Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and a heaping, helping of media stuff right off the hop, because someone should keep their tootsies to the toaster oven…
Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab has done the math, and he tells us that the Winnipeg Jets have more wins and points than all Western Conference outfits since the puck was dropped to start the 2017-18 National Hockey League season.
“Remind me why we seemingly can’t go a week or two around here without hearing calls from some quarters to fire the coach, axe the general manager, bench this lousy player and trade that bum,” he writes.
Geez, I don’t know Mad Mike, ya think it might have something to do with the Jets’ first-round ouster in 2019 and their failure to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament last summer? I mean, you can lead the first 199 laps at the Indy 500, but the driver leading lap 200 gets the checkered flag, the bottle of milk and a kiss from a pretty girl.
Truly bizarre headline on that Mad Mike column: “Ladies and gentlemen…Start your playoff beards.” Seriously? Bearded ladies? Little wonder Good Ol’ Hometown is at the top of most no-trade lists for young NHL players.
Did anchor Ken Reid actually say he and his fellow talking heads at Sportsnet don’t cheer for any specific team? Yup, sure did. That is to laugh. The company that signs his paycheque, Rogers Communications, owns the Toronto Blue Jays and, in partnership with Bell Canada, holds a 75 per cent stake in Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which bankrolls the Maple Leafs, Raptors, Toronto FC and Argos. So, make no mistake, the squawk boxes on both Sportsnet Central and TSN ‘s signature SportsCentre are full of sis-boom-bah and rah, rah, rah for Team(s) Tranna. I mean, they couldn’t contain their glee during the Tranna Jurassics run to the NBA title a couple of years back, and they positively choked on their pom-poms when their hoops heroes were ushered from the playoffs last year. A funereal, long-faced Lindsay Hamilton began SportsCentre by saying, “This one stings,” and, over at Sports Central, reporter Michael Grange blew his cover when he said, “As Raptors fans, we…” That’s right, he confessed to being one of the fawning flock. That’s never a good look.
Can someone, anyone, at Sportsnet explain why they continue to permit Elliotte Friedman to appear on camera looking like the back end of a nasty all-nighter? His Box Car Willie shtick is disgraceful and, again, it’s a blatant double standard because none of the female talking heads would be allowed on air looking like a bridge troll.
Damien Cox continues to astound and amaze on Twitter. Last Thursday, the Toronto Star columnist took a moment to give himself an enthusiastic on the back by tweeting, “From the beginning said Matthews would be the best player the Leafs ever drafted.” That doesn’t exactly make him Nostradamus, and it’s positively belly-laughingly hilarious when you consider this tweet he sent out in November 2018: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and (William) Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore.” There are no words.
Cox didn’t stop there. In his latest alphabet phart in the Star, he wrote this: “More than 95 per cent of senior positions in the NHL remain reserved for white men. In sports, only golf is more dominated by white culture than hockey.” Apparently he’s never seen a NASCAR race.
So tell us, Phil Mushnick, what say you about the talking heads on CBS/ESPN for their continued hero worship of Tiger Woods, absent from The Masters golf tournament after driving into a ditch and almost killing himself in February? “Even those who wouldn’t recognize a con if it were sold with multiple, fill-in-the-blanks certificates of authenticity, now know that this 25-year anointment of Tiger Woods as a saint on earth was a media con,” the New York Post columnist writes. “Again, it wasn’t enough that he was the world’s best golfer, he additionally had to be the best son, best husband, best father and finest human being.But if that had been you instead of Woods, the one who, unimpeded at almost double the speed limit, rolled his SUV off the road, you’d have been charged with a pile of negligent driving charges—even while hospitalized and before your blood results returned.For him to still be sainted on the national telecast of a major as a gift from above was designed to be swallowed by the tiny fraction of fools still available to be fooled. That’s supposed to be all of us. Again. And it’s nauseating. Again.” Harsh. But I don’t disagree.
I kept waiting for one of the CBS gab guys, or Dottie Pepper, to call out Bryson DeChambeau on Saturday, not for his wonky game but for his arrogance. You might recall that golf’s incredible bulk basically pooh-poohed Augusta National as nothing more than a pitch-and-putt course prior to the 2020 Masters last November, boasting, “I’m looking at it as par-67 for me.” So, here’s his scorecard at the par-72 course since then:70, 74, 69, 73, 76, 67, 75. He goes into today’s final round sitting 38th among the 54 guys who teed it up on the weekend. Yet there wasn’t so much as a peep about DeChambeau’s disrespect for one of the most challenging and treasured golf courses on the planet, because that’s not how it’s done during coverage of The Masters. You don’t dare ruffle the azaleas or disturb the piped-in bird chirping and the soothing piano music. So they gave him a pass. Sigh. If only Johnny Miller was still sitting behind a mic.
Best line I read or heard about The Masters was delivered by longtime, now-retired sports scribe Cam Cole. After noted cheater Patrick Reed had swatted a ball into the azaleas, Cam tweeted: “Breaking: Patrick Reed has hit into the flowers behind 13 green. Rules officials are racing to the spot.” That’s funny.
Talk about a day late and a dollar short. It took the Drab Slab two weeks to acknowledge the death of Todd Kabel, a kid from McCreary who got his break riding the ponies at Assiniboia Downs for five seasons then made it big at Woodbine in the Republic of Tranna. Todd’s death on March 27 had been reported hither and yon, but somehow escaped the notice of the Winnipeg Free Press sports desk. Not good. That’s a major whiff. George Williams has a real nice piece on the seven-time Sovereign Award-winning jockey that you might want to check out in the Saturday’s edition, not that it excuses the negligence.
I’d say the Winnipeg Sun missed the boat on Kabel, too, except the suits at Postmedia in The ROT don’t allow Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman and Scott Billeck to fill their two or three pages with anything other than the Jets, Blue Bombers and curling.
One more note on the Drab Slab: They often run a full-page, poster pic on the Sunday sports front, and that seems like a colossal waste of space to me. Why not a quality feature or something light and bright? Plopping a large pic in that premium space shows zero initiative or imagination. It’s just lazy.
Three months in, I still really don’t know what to make of this NHL season, except to submit that it’s kind of like the breakup of the Beatles. Instead of one genius rock band, we were left with three solid solo artists and Ringo Starr. That’s what the NHL is today, a quartet of separate house leagues, although I haven’t decided which of the four is Ringo. I am, mind you, leaning toward the Central Division because, once you get past Tampa, Carolina and Florida, you’re left with nothing but a band of bland clubs and a guy named Torts who, come to think of it, is a lot like Yoko Ono. You know, a dark, foreboding presence determined to ruin a good thing (for evidence see: Laine, Patrik).
If nothing else, this NHL crusade is a study in the distortion of facts. Media pundits insist on taking numbers and pro-rating them over an 82-game crusade, as if delivering a weighty message, but in truth it’s delusional, like imagining Patrik Laine and John Tortorella sitting by the campfire and singing Kumbaya. Consider the Jets. They’d be on pace for a 106-point season, which would be their second best since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011, but it’s false currency. We wouldn’t be looking at similar numbers if they were required to play the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche 9/10 times each instead of the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks. But, hey, I’m not here to piddle on your Corn Flakes. Enjoy it, Jets fans. Much like the Edsel, this kind of season won’t happen again.
