About peace if the Red River Valley…Jekyll and Hyde in the CFL…the cost of beer and bowels…dance moves…Johnny Average…coach’s choice…oh, baby…TSN’s top 50…hanky-panky in women’s hockey…a Stanley Cup parade in The ROT?…and let the NHL games begin

Another Sunday smorg on another lovely, albeit damp, autumn morning…

It’s about that quarterback controversy—the sound you hear is silence. It’s not even crickets.

Matt Nichols completed just 16 passes for 179 yards on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium in E-Town. He failed to hurl the football for a touchdown. One of his 20 tosses landed in the wrong hands. Totally pedestrian numbers. The kind of numbers that had the rabble reaching for the torches and pitch forks two-three-four weeks ago.

Except this time Nichols’ work, however ordinary, was good enough and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were on the favorable end of a 30-3 score vs. the Edmonton Eskimos.

Matt Nichols

Thus, we don’t hear anyone squawking about Chris Streveler getting the next start, which, of course, always was a fool’s argument that the Bombers oft-misguided head coach, Mike O’Shea, properly ignored. The payoff has been two efficient work days for Nichols and two successive wins—including the Bombers’ first W this season against an outfit that actually has a pulse—and Winnipeg FC now holds joint custody of third place in the Canadian Football League’s West Division to-and-fro.

So we have a different narrative.

Nichols is no longer a bum and the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist might actually let a week go by without telling us that O’Shea and his sidekick, defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, should be collecting pogey.

That all changes if the Bombers soil the sheets vs. the RedBlacks in Bytown next Friday, but for now there’s peace in the Red River Valley.

There’s certainly some Jekyll and Hyde in this Winnipeg FC outfit, although the same can be said about at least four other clubs—the Eskimos, B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Bytown RedBlacks. I’m guessing it will be the Leos with their noses pressed against the window and looking in when the post-season fun commences on the second Sunday in November, leaving the Bombers and Eskimos to settle the argument for third place on the final day of the crusade. The loser gets the crossover playoff berth, which is your basic CFL death sentence. History records that no western club has advanced to the Grey Cup game via the eastern route, and beating the RedBlacks and Tabbies back-to-back in enemy territory in November might be doable but it’s highly improbable.

Jason Maas

The cost of a beer at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday: $5. The cost of a hot dog: $2. Seeing Eskimos head coach Jason Maas look like he had blocked bowels: Priceless.

I note the Hamilton Tiger-Cat had themselves a bit of a hissy fit after the B.C. Lions held a dance party on their logo at Timbits field in the Hammer. Such scandal. You’d think Fred Astaire had stepped on Ginger Rogers’ toes. Get a grip, boys.

I think it’s great that Alessia Cara will perform the halftime show at the Grey Cup game. But remind me to Google her so I can find out who she is.

Johnny Rotten

Doug Brown has forgotten more about football than I’ll ever know, so it was with considerable interest that I read the former defensive lineman’s take on Montreal Alouettes quarterback Johnny Manziel. “I would dare say, especially after watching a full four quarters of his work in the 31-14 loss against the Bombers, that he is not a first-round quarterback talent,” he wrote in the Drab Slab. “He is pretty accurate with the football, and has a quick release; he has a pretty average arm, and doesn’t always throw a great football. When Manziel operates from the confines of the pocket, which is the most important measurable of any quarterback—scrambling or otherwise—he looks to be of the ilk of a very average quarterback in the CFL.” Brown will never get a job as a gab guy on TSN if he’s going to dis Johnny Average like that.

Brian Burke

Interesting comment from Brian Burke, former National Hockey League general manager and now a talking head on Sportsnet: “Well certainly from my perspective, you’re going to fire the coach if he doesn’t win enough games,” he told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver, “so you better let him pick the roster.” Makes sense, but I doubt that’s how it works in Winnipeg. I’d wager the rent money that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has a large say in who starts the season with les Jets.

Bob Cole

Apparently, Rogers believes there’s a sprinkling of “Oh, baby!” left in 85-year-old Bob Cole, so he’ll be at the play-by-play microphone for 10 games to be broadcast on Sportsnet this NHL season, his 50th on sid. But here’s my question: If Cole is still good enough to do 10 games, why not 15 or 20? We know he wanted to work the Stanley Cup tournament last spring, but Rogers shut him out. If there isn’t a health issue, Rogers is actually giving Cole the equivalent of a gold watch with his 10-game package. It’s a token gesture.

Having said that, Cole is definitely past his best-before date. He still has the great pipes, but he doesn’t recognize many players other than Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid.

