Winnipeg, the last two-paper town in the West…how Shakey Johnson got his name…promotion for Kirk Penton…and a long overdue induction for Dave Komosky

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

Once we get past the handwringing, the gnashing of the teeth and the anger/bitterness of journos across the land in the aftermath this week’s Postmedia print purge, what are readers of newspapers left with? This: Winnipeg is the sole two-paper town west of the Republic of Tranna.

Oh, sure, Postmedia continues to print both a broadsheet and a tabloid in Vancouver (Sun and Province), Edmonton (Sun and Journal) and Calgary (Sun and Herald), but this is a classic case of a one being dressed up as a two. If the deep-thinkers in one newsroom determine what is to occupy the space between the display ads of both dailies in those three bergs, it is one newspaper, no matter how it is packaged.

peg papersThink of this as beer. If you pour half a bottle of Molson Canadian into a mug and the other half into a tall, thin glass, you’re still drinking the same beer. Tastes the same, just looks different.

So it shall be in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. Rather than two competing journalists chasing the same story and, hopefully, delivering different slants, you now shall have one reporter with no urgency to get the scoop and no fear of being beaten by the opposition. There is no opposition. No alternative voice.

Which makes Pegtown a unique market in the western flank of the nation.

The puppeteers at Postmedia pull the strings for the Winnipeg Sun, while FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership bows to its own master in publishing the Winnipeg Free Press. Unlike others in the Postmedia collective, the two Pegtown sheets are not Siamese twins, joined at the head. They are in competition, which serves the greater need, even though the end result each day might not always satiate the appetite of readers.

What I am left to wonder is how much Winnipeg will remain in the Sun.

Although not included in this week’s carnage, which involved the merging of newsrooms at eight dailies (the Ottawa Sun and Citizen being the others) and the kicking to the curb of 90 journalists, the after shocks were felt in River City.

Out as sports editor of the Sun is Ted Wyman. Some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.?

My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.

Take curling as an e.g. It is the third biggest beat at the two River City dailies, behind only the Jets and Bombers. But will there be a Winnipeg Sun presence at next month’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Grande Prairie, Alta.? Not likely. Thus, no local angle, even though there shall be two Toba teams in the event. The Brier, meanwhile, is in Ottawa. Will we be reading Manitoba-centric dispatches from Paul Friesen, Ken Wiebe or the aforementioned Wyman, or generic puff from a Bytown scribe?

I fear the worst, and all this because Postmedia bit off more than it could chew when it purchased Sun Media’s English-language properties last spring.

As mentioned, Wyman is not out of work. He becomes part of the Sun’s bare-bones stable of scribes, replacing Kirk Penton, an elite reporter who has been anointed the Postmedia chain’s national writer for all things Canadian Football League. Coverage of the Bombers shouldn’t suffer in terms of quantity, but quality will take a hit because Penton is the best in the business.

After scribbling a piece about George (Shakey) Johnson the other day, it occurred to me that most folks don’t know the story behind the deposed Calgary Herald sports columnist’s nickname. We don’t call him Shakey because he’s a nervous Nellie with constant jitters. It’s due to his golf game. Back in the 1970s, you see, a few of us from the Winnipeg Tribune sports department would gather for a round of golf on occasion. The cast would rotate, but it generally involved Caveman Dutton, Greaser Drinnan, Swampdog Rauw, Davey Boy Komosky, Shakey and myself. Shakey played a neat-and-tidy game of golf. He struck the ball straight and true, although not far, and we actually witnessed a hole-in-one from him one day at Tuxedo. But he could not sink a putt inside three feet to save his life. He had the yips on the green. After one astonishing display of unparalleled hopelessness with the blade, we retreated to the pub, whereby Caveman Dutton and I commenced to calling him Shakey. The name stuck.

Big night for my longtime friend and colleague Dave Komosky, who joins the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour at their 60th annual awards dinner at the Delta Hotel. As I scribbled a few weeks ago, it’s a long overdue honor. I only wish I could be there to hear his acceptance speech. I have a feeling Davey Boy is going to put some people on the BBQ.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her 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 Sun sports: Still punching above its weight class after all these years.