All power to the Edmonton Oilers for getting the brooms out and sweeping the Senators, 9-nada, on the season, but, I’m sorry, that should never happen in any big-league sport.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl ate the Senators’ lunch to the tune of 21 points each in those nine games, so if they got to play Ottawa 82 times they’d finish with 191 points. That would still leave them 24 shy of Wayne Gretzky’s best year.
Hey, check out the Los Angeles Dodgers 2020 World Series championship rings. They’re as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. I swear, they won’t be able to take those things to a jeweler for cleaning. They’ll need a car wash. But they’re 11-karat, 232-diamond, 53-sapphire beauties. Much nicer than the Houston Astros 2017 WS rings, which featured diamonds set into a replica trash can lid.
Speaking of garbage, Anaheim fans tossed trash cans onto the field when the Astros were in town last week. We haven’t seen that much garbage in the outfield since the 1962 Mets.
By the way, if you’re looking for something special for that special Dodgers fan in your life, limited-edition replica World Series rings are available to the faithful. Cost: $35,000US. Let me just say this about that, though: If you have a spare $35K kicking around to spend on finger decoration, I have the number of a food bank that would love to hear from you.
The Chicago Cubs plan to erect a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame hurler Ferguson Jenkins outside Wrigley Field, and the New York Mets will unveil a pigeon perch of pitching legend Tom Seaver outside Citi Field in July. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays are starting to wonder if they’d be better off with a statue at shortstop rather than Bo (Oops) Bichette.
Brendan Bottcher and his group from Wild Rose Country came up empty at the men’s world curling championship in Calgary. Someone please alert the six people outside the Prairie provinces who actually give a damn.
And, finally, I have never engaged in a chin-wag about “TV’s most-talked-about show,” mainly because I’ve never watched “TV’s most-talked-about show.” I have never overheard a conversation about “TV’s most-talked-about show.” What show am I not talking about? Well, if you don’t know, then perhaps it isn’t “TV’s most-talked-about show” after all.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, no, I didn’t watch the Jets-Flames skirmish Saturday night, because that’s past my bedtime…
Online subscribers to the Drab Slab (guilty, yer honor) receive morning briefings from sports editor Steve Lyons, who advises us what we should be reading and what he’s been reading.
It’s a nice touch. Really. It is.
It can also be revealing, which was the case on Friday when Lyons recounted a telephone tete-a-tete with the junior man in his stable of scribes, Taylor Allen. The bossman directed young Taylor’s attention southwest to Carman, where the best senior golfers in Manitoba had been swinging the sticks. His mission: “Spin a yarn” on champions Rhonda Orr and Bruce North.
“I love doing these golf stories,” responded Taylor, “but I was just wondering, does anyone care about them?”
Well, this is going to come across as one of those cranky-old-fool-shakes-fist-and-shouts-at-clouds posts, but back in the day we never would have asked such a question, and I don’t say that to pooh-pooh young Taylor. He’s excused his naivité. After all, what would he know of back in the day?
So let me shake my tiny fist and tell you what it was like.
We covered golf (shakes fist). Lordy, did we cover golf. We covered it like it was equal parts papal election and JFK assassination. We wouldn’t merely do a folo on the Manitoba Seniors Championships two days after the last putt had dropped (shakes fist again). We’d drive down Hwy. 3 and not stop until we were at the Carman Golf & Curling Club for the first round. We’d also be there when the trinkets were distributed and the winners had retired to the 19th hole (stops shaking fist long enough to take a swallow of beer).
We’d do it because there’d be hell to pay if we ignored local golf. People cared. A lot (shakes fist).
Usually it was Steady Eddie Dearden on the beat for us at the Winnipeg Tribune, and either Bags Bagley or Knobby Beck for the Winnipeg Free Press, but all of us on staff were dispatched to the links for a variety of tournaments, and it wasn’t uncommon to find our copy on the sports front the next day.
I think we even covered something called the Toymakers Tournament (shakes fist, shakes head), but memory sometimes betrays me. The Toymakers might have been a curling thing.
Whatever the case, it wasn’t just golf that received the royal treatment. It was all local sports.
To jog my grey matter, I called up the final two editions of the Trib the other day, and here’s the local content in the sports section:
Aug. 26, 1980—Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, lacrosse, boxing, a father-and-son golf tourney, senior baseball, senior fastball, Assiniboia Downs, soccer, track and field, field hockey, motor sports, curling, senior hockey, orienteering (shakes head again).
Aug. 27, 1980—Bombers, junior hockey, fastball, soccer, motor sports, ladies golf, Assiniboia downs, baseball, basketball.
I should point out that those two editions included dispatches out of Saskatoon from the talented and delightful Lester (Ronny) Lazaruk, on assignment at the Canadian Senior Men’s Fastball Championships. Yes, we actually sent Ronny to Toontown to tell readers all about our Winnipeg Colonels and their ace hurler, a long, tall drink of water named Pallister, Brian Pallister. Name probably sounds familiar. As for Ronny, he liked it so much that he’s still there.
Anyway, readers were conditioned to opening either paper to find coverage of local sports of all stripes. We tossed a blanket over the community (shakes fist). We got to know the movers and shakers at the grassroots level, not just at the top of the food chain, and they often would thank us for coming out to their event. Imagine that.
Today, the Winnipeg Sun functions on the whims and dictates of the faceless, unknowing taskmasters at Postmedia, which is most unfortunate. If it ain’t named Jets, Bombers, Goldeyes or FC, they ain’t interested. The Drab Slab does a much, much better job, but coverage is still scant in comparison to back in the day. Today, for example, other than the Jets there isn’t a single local sports story in a five-page section. Not good.
I suppose there’s hope, though. I mean, young Taylor Allen told Freep bossman Steve Lyons that he enjoys covering local golf, and I say that warrants a fist bump rather than a fist shake.
It’s incredible, really, that Bruce North is still atop the leaderboard in Manitoba golf, albeit in a different age category. I recall editing Steady Eddie Dearden’s copy about Bruce winning this tournament or that tournament as a sprig in the 1970s, so good on Bruce.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve viewed numerous replays of the Rink Rat Scheifele-Matthew Tkachuk incident on Saturday night—from various angles and at different speeds—and I failed to see anything sinister. No question that Tkachuk’s right skate clipped the back of Scheifele’s left leg, but nothing I saw suggested it was a deliberate kick with intent to cripple. Meaning Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice is off his nut or, most likely, he’s playing mind games when he accuses the Calgary Flames forward of a deliberate “filthy, dirty kick.” Tkachuk, to be sure, is among the National Hockey League’s high-ranking irritants and the Jets will be required to rein him in if they’re to survive their best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifying skirmish, but I don’t believe there’s any Russian blood in him. The Russkies kicked. Good American boys don’t.
I had the Jets pegged to take out the Flames pronto. I actually thought they’d get out the brooms. Now, after Saturday’s 4-1 loss, I can’t see them winning three of the next four if the Rink Rat’s wonky left limb puts him in the infirmary for the duration. I know, I know. Winnipeg HC overcame other inconveniences during the crusade that was paused in March due to COVID-19, but losing your No. 1 centre is more than a speed bump.
