Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that might be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?

While Winnipeg Jets’ ownership/management fiddles, careers of older players waste away

Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc.

That’s the unstoppable sound of the clock rapidly and relentlessly ticking down on the National Hockey League careers of certain able-bodied players whose bodies soon will begin to betray them, if that isn’t happening already.

Toby Enstrom will be 33 at this time next year. Dustin Byfuglien 32. Captain Blake Wheeler 31. Bryan Little 30. They were in, or about to enter, their prime playing years when the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011 and the Thrashers morphed into the Winnipeg Jets. Since then, each has swallowed the Kool-Aid and put his signature on a long-term contract, convinced that the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, and his obedient servant, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, would deliver on a promise of better days.

Toby Enstrom
Toby Enstrom

Well, those four men are still waiting for deliverance. Their biological clocks are still ticking. And they have every right to ask: When is when?

Except the Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff won’t, or can’t, provide a definitive answer. Unlike Enstrom, Byfuglien, Little and Wheeler, they aren’t on the clock, so they simply recite the draft-and-develop mantra and add more pimples than puck sense to their roster, all the while allowing four careers to waste away.

There is no urgency in ownership/management. The Little Hockey House on the Prairie is sold out every night. There’s a waiting list for season subscriptions numbering in the thousands. Many among the rabble remain in swoon, still giddy to have an NHL outfit to call their own, no matter how inferior the product. The Secret Society that is True North Sports & Entertainment can’t sell enough $10 Jumbo Jet hot dogs, $10 pints of beer and $300 jerseys. That isn’t a hockey rink tucked between Hargrave and Donald in downtown Winnipeg. It’s a cash register.

Much of that money is, of course, funneled into player wages and, to be sure, the Jets’ on-ice workers are handsomely compensated. They draw enough pay to purchase every $10 Jumbo Jet dog ever put on the grill. But once the contracts are signed, sealed and delivered, it’s no longer about the number of zeroes behind the dollar sign. It’s about winning. Period.

Do you think Blake Wheeler is interested in a draft-and-development plan that won’t bear any fruit for another, say, four-five years? Indeed, head coach Paul Maurice spoke to that very issue last April, when he began sifting through the charred leavings of another dumpster fire that put the Jets on the outside when the real fun began in the Stanley Cup tournament.

If we put a really, really young lineup again in the Central (Division) and have a couple of tough nights, as long as those are the best guys we have then I’m all for it,” coach Potty-Mo told news snoops.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

At the end of the day, I don’t care who’s in that lineup, we’re going to try and figure out a way to win with that group. We’re going to put that expectation in our room, instead of saying, ‘Hey, just come out and try hard and follow us and then in five years we’re going to…’ Blake Wheeler doesn’t want to hear that, he doesn’t want to play like that.

Our expectations have to be higher. The players have to be under that pressure because I think they develop faster.”

But, as in the case of when is when, how fast is fast?

I mean, the Jets commenced their current crusade with two goaltenders still on training wheels. The tandem of Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson has crashed and burned. What’s old is new again, with Ondrej Pavelec back in the blue paint. And if he doesn’t return as the second coming of Dominik Hasek, what then? Back to Hellebuyck and Hutchinson?

I doubt that rate of development is fast enough for Wheeler and the others.

It is said today that 70 is the new 50 and 50 is the new 30, but it doesn’t work that way in hockey. Once upon a time, not so very long ago, 31 wasn’t considered old in the NHL. Today, 30 is the old 35 and 35 is the old 40. (No, that doesn’t explain Jaromir Jagr, but some things defy logic.) The point is, Wheeler cannot afford many more failed experiments and wasted seasons before rot sets in. None of the ‘old’ boys can. Their clocks keep ticking while ownership/management keeps talking. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff have failed them. Miserably.

Little wonder Wheeler seems to be owly much of the time.

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

Winnipeg Jets: Putting Chevy-speak into plain English

Depending on which River City rag you read, Kevin Cheveldayoff sat down with either two news snoops or a group of news snoops on the weekend for some fireside blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Naturally, the Winnipeg Jets general manager droned on in Chevy-speak, so, as a public service, we have hired a professional linguist to translate and distill his comments. Here, then, is the Reader’s Digest condensed version (3,160 words reduced to 1,050) of Chevy’s state-of-the-union chin-wag…

Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff

How would you assess your team just past the halfway point of the National Hockey League season?