It has been said of the 1960s that if you remember them you weren’t really there.

I sort of feel the same way about my dozen or so years working at the Winnipeg Sun—overwhelming evidence supports the notion that I was there during the 1980s and ’90s, but I’m not convinced that I was there.

I must have been there, though. If not, Paul Friesen wouldn’t be there now. Nor would Mark Hamm.

Oh, yes, I’m responsible for Friesen. If you enjoy his sports column in the Sun, all praise to him. If you don’t enjoy his column, blame me. I got him the gig. Correction: I got him the gig that led to the gig.

True story…

I was standing in the queue at one of the checkout counters in the Osborne Village Safeway store when Friesen stepped behind me. A young and bright, top-drawer reporter with radio station CJOB at the time, he had once confessed to me that he harbored career yearnings that leaned more toward the print division of journalism.

“Are you still interested in becoming an ink-stained wretch?” I asked him.

“Ya,” he confirmed. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Why do you ask?”

“Because something might be happening at the Sun. I can’t tell you what, but something’s going down. Let me talk to some people.”

So I did. I talked. To some people. They talked to Friesen and hired him. That was 1997. He’s still there. I think he’s grateful, but I suppose that depends on the ever-changing temperature of the sports columnist gig, which tends to run hot and cold on a day-to-day basis.

It was also in the summer of 1997 that I decided to make a one-day whistlestop in Kenora, a lovely, little resort getaway not far removed from the Manitoba-Ontario border. I mentioned my escape to one of the mucky-mucks who made all the decisions of loft at the Sun.

“While you’re there,” he said, “maybe you could meet with a young guy named Mark Hamm. He’s applied for a job here and you can do the interview.”

I did. In a pub. Then returned home to report my findings.

“I like him,” I advised the mucky-mucks. “Nice, young guy. Enthusiastic. Wants to get ahead. I got a good vibe.”

“Would you hire him?” the mucky-muck asked.

“Yes. I think he would fit in nicely.”

Apparently, it’s still a nice fit. Eighteen years later, Hamm is the Sun’s editor-in-chief.

Much has been said of the Winnipeg Sun since its presses started rolling 35 years ago this week, not all of it favorable. The Sun has been maligned, mocked and ridiculed. Scorned, battered and dismissed as a trashy, tits-and-ass tabloid that once attempted to make rock stars out of panda bears. Through it all, though, there has been one constant source of pride: The sports section.

From the formative days in the claustrophobic, cramped confines of a makeshift newsroom on Garry Street, with Vic Grant cranking out Winnipeg Jets copy and Jim Ketcheson holding the maestro’s baton, to the present, we punched above our weight class. We played Rocky to the Winnipeg Free Press’s Apollo Creed. Always and forever the underdog. Always and forever the scrappy, iron-willed fighter who could give as good as take. We embraced that role. We wore it.

No doubt we hit the canvas a few times, but we were always standing at the end of 12 rounds. And we scored a good many knockdown blows of our own.

I think of wonderful writers like George (Shakey) Johnson and Ed Willes (now the main sports columnists at the Calgary Herald and Vancouver Province, respectively) and Ed Tait (beat writer/columnist at the Freep) who gave their gift to the Sun sports pages. And that’s not to ignore creative layout people like Ketch, Dave (Homer) Connors and Dave Komosky, who, by the way, ought to be in the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Media Roll of Honor.

The Sun is still a middleweight fighting a heavyweight. Whereas it seems as though the Freep has three or four scribes for every beat, the Sun gets the job done—and they really do get it done—with a skeletal stable of one columnist and two beat guys—Friesen, Kirk Penton and Ken Wiebe.

They’re fighting the good fight…always and forever.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.

Winnipeg Sports Media: There are dumb questions, dumber questions, and Gary Lawless questions

Okay, right off the hop I’ll concede that I asked some dumb questions during my 30 years as a jock-sniffer.

I suppose it goes with the territory. You’re fighting deadline and you’re anxious to join the boys and girls on the beat for some brown pops once everyone’s copy has been filed. Maybe you have a plane to catch. So you need a quickie sound bite, no matter how hackneyed it might be. You spit out the first question that comes to mind and, well, next thing you know there’s a coach or player with hot, burning coals for eyeballs and he’s looking at you as if he just discovered that you’re his wife’s lesbian lover.