There was much talk about the lengthy absence of David Pastrnak from Boston Bruins’ training camp, but he returned to the NHL club last week. Apparently they found him in Elliotte Friedman’s beard.
Friedman’s epic chin whiskers are so thick and unruly that O.J. plans to make them his next stop in the search for the real killers.
You know you’re on Planet Puckhead when the Twitterverse is abuzz about Friedman’s foliage and also explodes into a loud howl over which man is the bigger cad, Don Cherry or Ron MacLean. Both Grapes and Sideshow Ron were trending mid-week, and I’d call it a debate over who does and doesn’t belong on Hockey Night in Canada, except much of it was your typically toxic Twitter trolling. In other words, name-calling. Let me sum up the rabble’s to-and-fro in one sentence: Cherry is a zenophobic bigot and one woman wants to punch MacLean in the face. For the record, I’m fully against bigotry and the punching of faces, but I’m not an anti-beardite.
Donald Trump’s boy Eric tweeted his thanks to NHL players for standing during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner when they returned to the ice last week, but Hockey Diversity Alliance co-founder Akim Aliu was having none of it. “Yo, real talk Eric Trump, you’re the last guy the NHL and the hockey world want support from. It’s not real patriotism if you’re using it to divide us,” he responded on Twitter. Hmmm. Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was news when an athlete or coach took a knee during the national anthem. Now it’s news when they stand.
Based on numerous Twitter comments, Americans actually believe it’s near impossible to take a knee while attired in full hockey kit. Are they really that dense? Little kids do it, for gawd’s sake.
I was in a local watering hole Saturday afternoon and the grand total of two people, one wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey and both clutching Oilers face masks, came in specifically to watch their E-Town hockey heroes play the Chicago Blackhawks. They both departed after the Chitowners took a 3-1 lead. Meanwhile, there was considerable bustle (but no TV) on the patio. So much for the notion that people will go inside, and stay, to watch shinny on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon during the drowsiness of August.
Is it permissible to question the Hockey Diversity Alliance, or is that taboo? I mean, the HDA roll call is comprised of nine hockey players, all of them men of color. There are no Indigenous hockey players. There are no female hockey players. There are no gay hockey players. Which tells me it’s actually the Hockey Anti-Racism Alliance. And that’s a commendable cause. Racism is a pox. But so, too, is misogyny. Ditto sexism. And homophobia/transphobia. Do we not want to blot out all those blights? I think yes. So this would be my question for Evander Kane and the aforementioned Aliu: If it’s truly about diversity, why is there zero diversity in your diversity group?
If anyone has a clue what’s going on in the Canadian Football League these days, please dial 1-800-4-A-ROUGE immediately and ask for Commish Randy Ambrosie. He’d like to know, too.
I’m still not sold on Winnipeg serving as a hub bubble for a potential three-down season, because it would mean an invasion of Yankee Doodle Footballers numbering in the hundreds. Seriously. They want to welcome all those large lads from COVID Country? I’m hard pressed to think of a worst-case scenario, except maybe hiring Harvey Weinstein to do odd jobs in a sorority house.
If the Miami Marlins lose another player to a positive COVID-19 test, is there any truth to the rumor that Dr. Anthony Fauci automatically moves into the starting rotation?
If enough top players take a pass on the U.S. Open tennis tournament, will Serena Williams win by default and will it count in her career Grand Slam total? That might be the only way the former neighborhood bully can still beat the top women.
I always say if there’s something you do better than all others, do it. So Megan Rapinoe, who’s been flapping her gums ever since the Yankee Doodle Damsels lapped the field at the 2019 women’s World Cup of soccer in France, now has a talk show to call her own on HBO—Seeing America with Megan Rapinoe.If Megan sees the same America as a lot of us looking in from the outside, she should really have something to talk about in November.
And, finally, couldn’t resist posting this pic of Sarah McLellan, hockey scribe for the StarTribune in Minneapolis. That’s Sarah in Edmonton after completing her required quarantine before covering the Minnesota Wild-Vancouver Canucks playoff joust. Take special notice of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s vast mountain vista in the background. It’s truly spectacular. Oh, wait. There are no mountains in E-Town. They only exist in Kenney’s propaganda machine.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and you know these are the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer when you’re walking downtown and see a naked woman sitting on a blanket in the middle of a four-lane street (true story)…
Looking for symbolism, kids?
Try this: Mike O’Shea was wearing a tattered ball cap during a natter with news snoops on Thursday night.
That pretty much describes Winnipeg FC: Tattered.
But, no, not in ruins.
True, the suddenly shabby Blue Bombers limped home after a faceplant, a pratfall and perhaps too much down time for Tom foolery in Southern Ontario, but when I checked the tables this morning Coach O’Grunge’s group was joint leader in the West Division of a Canadian Football League crusade that’s become a crap shoot. And I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be cool with that.
What’s that you say? I’ve got the rose-tinted goggles on?
It’s just that I don’t get all bent out of shape in early August over a first-place outfit that grew accustomed to having its own way, only to discover that the other kids in the schoolyard aren’t quite so eager to turn over their lunch money anymore.
Trust me, I saw the flaws, first when the Bombers stumbled v. the Tabbies in the Hammer, then on Thursday night v. the previously laughable and mockable Arrrrrrgoos at BMO Field in the Republic of Tranna, where Winnipeg FC piddled away a 20-point advantage like it was summer wages.
Matt Nichols, the starting quarterback who’s become the rabble’s favorite whipping boy again, was gawdawful in the opening act of the Bombers’ pilgrimage to the Golden Horseshoe, and the best he could do for an encore was upgrade to meh in a 28-27 loss to the Boatmen. Matt Meh would be wise to keep the ear plugs close by, because he’s sure to hear it from the peanut gallery when the Calgary Stampeders trot onto Football Follies Field in Fort Garry later this week.
The rabble might want to save a hoot and a holler for the guy who plots offensive strategy, though.
Unless there’s something about Nichols’ pitching wing that Winnipeg FC medics aren’t sharing with us, Paul LaPolice apparently has forgotten that a Canadian football field is 110 yards in length. I mean, Willie Jefferson can probably toss manhole covers farther than Nichols is allowed to fling the football. How often did Coach LaPo instruct his QB to stretch the field v. the Argos? Here’s a hint: It’s the same number of Grey Cup victories for the Bombers since 1990.
So, barring a Nichols owie that’s being kept on the QT, LaPolice’s play selection is dismal.
And now let’s talk about Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.
The lads went from swagger to sleepwalking v. the Argos in less time than it takes a Democrat to call out Donald Trump for one of his hot-take tweets. I don’t know if the Boatmen were boring them, but I’m guessing it was by Hall’s design that the Blue and Gold laid down like a picnic blanket as time expired in the first half. Thus, 20-nada begat 20-3 begat 20-10 and the Scullers had wind in their sales.
Anyone can see that’s dumb coaching—on both sides of scrimmage—but I’m still not prepared to pick up and run with the “off with their heads” mob. Not yet.