Connor McDavid

So, TSN names its top 50 NHL performers, and here’s James Duthie to ask “the panel” how much of a talent gap exists between No. 1 Connor McDavid and everybody else, including runnerup Sidney Crosby.

“Substantial,” says Dave Poulin. “You put McDavid No. 1, then you start thinking about No. 2. There’s a gap after McDavid and there’s another gap after Crosby.”

Well, excuuuuuse me all to hell, but wasn’t it Poulin who left leading scorer McDavid off his all-star ballot last spring? Why, yes it was. He voted for Nathan MacKinnon, Anze Kopitar and Evgeni Malkin as the best centre-ice men in the game. Yet there he was last week, unflinching and insistent that McDo-it-all is not only superior to that troika—he’s two gaps greater.

Based on what? How many catfish and muskee McDavid caught during his summer vacation?

Seriously. The Edmonton Oilers captain played zero hockey between late May and early September, so how did he go from being no better than the fourth-best centre in the NHL to the absolute premier performer after three months of doing squat?

He didn’t. He was No. 1 then, and he’s No. 1 now. Poulin has some explaining to do, but I doubt we’ll hear it.

Gillian Apps and Meghan Duggan

It’s about hockey and hanky-panky. We know that the American and Canadian women knock the bejeebers out of each other once the puck is dropped. They maintain one of the most intense, heated rivalries in sports. But it’s the passion that goes on off the ice that’s interesting. One of our most-decorated shinny stars, Olympic gold medalist Gillian Apps, wed Meghan Duggan of Team USA last weekend in Maine, that less than a year after former Canadian captain Caroline Ouillette and former U.S. captain Julie Chu became moms by welcoming baby daughter Liv into the world. Puts a different twist on the old bromide about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, doesn’t it? Beautiful stuff.

There are two thing I’m quite certain I’ll never see in my lifetime: 1) The captains of the Canadian and U.S. men’s Olympic hockey teams exchanging “I do’s” and raising a child together; 2) another Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna. And if I had to make a wager, I’d bet on the same-sex marriage happening first.

Speaking of Lord Stanley’s silver goblet, this from Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press: “Toronto appears to have the best chance to end Canada’s Stanley Cup drought that dates back a quarter century to 1993.” So, the addition of John Tavares to the Maple Leafs roster makes Jake Gardiner a better defenceman? Ron Hainsey a better defenceman? Frederik Andersen a better goaltender? Don’t think so. I still like les Jets to do it.

And, finally, 30 NHL teams begin their quest for the Stanley Cup this week. Meanwhile, in Ottawa, the Senators begin their quest for Jack Hughes.

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About Paul Romanuk’s Where’s Wheeler? gaffe…Brooke Henderson, national treasure…Les Lazaruk’s a beauty guy…Bob Cole is silenced…take me out to the brawl game…god and golf…on bended knee and beating women…he’s sorry but not really…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Okay, Paul Romanuk had himself a serious “D’oh!” moment on Friday morning when, in a media scrum, he called out to Blake Wheeler by shouting, “Mark! Mark!”

Paul Romanuk

Major blunder. It shouldn’t happen because, as Paul Wiecek correctly points out in his Winnipeg Free Press column that exposed the incident, Romanuk’s one job is to “tell the players apart.” He’s a play-by-play guy, for cripes sake. He has the call for Wheeler’s Winnipeg Jets in their Stanley Cup skirmish with the Minnesota Wild on Sportsnet.

So, ya, he ought to know. I mean, this isn’t a Where’s Waldo? kind of thing. Wheeler is easily recognized: He’s the guy with a ‘C’ on his Jets jersey and scowl on his face.

But here’s my question for you, dear readers: Did Wiecek cross an ethical line?

That is, should he have used his platform to embarrass the veteran broadcaster in a front page piece guaranteed to attract the attention of the rabble, if not incite them? Isn’t there some sort of unspoken honor-among-thieves code with the sports media?

Apparently not.

Personally, I have no problem with jock journos calling each other out. I’d prefer they do it more often. But where I think Wiecek went wrong, was in using the Romanuk affair as (shocking and damning) anecdotal evidence to prop up his ongoing case that no one east of Falcon Lake and west of Elkhorn gives a damn about Winnipeg and its Jets. Not only does the rest of the country not give a damn, Wiecek submits, they don’t even know who they don’t give a damn about.

“And so it still goes for a team that had the second-best record in the NHL this season, but apparently still needs to pin ‘Hello, My Name Is…’ stickers on its players,” Wiecek writes.

Romanuk’s astonishing gaffe would be the smoking gun in that argument.