What can I tell you? Dumb happens.

fish wrapThere are, however, different degrees of dumb. I mean, just plain dumb is a post-game query like: “Guess you’re not too happy with that 50-point loss, eh coach?” (Well, duh. What was your first clue, Sherlock?) Dumber is: “If you were a rodent, coach, what kind of rodent would you be?” (Couldn’t be a rat because all the rats are in journalism digging up dirt and asking dumb questions.) Dumbest is: “Your team just got taken to the woodshed, coach, but you’re only two points out of the playoffs and you have six games left, so are you going to give up?” (Pardon me?)

And so it was Sunday afternoon, scant seconds after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were given yet another wedgie, their eighth this Canadian Football League crusade against four victories. Dumb and Dumber didn’t show up to the apres-match interrogation of Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, but Dumbest sure did and his name is Gary Lawless, lead sports columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Oh, yes, there he was, asking O’Shea if he and his players, fresh off a 35-14 beatdown by the Montreal Alouettes, were going to wave the white flag. Surrender. Cash in their chips. Write off the season.

Lawless: “Mike, I know the answer, but I have to ask this…you haven’t given up on this season?”

O’Shea (gobsmacked): “Pardon me?”

Lawless: “You haven’t given up on this season…you’re not out of the playoffs…”

O’Shea (still gobsmacked): “No. This is where you have to beep this answer out.”

Lawless: “We have to ask this question.”

O’Shea (still gobsmacked with gusts up to pissed right off): “Come on. We’ve got seven games…”

Lawless: “You’re 4-and-8.”

O’Shea: “Six…we’ve got six games left…”

Lawless: “It’s not an unfair question. It’s not an unfair question.”

O’Shea (ready to eat live rodents and wondering what sort of bizarro world he has fallen into): “No, we’re not giving up. We’ve got too many good players that aren’t gonna give up. We’ve got coaches (not gonna give up), we have fans not giving up. There’s no way we’re giving up. We’re still in a position where we can win a bunch of games and get in the playoffs. Is it one game tougher? Absolutely, it’s one game tougher. All right? And we’ve got some tough opponents coming up. Oh, well. We understand where we’re at and we’ve gotta overcome that.”

Full marks to O’Shea for not flat out losing it.

Seriously. Yes, the man’s team is in full wobble at 4-8, but it remains a mere two points removed from a playoff position and there are another half dozen matches to be played. And just so we’re clear on this, it is not uncommon for sub-.500 outfits to qualify for the Grey Cup tournament. It’s happened seven times in the past eight seasons. So, yes, the question was grossly unfair. It was also inflammatory, nakedly stupid, not rooted in the reality of precedence, and it never should have been asked.

It’s astonishing that O’Shea didn’t go all Bobby Knight.

(Footnote: In his initial piece on the Bombers-Alouettes skirmish, Lawless reported the final score as 38-15. That, of course, was a blunder. Eventually, an editor who initially missed the gaffe caught the gaffe and covered Lawless’s sizeable butt. I don’t suppose he’ll give up writing football, though.)

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.

Some red cards and yellow cards for you, you and you, and one “Gooooooooal!” for the Fab Four

It occurs to me that in honor of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s time for some red cards, some yellow cards and a big salute…

red cardI don’t know who to red card first, Kyle Walters or Mike O’Shea.

I suppose it should be Walters, the chap who, as chief cook and bottle washer of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, extended a training camp invitation to Jordan Yantz. He said this was the real deal. Said the former University of Manitoba Bisons quarterback would be granted “every opportunity to win a job.”

“This isn’t a charity case, this isn’t any of that for-the-good-of-the-Canadian-quarterback stuff,” the Bombers GM told scribes.

As if.

This was such an obvious charity case that it probably qualifies as a tax writeoff.

The Bombers had two dress rehearsals in advance of their 2015 Canadian Football League crusade that commences on Saturday night in Yantz’s home town of Regina, and he never took a snap in either game. That’s what passes for “every opportunity” in Bomberland?