As much as losing to the CFL Sad Sack is an irksome bit of business, I can think of worse places for Winnipeg FC to be than atop the tables, so let’s save any talk of pitchforks and torches because we all know the season doesn’t really begin until the Labour Day weekend and, of course, when they break out the banjos a week later.
If Coach O’Grunge and his chief lieutenants haven’t figured it out by then, I’ll supply the tar and you can bring the feathers.
These are words I didn’t want to hear: Quizzed about Nichols’ play, Coach O’Grunge went all wishy-washy, saying, “That’s a question that has to be answered after we, unfortunately, look at the film.” I don’t know about you, kids, but I don’t need to see the film. The QB has quickly become Matt Meh, and we’ll be hearing the name Chris Streveler mentioned frequently between now and the Stampeders’ visit on Thursday. But I suggest you save your breath. It will take the jaws of life pry the football away from Nichols.
Another disturbing remark was delivered by running back Andrew Harris, whose otherwise boffo performance was scarred by a fumble that cost the Bombers points: “They wanted it more tonight obviously.” Really? Getting a W meant more to the bottom-feeding Boatmen than it did to a top-dog club looking to keep ground between itself and a closing posse? If that’s true, Bombers brass needs to pass out mirrors with this week’s paycheques.
During the E-Town Eskimos/Cowtown Stampeders clash on Saturday, TSN sideline talker Sara Orlesky reported that wounded QB Bo Levi Mitchell tossed 50 passes the other day, all of them 10 yards or less. Hmmm. Sounds like Coach LaPo’s game plan.
CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has been known to puff outhis ample chest and gab about transparency. So how about ordering the Argos to release the head count at BMO Field, Commish Randy. We know it’s as bad as a bear’s breath, but why is the number a secret?
We might have to call the folks at Guinness, because I swear TSN directors/cameramen set a world record for most closeup shots of young ladies wearing tank tops and other tight, skimpy summer attire during the Bombers-Boatmen telecast. Seriously. You’ll see less cleavage on an episode of the Kardashians. (Not that I watch Kim K and the girls as a rule, you understand, but it can be a hazard of channel surfing.) I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, though. All those attractive girls simply got in the way of the camera.
More honesty in broadcasting: A week ago, TSN natterbug Duane Forde described the Calgary Stampeders-Bytown RedBlacks joust as “remarkably ugly,” and Davis Sanchez was similarly unimpressed with the RedBlacks-Montreal Larks on Friday night, telling us, “I can’t lie to you, that was ugly, really it was.” I should point out that Chez was talking about the offensive play, not the Gizmo/Pinball-like kick returning of Devonte Dedmon that had breathless Rod Black gasping for superlatives.
Every time I see Dave Dickenson, I think of a yappy, little lap dog. Coach Chihuahua, the Calgary Stampeders sideline steward, is forever tugging on game officials’ pant cuffs and you just want to slap him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. But in today’s CFL that’s definitely a 15-yard penalty and probably a fine.
Shortly after the National Hockey League grab bag of awe-shucks teens and the initial free-agent frenzy expired, I went on a manhunt for a pundit who saw silver linings in the Summer of Chevy. Turned out that man or woman didn’t exist. But now along comes Craig Button, the self-proclaimed TSN opinionista, and he’s pumping Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff’s tires.
Button analyzed a five-item Chevy-to-do list:
1) Sign Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor: Hasn’t done it.
2) Trade Jacob Trouba: Been there, done that, received Neal Pionk in barter and that was a “really good move. Neal Pionk plays 22 minutes a night, he’s a good, solid player. Kevin Cheveldayoff did what was necessary.”
3) Get the names of tier II RFAs Pionk, Andrew Copp and Laurent Brossoit on contracts: Been there, done that, which was “very important.”
4) Improve forward depth: There are some “very good depth forwards”
5) Sign Josh Morrissey long term: Hasn’t done it.
Button summarized by gushing like an overflowing toilet: “To me this is still a very, very good team. This is still a very good team. This is still a very good team.”
I don’t know if Craig was trying to convince us or himself, but he’s mightily impressed that Chevy has managed to check off two of the five boxes, three if you consider Mark Letestu, Andrei Chibisov and Kristian Vesalainen “very good depth forwards.”
I beg to differ with Button, and I don’t care if hockey is the bread and butter on his dinner table and just a hobby for moi. The Jets, as of today, are not “a very good team.” There’s been a substantial downgrade on the blueline, and why are we still growing worry lines because of the iffy No. 2 centre slot? The good news, of course, is there’s plenty of time for Chevy to check off the most important box (Laine/Connor), plus amend his roster with player movement, before the puck is dropped in October.
Well, this is not good news for followers of the Dub: The best blog on all matters Western Hockey League is no more. Gregg Drinnan, the ol’ Greaser, is shifting gears from shinny to kidneys, and I really don’t know where we’ll find indepth intel on the WHL now. Greaser was the go-to guy and he leaves a big, empty space. But, hey, it’s all about priorities, and I know Gregg’s bride Dorothy had a kidney transplant a few years ago. He assures me that she’s A-okay, and that’s really what I wanted to hear after I caught wind of his change in direction. As someone with Stage 4 chronic kidney disease, I can relate, so nothing but kind thoughts to both of them. Meanwhile, Gregg has pulled the plug on his WHL blog, but not his Taking Note bit, whereby he does some good, old-fashioned scattershooting on Sundays. It’s good stuff.
Just an observation: Brooks Koepka is the alpha dog of golf, but I can’t recall anyone looking so bored while being so great. I sometimes wonder if he’ll need a wakeup call to play the back nine.
What do you call what’s left of the Tranna Blue Jays roster and management sugar-coating the value of trades that sent hurlers Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and others down the road? A dog-and-phony show.
What do you call what’s left of the Blue Jays pitching staff any time they face the Yankees or Red Sox? A three-dog night.
Cutting comment from baseball columnist Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star on Jays management: “The lies that get told around this place sometimes just have to make you laugh.”
Seriously, can anyone tell me why it’s so important that the Tranna Jurassics play on Christmas day? An even better question: Why is anyone playing hoops on Christmas day?
Similarly, why are our teenage boys playing high-level hockey tournaments during the dog days of August? Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky weren’t on the ice 12 months a year. Why should these kids be?
And, finally, the ladies will be bringing on the glam with their fancy bonnets and summer frocks for the 71st running of the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs on Monday afternoon. It’s always a highlight on the River City sports calendar, and the ponies break from the starting gate at 1:45, with the Derby scheduled as the final gallop on a seven-race card.
A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I’ve only been red-carded twice this week…
Right off the hop, a few words about Janine Beckie: Classy, classy, classy.
Janine, of course, lost a 1-v-1 showdown with Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl on Monday in France, and that squandered opportunity was the centrepiece of a 1-0 loss that ushered Canada out of the women’s soccer World Cup. Crushing. Yet there she was scant seconds later, explaining her failed penalty kick to a nation that had hoped for so much more.
“I thought I hit it well, I thought she made a really good save,” Beckie told Laura Daikun of TSN.
Her eyes were red and damp, her wound and emotions naked and raw. She fought off tears, the way the Swedish side held off the wave of Canadians who forged forward in search of an equalizing score in the frantic final thrusts of the skirmish.
