guessing that Paul Wiecek would be quite content if he never saw the inside of a sports boudoir again. But, as with the players, the athlete-media dynamic is a necessary evil. And without reporters in those rooms to ask questions, you get fake news. And fake news begets rancor, distrust and a Twitter-angry president-elect who can’t keep his thumbs to himself. So play nice and just answer the damn questions, boys.

While watching the Jets gag on a late lead and lose another hockey game Saturday night, 3-2 to the Kings in Tinseltown, it occurred to me that one of them is apt to be playing in Las Vegas at this time next year. So I scanned the roster, searching for the Jets whom I consider untouchable. I came up with seven: Jacob Trouba, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and the entire Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele. Vegas can have their pick of the rest, including Byfuglien.

It will take 90 points, minimum, to qualify for the western portion of the Stanley Cup tournament. The Jets need 46 points in 36 games to get there. In basic numbers, that’s a 23-13 record the rest of the way. Good luck with that.

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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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.

 


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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.


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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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About the Winnipeg Jets betting their scouts got it right…the Buck and Hutch Show…Nolan Patrick…and the boys skate down memory lane at The Pint

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

Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine

Be careful what you wish for, Jets Nation. You might get it.

Actually, you’ve already got it. Connor Hellebuyck is in goal. Josh Morrissey is on defence. Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Brandon Tanev and Nikolaj Ehlers are up front. The first five are National Hockey League rookies. The latter is a sophomore who can’t order a beer in the United States until February.

The Jets are greener than a nauseous Kermit the Frog on St. Patty’s Day.

That’s okay, though. That’s what you wanted. That’s the new NHL order and you wouldn’t want your hockey heroes to be left behind, right? And they won’t be. Not as long as general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s bird dogs have flushed out more blue-chippers than scouts with the other 29 outfits in a league where fewer and fewer players are old enough to grow a respectable playoff beard.

That’s really what the Jets are betting on, isn’t it? Their talent sleuths. The guys who roam the terrain like so many truffle hogs seeking to unearth hidden treasure.

I mean, it’s not like the Jets invented the light bulb, sliced bread or the dot.com. The draft-and-develop blueprint is older than the back of Jaromir Jagr’s head. The trick, therefore, is to do it better than the other guy(s), and we like to think the Jets’ scouts have assembled a glittering collection of raw, untapped talent. Better than most, if not all. Ah, but loyalists of the Edmonton Oilers likely thought much the same thing at different times during the past decade.

If the Jets bird dogs did their job, the kids will be alright. Perhaps not this season, but eventually.

I like what the Jets have done. I don’t see it as risky business. Not even in goal. Technically, Hellebuyck isn’t a rookie. He stood in the blue paint 26 times during a Jets crusade that fell off the rails last winter, so he won’t be eligible for the Calder Trophy. But let’s face it, he’s a freshman. Michael Hutchinson isn’t, but he’s no one’s idea of a No. 1. He was given ample opportunity to supplant everyone’s favorite whipping boy, Ondrej Pavelec, and he couldn’t do it, which probably should tell you all you need to know about him. But, really, the Buck and Hutch Show doesn’t need to be all-world. Anything above average is an upgrade.

Nolan Patrick

Nolan Patrick

Can you say Nolan Patrick, kids? The Jets can. Unless I miss my guess, the local shinny side will finish closer to the back end rather than the front of the pack this winter and, given another stroke of good fortune when the NHL makes the numbered ping-pong balls go bouncy-bouncy at the draft lottery next spring, Patrick might be the Jets’ reward. The bonus, of course, is that the Brandon Wheat Kings forward is a homebrew.

Oh, the good times (not to mention the brown pop) will be flowing at The Pint on Fort Street next Thursday night (Oct. 20) when yesterday’s heroes gather to tell tall tales and swap fibs at the Heritage Classic Launch Party. A great number of former Jets dating to the World Hockey Association glory days shall be on site, as will the Avco World Trophy. At the same time, it’s a sad reminder that we’ve lost some people along the way. I hope they take a moment to remember CBC voice Don Wittman, Jets radio legend Friar Nicolson and former Winnipeg Free Press hockey scribe Reyn Davis. Friar, Reyn and I were the only three news scavengers to work the Jets beat, home and away, during the final WHA season. It was a hoot. The Jets were a real good bunch of guys, too. They made my job enjoyable. It was a privilege and a pleasure to cover that team.

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.