Walters gets a red card for the load of BS he dumped on news scavengers, and head coach O’Shea gets a red card for not giving Yantz at least one set of downs.

yellow card2Here’s the ultimate irony for Tiger Woods: By shooting three rounds in the 80s this year on the PGA Tour, including one in the just-concluded U.S. Open, he is now playing just like your basic weekend hacker but he no longer gets to play on weekends.

I’ve tried to think of another athlete of Woods’s stature who has experienced such a harsh, hurried and more inglorious plummet from the summit than His Royal Randiness. No one comes to mind. Yes, the skills of others, such as Willie Mays and Muhammad Ali, eroded over time and it was painful to watch their careers wither before our eyes. But with Tiger…well, this is cliff diving into a cement pond.

red cardOn the subject of vanishing acts, either Michael Sam has been placed in a witness protection program or he’s part of a David Copperfield now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t illusion. I say that because, in a day and age when seemingly everyone (except me) has a phone that is part camera, part tape recorder and part video recorder it’s astonishing that there has not been a peep from Sam since he bugged out of the Montreal Alouettes training camp.

The last confirmed sighting of Sam was almost two weeks ago. Where is TMZ when we need them?

I don’t know who’s been counseling Sam since he came out as gay, but I wouldn’t hire those people to advise me on what time of the day is best to brush my teeth. The Oprah reality thing, the Dancing with the Stars thing, the disappearing act…odd, odd, odd. Once he was out a gay, the advice should have been simple: Just play football, Michael.

gooooooool nuI call up the Winnipeg Free Press sports section and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Ed Tait, Paul Wiecek, Gary Lawless, Tim Campbell, Melissa Martin, Scott Billeck, Jeff Hamilton, Jerrad Peters and Doug Brown. That’s nine local scribes.

I call up the Winnipeg Sun sports section, meanwhile, and I see these bylines and/or column flags: Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and Ted Wyman (in cameo appearances). That’s four local scribes.

Cripes, man, the Freep can field a complete baseball team while the Sun can barely scrounge up enough guys to enter a bonspiel or have a decent game of poker.

Custer’s 7th Cavalry was the last outfit outnumbered this badly.

So quiz me this: How is it that the Fab Four at the Sun somehow manages to fight the good fight against the Nattering Nine at the Drab Slab? Either one side is punching above its weight or the other side is pulling its punches, because the boys at Team Sun don’t get beat often and they manage to get in some good licks of their own.

Thus, it’s kudos to the Sun.

Still, I’d like to see them add a voice or two to give the section a bit more wallop. A female voice would be a welcome addition, too.

yellow card2Okay, we’ve got the Winnipeg Jets, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets.

We’ve got the Manitoba Moose, named after the hockey outfit formerly known as the Manitoba Moose.

We’ve got the Winnipeg Goldeyes, named after the baseball outfit formerly known as the Winnipeg Goldeyes.

Is there no one in River City with an imagination? I mean, seriously. Three professional sports franchises and not an original handle in the bunch?

I know Mark Chipman, co-bankroll of Jets the Sequel, was bullied into naming his club after the dead and buried Jets of yore, but what’s his excuse for the regurgitation of the Moose? As for Sammy Katz and his Goldeyes, I didn’t like the name when he introduced it in 1994 and I don’t like it today. Mention the Goldeyes to me and I assume you’re talking about the St. Louis Cardinals farm team that played out of Winnipeg Stadium in the early 1960s.

So I say thank goodness for Uncle Vince Leah, the legendary sports scribe who named the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.

Winnipeg Jets: WTF, Dustin Byfuglien sounds like a broken record

Top o’ the morning to you, Dustin Byfuglien.

Feel like talking today? Didn’t think so. I mean, after your insightful chin-wag with news scavengers on Tuesday, you probably need to give your gums a rest. Besides, what’s left to say after you’ve already said, “We’re a team and if we stick together everything will be okie dokie” eight times? Or was it nine times? Do I hear 10?