“You know, it’s the big moments, it’s the moments that you live for and you get all the glory if it goes in and you take the blame, it feels like, when you miss, so that’ll stay with me for a long time,” she continued. “Christine asked me if I wanted to take it, and that’s a big moment for me and, ya, it’s gonna be hard for a while.”
I wanted to reach into my flatscreen and give her a big hug.
Janine Beckie didn’t have to agree to that interrogation while still munching on such a bitter pill. She could have acted like some of our millionaire athletes and taken refuge in the showers, or, at the least, begged off for an appropriate cool-down to arrest her emotions before facing the music. So, yes…classy, classy, classy.
Should captain Christine Sinclair have ceded the critical spot kick to Beckie? Well, she either had supreme confidence in Beckie or not enough in herself, otherwise Sinclair wouldn’t have thought to yield. So, yes, if the second most-prolific goal-scorer in women’s soccer had a twinge of self-doubt, she did the right thing in bowing to Beckie’s boot.
The haunting for Beckie and our women’s soccer side will continue until next summer, when redemption is available at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it remains uncertain if the journey will include Sinclair, the grand dame of Canadian soccer. At age 36, she certainly wasn’t a dominant force in France, and it seemed to me that Father Time was calling for a substitute, even as coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller didn’t. But if this was her swan song on the world stage, what a wonderful career. She’s a national treasure and we won’t see another like her for many years.
Things you won’t hear discussed by a male broadcast panel during the next men’s World Cup (or any major men’s event): Broken nails, hot-pink nail polish, lipstick shades and braided hair. That’s what Kaylyn Kyle, Diana Matheson, Clare Rustad and host Kate Beirness brought to the TSN talk table the other day. Inappropriate? Not at all. It was a fun exchange. But if they’re going to talk about their appearance, they become fair game for others to do the same. I’m not sure that’s what female talking heads want.
So nice to see Hayley Wickenheiser take her rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I find it interesting that so many male essayists are tripping over their run-on sentences to praise the former captain of Canada’s national shinny side. As if they actually give a damn. Many of the boys wouldn’t walk across the street to watch women’s hockey. It’s their version of slumming it. Unless, of course, an Olympic gold medal is part of the package. Then they’ll hold their noses and do it. But if they believe Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Angela James, Danielle Goyette, Geraldine Heany, Cammi Granato and Angela Ruggiero are Hall of Fame worthy, isn’t the girls’ game worth covering? Just asking.
On that subject, The Ice Garden reports that 30 women plan to buck the boycott and are on board for the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League crusade. Here’s the up-to-date scorecard: Boston Pride 11, Minnesota Whitecaps 6, Metropolitan Riveters 4, Connecticut Whale 6, Buffalo Beauts 3. That tally includes seven Canadians and the highest disclosed salary is Lexi Bender’s $13,000 with the Pride.
As the large lads in pads prep for their third week of three-down slobber-knocking, I am reminded of a Yogi-ism:
“If the people don’t want to come out to the ball park, nobody’s going to make them.”
Yogi Berra wasn’t talking about the Canadian Football League, but head counts soon could become a major talking point among those who, like myself, prefer three downs and the rouge over four downs and the fair catch.
I wouldn’t label early numbers from turnstile counts across the land in this freshly minted season alarming, but they are concerning, most notably in Edmonton where, compared to last season, the faithful are staying away in droves. Year v. year, the Eskimos have performed in front of 11,995 fewer fans through their first two assignments at Commonwealth Stadium, and that included a marketing department’s dream game last week featuring the return of the prodigal quarterback, Mike Reilly. Just 24,016 checked in to watch the $2.9-million QB receive a serious rag-dolling.
League-wide, the head count is down 13,461, although we’ve yet to hear from the two outfits that occupy the flattest of lands—Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Oddly enough, the Tranna Argonauts are one of two clubs to show an increase in attendance from their 2018 home opener. The Boatmen really put on the ritz in an attempt to woo customers, with an adios salute to retired QB Ricky Ray, a Derel Walker bobblehead doll giveaway, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. That brought a whopping increase of 284 customers to BMO Field. It won’t help, however, that the Argos were whupped, 64-14, by the dreaded Hamilton Tabbies. But, hey, I’m thinking if they reduce the price of beer to $2 and hot dogs to .50 cents and wear Raptors jerseys, the Argos might crack that coveted 17,000 head count.
Old friend Peter Young offers this tweet in explaining any decline in attendance: “Sadly we’ve entered an era where 25,000 at CFL game is a luxury (except Tranna where 15,000 will have to do). Too much else to do. See it better on TV (see NASCAR down 50%). Oh, and even adults have discovered Netflix and HBO.” I could be cheeky and ask: What else is there to do in Winnipeg? But that would be rude and I don’t need the rabble in River City to red card me. Fact is, Peter is right, there’s plenty on the sports entertainment menu in Good Ol’ Hometown, and they don’t normally need $3 beer and .50 cent hot dogs to sell it.
Individual ticket prices in Winnipeg (taken from team websites):
Jets: $68-$301 Bombers: $18-$175 Moose: $22-$32 (plus fees) Valour FC: $16.27-$57.57 Ice: $16.15-$19.97 (based on $549-$679 season ticket pricing/34 home games) Goldeyes: $14-$26 Ass. Downs: Free admission
Your best buy might be a day watching the ponies run at Assiniboia Downs, because you can walk out with more jingle in your jeans than when you walked in. Then, again, you can leave without your shirt. That iffyness is part of the attraction, though, and I can say that I’ve never spent an afternoon or evening at the Downs that I didn’t enjoy.
Speaking of costs, can it really be true that parents are required to pony up $12,000 for their 17- and 18-year-old kids to skate with Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League? That, according to an article by Taylor Allen in the Drab Slab, is up from $3,000 last season. I don’t make a habit of telling folks how to spend their money, but in this case I will: Are you people nuts? That’s a lot of coin for a handful of hope. I mean, if the goal for your boy is the National Hockey League, you might be better off buying $12,000 worth of lottery tickets. I don’t blame parents for dreaming, though. The bad guys here are the mucky-mucks at 50 Below Sports + Entertainment. That $12,000 price tag is just wrong.
And, finally, B.C. Lions quarterback Mike Reilly has shaved off his heavy growth of facial hair. Two things about that: 1) There was a handsome man hidden under all that thick scruff; 2) if the Lions offence goes into the tank, is Reilly guilty of a points-shaving scandal? (I agree, that’s a real groaner.)
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Mom’s Day to all the moms…
Read the following quotes, kids, then name the high-profile Boston athlete they target:
“(He) removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man.”
“No grown man in full possession of his faculties would make the vile gestures that he made on one occasion.”
Gotta be that rotten, little scoundrel Bad Brad Marchand, right?
Wrong. Try Boston Red Sox legendary hitter-of-baseballs Ted Williams, who harbored an extreme dislike for most people holding a pen and notepad and more than once spat at the hometown fans, calling them “buffoons.”
So I suppose we can say Marchand is in lofty company.
Bad Brad was at his petulant worst last week, and I’m not sure which sent up a greater plume of outrage, him licking an opponent’s face in spring 2018 or him having sport with news snoops in the current Stanley Cup runoff.