“Are you kidding me? All those kids in our lineup, those two goaltenders, the schedule that Paul Maurice keeps complaining about, all those injuries…I’m surprised we’re even in the post-season discussion. I mean, I wrote this season off before it even started because of our youth movement, so it’s a bit of a bonus that we’re so close to the playoff line.”

Your head coach, Paul Maurice, says there should be an asterisk beside your record because of the schedule and all the injuries. What say you?

“Damn straight!”

What’s your take on Maurice’s work?

“Paul said it best when he said, ‘You are who your record says you are.'”

What level of job security does Maurice have?

“Look, Mark Chipman told me that it was time for a full-scale youth movement. He’s the Puck Pontiff, and I do what I’m told. So it was out with the old and in with the new. I saddled Paul with a very young team. He didn’t necessarily like it. But he knew what he was getting into when he signed on. He knew it wasn’t going to be all flowers and roses. This season is a gimme for Paul. I’m not going to toss him under the bus. But, at the end of the day, you are who your record says you are.”

You decided to go with the kids, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, in goal and waived the incumbent, Ondrej Pavelec, then shipped him to the minors. How’s that working so far?

“The fact none of the other 29 teams claimed Pavs on waivers ought to tell you all you need to know about him. I like Pavs, but it was the right thing to do. As for Connor and Michael, do the math. Why do you think coach PoMo tossed them under the bus a week or so ago? Paul is right…we don’t have a No. 1 goaltender. Not yet. We’re building toward the future. Is the future here yet? No. When is the future? Your guess is as good as mine.”

What say you about Patrik Laine, your prize rookie?

“God bless those bouncing ping pong balls at the draft lottery! Sometimes you need a horse shoe up your butt instead of skill. I mean, eight teams passed on Nikolaj Ehlers at the 2014 NHL draft. Eight teams passed on Jacob Trouba in 2012. Having the ping pong balls fall our way last year meant we were getting either Patrik or Auston Matthews. We got the player we wanted.”

Pictures on a wall say it all.
Pictures on a wall say it all.

Now that you mentioned Jacob Trouba, how is your relationship with him after his trade demand and failure to attend training camp?

“I still have pictures of Jacob and I shaking hands at the 2012 draft on my office wall. What does that tell you about our relationship?”

Dustin Byfuglien signed a five-year, $38-million contract last summer. Are you getting enough bang for your buck?

“Buff is earning his keep. But if coach PoMo keeps playing him 29-30 minutes a game, there’ll be nothing left of Buff by the final year of that contract. Quite frankly, I’d like to see some of Buff’s minutes go to Jacob Trouba. As it is, Buff is all over the map. Nothing’s really changed since this team arrived in Winnipeg in 2011. Buff is still being Buff.”

Tylers Myers has missed most of the season due to injury. Any chance of bringing in help to shore up the back end?

“You mean trades? Hey, after I fleeced the Buffalo Sabres in the Evander Kane deal and fleeced the Chicago Blackhawks in the Andrew Ladd deal, you think anyone wants to deal with me? Seriously, though, I think everyone knows I don’t do anything unless there’s the proverbial gun to my head.”

Has Blake Wheeler been a suitable replacement for Ladd as team captain?

“Are you kidding me? Did you see what he did after Patrik Laine scored that selfie against the Vancouver Canucks? He wrapped his arm around him and whispered sweet nothings in his right ear. Awwwww.

What have you to say about the progress of Nikolaj Ehlers and Josh Morrissey?

“Like I said, eight teams passed on Nikolaj at the draft. D’oh! We’re extremely happy those eight teams all had a Homer Simpson moment. As for Josh…he’s been a revelation. He ought to receive extra pay just for cleaning up Buff’s mess every night. I imagine it’s kind of like cleaning up after the elephants at the circus. That’s not a cheap shot on Buff’s size, by the way. Just saying.”

Bye bye Burmi.
Bye bye Burmi.

How difficult was it to put Alexander Burmistrov on waivers? He’s a former top-10 draft pick.

“Whoa Nellie! Don’t pin that rap on me. I didn’t draft Burmi. That was Rick Dudley or Don Waddell or one of those other nitwits who left the cupboards bare when Chipper bought the Atlanta Thrashers. I thought I’d washed my hands of Burmi when he defected to Russia, but coach PoMo took a fancy to him and kind of adopted him. Guess that’s why they call him Pa Ingalls. Whatever, the Arizona Coyotes are welcome to him. It’s kind of ironic, though. I mean, going from Winnipeg to Phoenix is the first time Burmi has gone north-south his entire career.”