You sounded like one of those old vinyl records when the needle gets stuck. “We’re a team and if we stick together…we’re a team and if we stick together…we’re a team and if we stick together…”

I really hate it when that happens. You’ve got to get up off the couch, lift the needle ever so gently, move it ever so slightly, lower it ever so gently so as not to inflict any further damage, then retreat to your comfy couch. A real pain, that’s what it is. You probably don’t know much about vinyl records, though, do you Buff? Too young.

Me, I still play vinyl. Not into iPads and iPods and phones that are smarter than me. Yes siree, give me an LP, a turntable, a good set of headphones and when I hear that needle touch that black slab of vinyl…well, that’s the ephiphanical moment, isn’t it?

But I digress.

This isn’t about broken records, Buff (can I call you Buff?). It’s about you and your Winnipeg Jets, who, I must emphasize, will be okie dokie if you all stick together…all stick together…all stick together. Trouble is, one more misstep in your best-of-seven Stanley Cup scuffle with the Disney Ducks and you’ll all be sticking together on the first tee at St. Charles Golf Club rather than at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie.

Speaking of the Little Hockey House, that was some kind of magic we witnessed on Monday night, wasn’t it? Welcome to the Winnipeg Whiteout, indeed. Those fans, what can I say? They really gave Ryan Kesler the gears. Talk about an ugly Duckling. That crowd was louder than Don Cherry’s suit. And it was extra special to have ol’ Grapes and Ron MacLean bring Curmudgeon’s Corner to Pegtown for Game 3 of your best-of-seven skirmish, don’t you think? And Gary Bettman, the National Hockey League commish, was in the house, too. Said there was no place he’d rather be (as if).

But, again, I digress.

Here’s the deal, Buff: Enquiring minds wanted to get your take on the goings-on of yourself and your mates who are sticking together…sticking together…sticking together in their quest to secure the first NHL playoff victory in franchise history, dating back to the days in Atlanta. I’m pretty certain that’s what the boys and girls on the beat sought when they came calling on Tuesday. Rather than enlighten them, though, you repeated your “stick together” mantra ad nauseum. That’s lame, man.

Don’t get me wrong, Buff. You don’t answer to the media (obviously). It isn’t your job to make their job any easier than most people already mistakenly think it is. They want boffo sound bites? Send ’em over to Blake Wheeler’s locker. I’m told he’s full of brilliant bons mots, although they also say he can be a tad testy.

The thing is, doing it your way made you come across as a doofus. A XXXXXL doofus.

Oh, I’m sure there are those who thought it was cute how you put the jackals of journalism in their place by serving up your dumb answer to their questions. “Atta boy, Buff,” they’ll say. “You sure Phil Kesseled the media.”

But no. All you did was look and sound dumb.

Not surprisingly, your head coach, Paul Maurice, launched an enthusiastic and, at times, snarky defence on your behalf. He assured one and all that you are a “kind and civil and giving” man. And that must be true, because, according to coach PoMo, you dug down deep and summoned up the strength to fight off the urge to drop about a thousand F-bombs on the assembled news scavengers. How large of you. You really are kind and civil, if not giving of your thoughts.

After all, we all know that nothing spells c-i-v-i-l-i-t-y like being able to control a tongue that very much wants to tell the media to “eff off,” right?

Such piffle.

Look, Buff, you don’t have to like news scavengers. You don’t have to enjoy the to-and-fro with them. You don’t have to like their questions. A lot of them are stupid (the questions, not the scribes/broadcasters). But, just like you, they have jobs to do, and right now they’re a whole lot better at their jobs than you’ve been at yours.

Your play vs. the Ducks has been…dismal. The penalty you took with that cheap shot on Corey Perry in Game 3 was a particularly galling, boneheaded bit of business. Why, if I weren’t such a kind and civil person, I’d really tell you what I think.

Actually, I will tell you what I think, Buff: You’ve been F-bombing brutal…you’ve been F-bombing brutal…you’ve been F-bombing brutal…you’ve been F-bombing brutal…

Sorry if I sound like a broken effing record.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.

Winnipeg Sport Media: Oh, nuts! Tiger Williams is naked and pawing his private parts

Having been there and done that, I know what it’s like to be part of the the jock sniffer’s gig in the build-up to a major sporting event.