Either way, if Bad Brad didn’t have a tongue, opinionists would be lost for words.
Think about it.
A year ago this month, the Boston Bruins’ adolescent-like forward used an opponent’s face for a lollipop, and what ensued was an outpouring of scorn the likes of which is normally reserved for those on the sex offender registry. More latterly, this cringe-worthy fellow again has been the target of a verbal tomato tossing, this time for biting the very tongue he used to lick foes.
If you missed it, here’s how the most-recent tempest took grip:
Kyle Bukauskas of Sportsnet engaged Marchand in a rinkside natter scant moments before Game 6 of the Boston-Columbus Blue Jackets playoff skirmish last week. Asked a cheeky question about the sharpness of his skates, an offended Bad Brad dashed away.
Once the Bs had taken their measure of the Jackets, winning 3-nada, Bukauskas and Bad Brad again were rinkside. Three questions were delivered…three one- or two-word answers were provided.
Once inside the Bruins changing room, a media mob surrounded Marchand, offering 19 questions for his consideration. He countered with 19 answers—total word count 39.
“It’s almost like he’s making fun of us,” gasped an aggrieved Elliotte Friedman.
Imagine that. Marchand had the bad manners to take a poke at news snoops. Oh, the humanity!
“He goes into the scrum and it goes from being ticked off to actually getting enjoyment out of it, like it was a game to him or it was for his own amusement. That’s where it got really stupid and goofy,” offered Nick Kypreos.
Imagine that. A former National Hockey League meathead—who puts bread on his table by saying really stupid and goofy things—thinks someone else is being stupid and goofy.
“He’s just so immature and, you know, he’s not that clever. He’s gonna be 31 in a month. At what age do you sort of grow up a little bit?” chimed in Kelly Hrudey.
Imagine that. Three talking heads, three pairs of knickers in a twist.
The hand-wringing wasn’t restricted to the Sportsnet panel, though. Many others weighed in. Examples:
Darren Dreger, TSN: “This was him sucking his thumb over something. Disrespectful.”
Steve Whyno, Associated Press: “Just plain rude.”
Stu Cowan, Postmedia Montreal: “Marchand went into full-jerk mode.”
All that because Bad Brad was frugal with his words. Boo flipping hoo.
Look, I agree, Marchand is a rat. He’s not the original rat, understand, because both Bugsy Watson and Ken Linseman beat him to it. Bad Brad has, however, surely cranked it up a notch on the creep-o-metre with his rather unconventional methods.
But here’s the deal, kids: No athlete, Brad Marchand included, owes news snoops quality sound bites. Nor are they governed by a word count.
You know what I’d do if I were Marchand? Next time they come looking for bon mots, I’d talk to them in tongues.
While listening to the fallout of this latest L’affaire Marchand, a couple of things occurred to me: 1) It truly exposed news snoops’ egg-shell egos; 2) where was this great hue and cry when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to “fuck off” in a post-match scrum? I also wondered if Wheeler received a tsk-tsking or a pat on the back from les Jets ownership/management.
It was F-bombs away in the wide, wide world of sports last week. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp launched the lewd language on live U.S. TV, then Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr parroted Klopp and, finally, Tranna Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo provided the backup vocals in the key of F. Of the three, Klopp’s WTF moment on the heels of Liverpool’s 4-nada win over Barcelona in Champions League play was my favorite:
Klopp: “You can look at this game in different ways. You can look at it as a manager and say, ‘Okay, we could have done this or that better,’ or you can look at it as a fan and say, ‘What the fuck was that?’”
Interviewer: “We apologize for the language there.”
Klopp: “I thought in America it’s okay.”
Here’s a boffo idea: Let’s say we name the shinny freeze at the St. James Civic Centre Complex in honor of Ab McDonald, first to wear the ‘C’ with les Jets. Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame president Don Kuryk, Teddy Foreman and city councillor Scott Gillingham are leading the push to do that very thing, and if old friend Teddy F. is behind it I say the mucky-mucks who make those decisions ought to be on board as well. Ab was a salt-of-the-earth guy, and the Ab McDonald Memorial Arena sounds spot-on.
Not spot-on is Matt Dunigan. In terms of quality quarterbacking in Canadian Football League history, the former gunslinger and present-day TSN gab guy insists that now-retired Toronto Argonauts QB Ricky Ray belongs “at the top” of the all-time greatest list. Matty knows quarterbacks, but I’m afraid he’s off the mark. You start with Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, then fit Ray in somewhere after that. And, just for the record, I’ve been watching CFL QBs since Jim Van Pelt and Ken Ploen were playing catch with Ernie Pitts and Farrell Funston. In other words, before Dunigan ran a bootleg out of his mama’s womb.
This is rich. Columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun harrumphs in a tweet: “A Hall of Famer like Ricky Ray shouldn’t be announcing his retirement on a conference call. He deserves to go out with more pageantry for all he’s accomplished and meant to people.” So where did Simmons’ own paper play the Ray retirement story? They buried it on Pages 18-19 of the sports section, behind everything but the cricket scores and monster truck standings. Pot, meet kettle.
Apparently, Simmons possesses a very rare skill: He can type, wave pom-poms, and grovel at the same time. We know this because Simmons has penned a “heartfelt” fan boy letter to Kawhi Leonard, begging him to lock in longterm with the Toronto Raptors: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.” Oh my. Yo! Steve-o! Is there a Kawhi poster on your bedroom wall? You wear Raptors jammies to bed? I mean, I can’t recall ever reading such insipid, fan-boy tripe from a lead columnist at a major daily.
The Ice Garden website tells us there’s good news for women’s hockey: Online interest in distaff shinny has never been higher. Alas, there’s also bad news: It seems people just like looking at train wrecks. That is to say, folks and mainstream media are paying attention only due to the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a proposed boycott of the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League season. If not for the product going completely off the rails, interest would still be meh with gusts up to completely ignored.
Here’s a woman Sports Illustrated couldn’t ignore—Megan Rapinoe, longtime member of the U.S. National women’s soccer side. You can debate the merits of the SI Swimsuit Edition all you like, but Megan’s inclusion in this year’s scantily clad issue is a landmark moment for the LGBT collective. She’s the first out lesbian to be featured, so I guess we can say gay female athletes finally have some skin in the game.
On the subject of busting down barriers, bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Brittney Langlais, the first female to play with the boys in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League. The MJBL has been around for 43 years, so you know that Brittney is some kind of special lady, and Jason Bell has the skinny on the Interlake Blue Jays hurler in the Drab Slab.
If you’re looking to put some giddyup in your life, you can’t go wrong with Assiniboia Downs. The ponies start running on the western flank of River City this very day, and it brings back memories of some very enjoyable summer afternoons and evenings thanks to people like Sharon Gulyas and Darren Dunn. Both Sharon and Darren are Downs lifers—she started in 1978, him in ’82—and it’s nice to know they’re still around to make a day at the racetrack a pleasant experience.
And, finally, I saw a promo for The X-Files the other day, and it occurred to me that after all these years I still don’t know which one is Scully and which one is Mulder.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy St. Patty’s Day to the Irish and Irish wannabes (and I plan on keeping my lifetime record of never drinking green beer intact)…
Morgan Rielly knew he didn’t say what he didn’t say. Others remain convinced that he did say what he didn’t say.