How will next summer’s expansion draft for the Las Vegas franchise impact the Jets?

“They’ll get a player to be named later. That player won’t be named Laine or Ehlers or Scheifele or Trouba or Little or Morrissey or Wheeler or Connor or Roslovic or…well, you get the picture.”

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

Evander Kane can’t get over Winnipeg and Winnipeg can’t get over Evander Kane

Evander Kane is the gift that just keeps giving…and giving…and giving.

By now, I’m guessing you’ve heard that old friend Evander can’t play hockey these days due to a wonky left knee, an owie that will keep him on the shelf for four to six weeks and provide the Buffalo Sabres forward with plenty of time for his new hobby of renting private jets and/or helicoptors for weekend getaways.

I understand Las Vegas is lovely at this time of year, so perhaps we can expect an Instagram or two featuring the self-proclaimed Natural flaunting stacks and stacks of American greenbacks in Sin City.

Evander Kane
Evander Kane

Then again, perhaps Kane will discover more constructive ways to spend his free time. You know, something like flapping his gums like two flags in a stiff breeze. He already has a healthy head start in that area, what with word of his recent chin-wag with The Hockey News arriving on Monday.

Depending on one’s perspective, of course, any time Kane opens his pie hole it is a wonderful thing (for news scavengers on a slow day) or a cringe-worthy bit of business (for those who view him as an uppity, my-stuff-don’t-stink-but-this-city-does, underachieving prima donna). Either way, a tempest is certain to ensue and, sure enough, what he told THN vis-a-vis his troubled and turbulent times as the most-maligned—and surely the most-polarizing—player to ever pull the blue-and-white linen of the Winnipeg Jets over his head has put his name back at the top of the page for all the wrong reasons.

What he served up was part pity party, part confession and part accusation (he played the race card, don’t you know).

“I asked for a trade every off-season in Winnipeg,” confessed Kane, who was with the Atlanta Thrashers’ caravan that rolled into River City and morphed into Jets 2.0 in 2011. It took him slightly less than four National Hockey League seasons of sometimes oddball antics, bad press, bad attitude and sub-standard productivity to wear out his welcome, at which time he was shuffled off to Buffalo in a package that included Zach Bogosian going to the Sabres and Drew Stafford, Tyler Myers and add-ons coming back to the Jets.

“There are lots of guys I could point to that everybody knows publicly who have done a lot worse or been accused of doing a lot worse things than I have,” Kane continued. “But they don’t look like me. They don’t look like me. Jealousy is a disease. It really is.”

He added that he “didn’t feel as though (the Jets) had my back at all.”

This, no doubt, will lead to open hostility when Kane and the Sabres surface at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for a Jan. 10 gig with the Jets. His reception would have been bad enough based on the residue left behind from his tempestuous tour of duty in Pegtown, but surely the volume will be amped up and there shall be heightened creativity and increased venom in the cat-calling of his accusors.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Why do so many people give a damn what Evander Kane thinks about the Jets and Winnipeg?

I know I don’t. Sure, I write about Kane, because he’s fun fodder and I get a kick out of him. I used to enjoy it when he’d yank the media’s chain, often playing cat to their mouse. But get my knickers in a knot over his parting shots at Winnipeg? Puh-leeze. So what if he asked for a new area code every summer and lied about it? He wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, athlete who’s wanted out of Winnipeg and told fibs. The Jets didn’t have his back? Oh, boo freaking hoo.

As for his playing the race card (again), only those of a similar skin hue can say for certain if they’ve experienced discrimination or other forms of ill-treatment based solely on pigmentation. But if you believe racism doesn’t exist in good, ol’ Hometown, you might want to speak with one of your Native neighbors about that.

Look, Kane and Winnipeg didn’t work. He wanted the fast lane and he got caught in a collector lane. You like your athletes humble and respectful, he’s loud, vain and swashbuckling. Bad marriages happen. The thing is, he hasn’t gotten over you and you haven’t gotten over him. Come on, admit it.

Should make for an interesting night on Jan. 10. Keep it clean and classy, Winnipeg.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.