Basically, you write a lot but say little that the lumps on bar stools around town don’t already know. It is all so much blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. By the time they drop the puck, you’re ready for a few pints and a long nap. But, hey, your cranky editor demands that the space between the display ads be filled, so you search and probe for story angles that might include everything from how often Jacob Trouba trims his toenails to whether or not Dustin Byfuglien likes onions on his cheese burgers.

It’s a grind and I do not envy the boys on the beat who have been cranking out copious amounts of copy in advance of tonight’s opening argument in the best-of-seven shinny disagreement between the Winnipeg Jets and Disney Ducks.

Quite frankly it’s overkill. I mean, seriously. Twenty-eight pages in the Winnipeg Sun devoted to all things Jets and Ducks? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s a hockey game, right?

Ah, but this isn’t just the playoffs for the Ducks and Jets, is it? Nope. It’s also showtime in the rag trade, which is to say the newspaper biz. Why, this is such a big deal that even news side guys from both the Sun and Winnipeg Free Press have weighed in on the matter. Tom Brodbeck of the Sun felt obliged to remind us that the Jets are a unifying force in River City, while Bartley Kives of the Freep referenced Winnipeg’s legendary whiteout, submitting that the sight of a building bulging with 15,004 Jets junkies adorned in white garments is “creepy” in a Nazi sort of way.

I don’t recall newsies joining the cock-a-doodle-to chorus back in the day, but different things float the boat in jock journalism in the 21st century.

Whatever, although the Jets and Ducks have yet to exchange hostilities in the marathon known as the Stanley Cup tournament, the scribes are in playoff mode, sans the chin whiskers. Both the Sun and Freep have dispatched two newshounds apiece to Orange County to chronicle the early goings-on, and that number shall swell once the fray finds its way to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie and River City, which has been a National Hockey League playoff-free zone for the past 19 years.

By that time, the Jets and Ducks shall be two games into their to-and-fro and, hopefully, the yadda, yadda, yadda will focus on the events of the first two thrusts rather than the blah, blah, blah that has been served up to this point.

Covering the NHL playoffs is, as mentioned, a grind, and is further complicated for River City scribes due to a two-hour time difference between home and Anaheim. Yet, it can also be most rewarding if the participants provide the right kind of material.

My lasting memory from working the Stanley Cup tournament dates back to the early 1980s, and it stems from an off-ice occurrence as opposed to something that transpired on the freeze.

I was in the employ of the Calgary Sun and the Flames were engaged in bitter combat with the Vancouver Canucks. In that particular series, Tigers Williams of the Canucks and Lanny McDonald of the Flames had beaten the bejeebers out of one anothef four four games. I’m here to tell you that they tattooed each other black, blue and every other color of the rainbow. When it was over, I made my way to the Vancouver changing room for a word of wisdom, or two, from Tiger. I found him sitting solo in a corner stall, as naked as a porn start on a movie set, and I introduced myself.

“Ya,” he said, “I know who you are. The stuff you’ve been writing on the series has been fair.”

“Thanks,” I replied. “What I’d like to talk about is…”

“Oh, wait,” he said sharply. “Just a second.”

He then stood, reached into the left pocket of a sports jacket, withdrew a gold watch and tugged it on to his left wrist.

“There,” he said, “now we can talk.”

With that, he sat and began scratching his balls and penis while I lobbed questions his way. Straight goods. I had a very hairy, bare-naked man (save for the wrist watch) sitting before me pawing at his not-so-private parts during the entirety of a 10-minute chin-wag. It didn’t occur to him for a scant second that his behavior was boorish in the extreme.

I recall thinking, as I exited the Canucks’ boudoir, “Oh, man, I didn’t sign up for this.”

The reason why Tiger Williams could not submit to my interrogation without first strapping on his wrist watch escaped me that night, as it does to this day. It was a baffling bit of business, but I must report that he was as obliging and polite as a naked man pawing at his private parts can possibly be.

Somehow, I don’t believe the boys and girls on the beat will be confronted with a similar scenario in the next fortnight, but if so, I remind them that what happens in the room stays in the room.