And, as social media exploded like a fourth of July sky, a mystery voice at a National Hockey League game last Monday became the most talked-about sound bite since Timothy Leary told kids in the 1960s to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
So was l’affaire Rielly much ado about nada?
Well, like most questions in life that don’t include a simple 1+1=2 answer, it depends on who you ask.
Many took to Twitter to suggest (rather dismissively, abruptly and rudely) that it matters not if Rielly or any player/fan shouted “faggot” or “rag it” or “maggot” during a Toronto Maple Leafs-Tampa Bay Lightning skirmish at Scotiabank Arena in the Republic of Tranna. “They’re just words. Don’t be such a snowflake. Get over it, you annoying SJWs. Move on.”
Media pundits, meanwhile, have lauded les Leafs Harry Potter doppelganger GM, Kyle Dubas, and Rielly for stepping forward to confirm the young defenceman’s innocence, rather than push the mute button and allow the tempest to expire of natural causes. They insist that the hastily organized Dubas-Rielly joint session of meet-the-news-snoops was a “teaching moment.”
If so, I’m having trouble determining what lesson was learned.
As a member of the LGBTQ collective, you see, I lean a keen and attentive ear toward any dialogue dealing with gays and homophobia in sports. Call it my “queer” ear, if you will. And it’s often what I don’t hear that catches my notice because, yes, words are important.
The one word I didn’t hear from Dubas in his more than 16 minutes of chin wagging was “accept.”
Make no mistake, the GM scored when he talked sincerely about providing a “safe” and “welcome” environment for gay, bisexual and transgender fans at les Leafs’ lair. He added that any player grappling with his sexual orientation can “feel safe here, they can be themselves here.”
Dubas did not, however, say a gay player would be universally “accepted” in les Leafs boudoir. He couldn’t.
Dubas, you see, cannot get inside the heads and souls of the men who occupy the changing room, any more than Geoff Molson could get inside the heads and souls of his Montreal Canadiens when he issued similar sentiments in 2014.
“Not only with our team, but also with our fans,” the Habs bankroll told news snoops when asked if his storied franchise was prepared to embrace a gay player. “Everyone and everybody is welcome in the Montreal Canadiens organization. Any opportunity to be inclusive is a good one, and that starts from the top down.”
Nice thought, but a Habs skater with anti-gay leanings might not be so keen to share the bunker with a guy who shares his bed with another dude.
That said, it’s apparent by Rielly’s thoughtful responses to queries last week, also his documented support of the LGBTQ collective, that he would “accept” a gay teammate without condition. But what of his fellows in the blue-and-white linen of les Leafs?
In autumn 2015, USA Today asked 35 NHL players if they would accept an openly gay teammate in the changing room. One said no. Small sample size, I know, but if we do the math that means there were at least 21 anti-gay members of the NHL Players Association. I’d submit the true number is higher. Even if not, how many sit in les Leafs’ lockerroom?
In January 2014, TSN ran a terrific documentary on the NHL and gays. They reached out to 12 teams across a nine-month time frame, seeking players willing to discuss gays and hockey on the record. In the end, only three were willing to be interviewed on camera. That’s it. Just three of 750 players were comfortable discussing the gay issue and homophobia. If they can’t even talk about gay men, how can they accept them?
Again, Dubas gets full marks for initiating the discussion last week, but if it was a “teachable moment” I’m still uncertain what I supposedly learned. Given that Molson said the same thing five years ago and nothing has changed, it was same old, same old.
I’m always fascinated when straight male sports scribes and talking heads weigh in on the gay/homophobia issue. They really can’t offer anything of substance because, well, they aren’t gay. So they simply recite the standard blah, blah, blah about offensive words, often punctuating their commentary with “this is 2019,” as if that proves they know where it’s at. Which explains why many of them inverted the Rielly situation, turning it into a testimonial to the Maple Leafs’ rapid response rather than the likelihood that someone shouted “faggot” during an NHL game. Dubas was lathered in lavish praise, and I’m surprised the talking heads and essayists stopped short of nominating him for a Nobel Prize. But, hey, Nobel nomination forms aren’t distributed until September, so there’s plenty of time to get his name out there.
Unless I missed it, neither TSN nor Sportsnet brought an LGBTQ voice on air to discuss the developments in l’affaire Rielly. They’ll recruit “experts” to dissect everything from Auston Matthews’ bowel movements to Mitch Marner’s eating habits, but they aren’t interested in a gay voice when homophobia is the hot-button topic. What, they don’t know any gay male athletes who’ve been in homophobic dressing rooms? Or do they think gay guys don’t speak English? Trust me, when the subject is homophobia in hockey, the last people I want to hear from are meatheads like Nick Kypreos and Colby Armstrong, who delivered about five minutes of total gobbledygook on Hockey Central At Noon.
Speaking of Colby Armstrong, I must confess that he’s begun to grow on me, perhaps because I like the Muppets and he’s got a Muppets kind of head—you know, really thin-to-no lips, goofy grin, interesting nose, eyes that seem to spin and rotate. I think perhaps Colby and Fozzy Bear were separated at birth. That’s the ticket—Fozzy Armstrong.
My personal all-St. Patty’s Day team: Kathy Ireland, St. Patrick Roy, Patrick Ewing, Danica Patrick and Patrik O’Laine. Oh, and Sir Alec Guinness, of course. No St. Patty’s Day is complete without a Guinness.
If the ponies were running at Assiniboia Downs,the ideal St. Patty’s Day card this afternoon would include a Pot O’ Gold Stakes race with this field: Lookin At Lucky, Lucky Debonair, Irish War Cry, Smokinpaddylassie, I’ll Have Another and Flat Drunk. And, yes, those are the names of actual race horses.
So, the Winnipeg Jets recently completed their longest junket of the NHL season—10 days, four games. Drab Slab scribe Mike McIntyre described it as a “doozy.” Well, Mike Mac doesn’t know from doozy. During their 1978-79 World Hockey Association championship crusade, the Jets had a tour of duty in February that had them play 10 games in 16 days (eight on the road, including five in a row). Now that, my friends, is a doozy.
Interesting to note that the Milwaukee Brewers voted play-by-play broadcaster and funny guy Bob Uecker a full players share ($123,000) after the Major League Baseball playoffs last October. Hmmm. For the record, the Jets did not vote me a full players share after their final WHA title in 1979. No problem, though. I didn’t need the $57.48 at the time. Mind you, I could use it today now that I’m a pauper. (By the way, Ueck donated his $123,000 windfall to four different charities.)
Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet tells us that Blake Wheeler’s contract extension, which kicks in next season at $8.25 million, is “money well spent by the Winnipeg Jets.” He knows this how? Well, because of Joe Thornton. Dixon figures if Jumbo Joe can score 82 points as a 36-year-old, so can Wheels. Good luck with that. I’m a big fan of Blake Wheeler (the player, not the boor who believes news snoops are pond scum), but if he’s an 82-point guy at the butt end of his five-year deal, I’ll eat a hockey puck and wash it down with raw sewage from the Red River.
The Kootenay Ice play their final game in Cranbrook this afternoon, then they become the Winnipeg Ice (please, change that name). So if anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown is looking for the skinny on the Western Hockey League, take note: The go-to website is old friend Gregg Drinnan’s blog Taking Note. Nobody does the WHL better than the Greaser, who earned his nickname while writing about fast cars, Bison Dragways and people like Big Daddy Garlits for the Winnipeg Tribune.
And, finally, sad to hear of the passing of Randy Turner,longtime scribe at the Winnipeg Free Press. Never got to spend much time with Randy (different newspapers, different beats, I skipped town), but I do know he was one of the good guys. And a funny guy. He was a Twitter maestro. Ashley Prest wrote a wonderful tribute piece on Randy in the Drab Slab.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I understand why the faithful who flock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie bow to a corporate god by shouting“True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets matches.
Honest, I get it.
I mean, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his deep-pocketed co-bankroll, David Thomson, delivered a National Hockey League franchise to them after so many bleak winters in the wilderness, thus the giddy rabble is grateful and the full-throated “True North!” cry has become their tribal chant.
But (you knew there was going to be a but, right?)…
As much as I promote freedom of expression and I get where Jets Nation is coming from, the “True North!” ritual has a cringe-inducing element to it. Whenever I hear the salute to their corporate god, True North Sports & Entertainment, it sounds rather nerdy. If not flat-out cheesey.
I am reminded of this due to a sparring match between Troy Westood and Jeff Veillette in the cesspool of anger and ugliness known as Twitter.
Westwood, of course, is among the stable of talking heads at TSN 1290 in River City and, like most talking heads, he sometimes shoves his left foot (the same one he once used to hoof field goals for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers) into his mouth. Veillette, meanwhile, works out of the Republic of Tranna as an editor/writer at Leafs Nation and managing editor of hockey content for the Nation Network.
Here is their weekend to-and-fro:
Veillette: “Someone just TRUE NORTH’d the anthem at the Toronto FC game. Worst tradition in all of pro sports. Get that out of this stadium.”
Westwood: “Jeff, I believe I speak for the majority of Manitobans here while inviting you to go outside and play hide and go f yourself. #TRUENORTH.”
I assume Ol’ Lefty uses that mouth to kiss his loved ones, but, hey, we’re all adults on Twitter and F-bombs and insults are as commonplace as Jets loyalists who believe the Puck Pontiff can do no wrong, regardless how much he charges for a glass of beer at TLHHOtheP or how often he feeds at the public trough.
Not surprisingly, the Westwood-Veillette thrust-and-parry aroused the rabble, and their respective Twitter feeds featured a few more F-bombs and much banter that came across as the squawkings of school kids whose mothers wear army boots and whose dad can beat up the other guy’s dad. Seriously. Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks…Toronto sucks…Winnipeg sucks.
For the record, I don’t think either city sucks. I just prefer not to live there. Or there.
At any rate, Veillette got up a whole lot of Peg noses with his pooh-poohing of the “True North!” tribal chant and calling it the “worst tradition in all of pro sports.” (I can think of at least one worse tradition—annually failing to win a professional shinny title for 50 years. Mind you, Veillette wouldn’t know much about Maple Leafs lethargy because he’s barely off his mother’s breast milk, so we shouldn’t confuse him for someone whose hockey knowledge extends beyond knowing Auston Matthews’ sweater number.)
What I wonder is why Peggers get so bent out of shape whenever some dude from the Republic of Tranna slags Pegtown. So Jeff Veillette isn’t fond of the tribal chant. Boo flipping hoo. You want to shout “True North!” then do it. Even if the rest of the country thinks it makes you sound like a bunch of doofuses. You and I know there’s plenty to like about good, ol’ Hometown, and if I can find time between sandbagging for the annual springtime flood and swatting mosquitoes I might be able to think of some of them. (Oh, relax. I’m just kidding. I don’t want or need Ol’ Lefty lobbing F-bombs in my direction.)
Really enjoyed the Sportsnet Q&A between Luke Fox and Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky, head coach of the Barrie Colts in the Ontario Hockey League, provided some good insight on present-day Jets centre Rink Rat Scheifele: “He was a dream kid coming into junior hockey. His attitude surpasses so many people’s. He loves walking into the rink, grinning ear to ear, and can’t wait to work hard. He almost makes the coach’s job easier because he pushes the pace all the time, and everyone tries to keep up. People don’t know this: They think I really steered Winnipeg onto Mark. No. Winnipeg called me once. They said, ‘We just interviewed this kid. Is he really for real?’ That was their only question. I said, ‘Oh, ya. He’s the real deal.’ He blows you away when you meet him—you see the passion in his personality, and he brings it out in his game.”
I note the Jets have signed Sami Niku, a Finnish defenceman who weighs less than the food on Dustin Byfuglien’s dinner plate. Seriously. One hundred and 68 pounds? I guess that makes him Toby Lite. Not to worry, though. If the hockey thing doesn’t work out for Niku, they’re always looking for jockeys at Assiniboia Downs.
Speaking of the Downs, which went to the post for its 60th season on Sunday, there’s a 4-year-old filly out there called Dink of the Year. Who knew that someone would name a race horse after Ryan Kesler?
Nice to see old friend and former newspaper colleague Bob Holliday earn the Historical Award for his work with the St. Vital Museum, and Paul Robson, my former bossman (publisher) at the Winnipeg Sun and one-time general manager of the Blue Bombers is to be invested into the Order of Manitoba. One day during his stewardship at the Sun, Robson overheard me mention that Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron and Chris Walby were “really good guys.” He stepped forward to join myself and a few other sports scribes in our little corner of the newsroom and said, “Let me tell you something about football players. They’re all a–holes. Every one of them. It’s just that some of them are bigger a–holes than the others. Don’t let those guys fool you into thinking they’re not a–holes.” That from a guy whose nickname when he played for the Bombers was Mad Dog. I still don’t agree with Robson. Westwood, Cameron and Walby were among the good guys in football. And so was Paul (he was also my favorite publisher).
Did I read Steve Simmons right? Did he actually label former players involved in a concussion lawsuit against the NHL “opportunists?” And they’re hopping on “an apparent gravy train?” Yup, that’s what he wrote. Farther down in his Postmedia column, however, he submits, “In my view, the current players are not properly protected by the NHL system.” I see. Former players whose coaches shoved them back onto the ice scant seconds after suffering head trauma (shake it off, kid; it’s a long way from your heart) are “opportunists” looking to make an easy buck, but it’s today’s players who are being mistreated. Seems to me there’s a least one sports writer who’s been concussed and needs to spend some time in the quiet room.
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.
It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.
Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.
Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.
I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.
I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.
I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.
I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.
So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.
(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)
These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)
Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.
Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.
Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.
Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.
Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”
Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.
Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!
My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.
Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.
Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.
Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.
Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.
Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.
Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.
Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.
Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.
Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.
Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.
Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.
Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.
Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
Most talented player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.
Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.
Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.
Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.
Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners by booing during PA announcements made en francais during a Jets-Finland friendly, a man called my home the next day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.
Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.
Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.
Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.
Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.
Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.
Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.
Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.
Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.
Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.
“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”
“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”
“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”
Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.
Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.