I mean, I realize they’ll be trying to fill 28 pages of Jets copy, but hopefully they would kindly spare us the intimate details of an encounter of the Tiger kind. We really don’t need to know if it’s true that all men are created equal, do we?

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.

Media Watch: Ondrej Pavelec gets a pass for brushing off news hounds—that’s a good thing

Let’s not sugar coat this. Ondrej Pavelec cost the Winnipeg Jets a precious point. Perhaps two points.

It doesn’t matter that Michael Hutchinson soiled the sheets, getting in the way of just three of seven shots before head coach Paul Maurice told him to take rest of the night off and called on Pavelec to mop up the mess. History records that the Winnipeg Jets overcame their starter’s grim goaltending on Tuesday night, erasing a 1-4 deficit and positioning themselves to secure at least a point and possibly two if Dame Fortune were to have smiled on them in overtime or a shootout.

Then it happened. With 63 ticks left on the clock. Pavelec whiffed on a Barret Jackman flutter-puck from a different zip code and the Jets’ good deeds, as well as those of their backup goaltender who blocked the first 19 shots that came his way, went unrewarded.

So, yes, although the victim of just one of five tallies, that 5-4 setback to the Blues in St. Louis is on Pavelec. No one else. You cough up that huge a hair ball on a flip shot from outside the blueline, the buck stops at your goal crease, even if the puck doesn’t. You wear the loss. You wear the blame. And you have nowhere to hide.

Except that’s what Pavelec did, didn’t he? He hid.

The much-maligned man who began this National Hockey League crusade as the Jets overpaid No. 1 backstop but has since been relegated to the role of overpaid caddy for the freshman Hutchinson, chose not to share his thoughts on surrending such an unlikely score that, should the Winnipegs fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament, shall be revisted as a pivotal point in their retreat in the standings. News scavengers were at the ready, no doubt salivating at the prospect of Pavelec saying something stupid or damning in a post-match chin-wag that surely would have been charged with emotion.

Pavelec didn’t oblige them, though. Not on Tuesday night. He remained sequestered in an area of the Jets changing room that is off limits to scribes and talking heads, no doubt licking a wound that was still open, fresh and untreated.

I can’t say that I blame him.

I mean, sure, players and coaches are expected to be available to answer for their actions and behavior. It’s part of the gig. There are times, however, when it’s best to keep one’s lips zipped when people with notebooks, microphones and agendas are lurking. This, Pavelec decided, was one of those times.

Be honest,” he said when breaking his silence the day after the fact, “you are not in the mood to talk to the media after that happens. I didn’t see it as a big deal.”

Was he wrong to give news scavengers the brushoff? Not at all.

Pavelec certainly didn’t owe the Fourth Estate an explanation for his faux pas. Anything he might have said wasn’t going to alter the reality that Barret Jackman beat him with a weak shot that passed through three time zones before finding the back of the net. The writers saw what happened. So write it. The broadcasters saw what happened. So speak it.

What surprised me was that the two local scribes on site in St. Loo, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, gave Pavelec a pass on his silence. I had expected either, perhaps both, to deliver a tsk-tsking. Had this, by way of comparison, been Phil Kessel and the Toronto media, they would have sliced him, diced him and run him through a blender.

But both Wiebe and Lawless dutifully described the situation and reported that Pavelec declined comment. There has been no fallout. Nothing else to see here, folks.

Does this mean the Winnipeg media isn’t as gritty and hard-edged as their brethren in T-dot? Nope.

While much of the coverage has been lap-doggish since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011—most notably in the “official” newspaper of the Jets—to scold Pavelec for his Marcel Marceau routine in St. Loo would have been to hatch a tempest out of nothingness. You know, like they do in the Republic of Tranna whenever Kessel speaks or doesn’t speak. Or like the Winnipeg media did whenever Evander Kane clipped his toe nails.

The reporter-athlete relationship is often fragile, if not adversarial. Fabrication seldom, if ever, helps.

In this case, the scribes stuck to the story. Pavelec coughed of a hair ball the size of Don Cherry’s ego. That’s what they wrote. He didn’t have to confirm it for them. Everyone moved on.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 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 to her 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.