Blake Wheeler

But I believe it’s at this point that I’m obliged to point out that, hey, brain farts happen. Wiecek, for example, once referenced the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup games in Winnipeg, scribbling, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” Oops. Totally wrong. The closest thing River City has had to a downtown football facility, Osborne Stadium, lost an argument to a wrecking ball in 1956. But somehow Wiecek had two Grey Cup matches being contested there, 35 and 50 years after the walls came tumbling down. So there’s that. Last year, meanwhile, he described Wally Buono as a “former” coach, even as Buono stood on the sideline coaching the B.C. Lions. So there’s also that.

None of that excuses Romanuk, but there’s something to be said about pots calling kettles black.

I’ll tell you something else Wiecek and his newly expressed “we” and “us” homerism is wrong about—the Jets and national attention. When I hopped on the Internet surfboard at 2:30 Saturday morning (yes, I’m mobile at that hour), here’s what I discovered on various websites:

Globe and Mail—two Jets stories at the top of the page.
National Post—four Jets-related stories at the top of the page.
Sportsnet—three Jets stories and two videos at the top of the page.
TSN—top of the page story and five of the top six videos.
Toronto Star—one of the five stories at the top of the page.

It was much the same after Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series and, frankly, some might think of that as Jets overkill. But not Wiecek and the Freep. It isn’t enough to satisfy them.

“The rest of the country is still struggling to pay attention to a team—and a city, for that matter—they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring for so long,” he writes.

Oh, pu-leeze. What Wiecek and the Freep are serving up is Fake News 101.

Sorry, but I simply do not understand this desperate, irrational need for the love of outriders. Somehow I thought Winnipeg was comfortable in its own skin since the National Hockey League returned in 2011. It was running with the big dogs again. So, when did River City require the “rest of the country’s” acknowledgement, approval and endorsement? For anything. And what exactly do Wiecek and the Freep expect from “the rest of the country?” A parade? Pep rallies from Tofino to St. John’s? A gold star like the teacher gives to the kid who wins a Grade Three spelling bee?

Look, the story that Pegtown and les Jets are authoring in their Stanley Cup crusade isn’t some zen koan about a tree falling in the forest. It’s happening. In real time. It’s loud enough that anyone with a pair of ears can hear. And the national media are reporting it. In depth.

Using Paul Romanuk’s misstep to suggest there’s nationwide snubbery at play is not only inaccurate and misguided, it’s dishonest and stupid.

Brooke Henderson

Brooke Henderson is a national treasure. There’s no other way to put it. Just 20, she has six victories (including a major) on the Ladies Pofessional Golf Association Tour, her latest success a wire-to-wire romp in the Lotte Championship in Hawaii. She has won in four consecutive seasons. Did I mention she’s only 20? If one of our male golfers had won six times in four seasons before the age of 21, surely there’d be a statue. And Brooke’s always struck me as a delightful, young person, a notion supported by her post-event remarks in Hawaii. “It’s extremely sad, a terrible tragedy what happened up there,” said Henderson, dedicating her victory to victims and survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident. “I know it kind of affected my whole country. Everybody really took it kind of personal. For all the survivors that are still fighting through it all and the ones who have passed away, I want to show them that we’re here for them and we’re supporting them. They’re always going to be in our thoughts and prayers.” Beautiful kid, our Brooke, who, I hasten to add, is the same age as some of the kids on that bus.

Ronnie Lazaruk

On the subject of beauties, a major tip of the bonnet to old friend Les Lazaruk. Ronnie has come up with a boffo idea to honor Tyler Bieber, the Humboldt play-by-play voice who was among the Fallen 16 on the team bus involved in the fatal crash nine days ago. Now the mouthpiece of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, Ronnie has volunteered to sit in the play-by-play seat for one game during the Broncos 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, as a tribute to Bieber. No fee. No expenses. He’s suggested other broadcasters do the same, and look who’s on board with the idea—Chris Cuthbert, Gord Miller, Dave Randorf, Kelly Moore, Rob Faulds, Brian Munz, Jamie Campbell, Roger Millions, Darren Pang and Peter Young, among many other notable voices. It truly is a beautiful thing that Ronnie is doing. No surprise, though. He’s one of the genuinely good guys in the biz. (If you wondering, those of us who worked at the Winnipeg Tribune call him Ronnie because back in the day he had a head of hair just like Ronald McDonald’s.)

Bob Cole

On the matter of hockey broadcasters, you might have noticed that the voice of Bob Cole has been silent during this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. NHL rights holder in Canada, Rogers, has shut down the 84-year-old. “The decision sure wasn’t mutual,” Cole tells Michael Traikos of Postmedia. “It was right out of the blue. Rogers decided to go with other teams and I have to live with that. But it was their decision—not mine.” Oh, baby! No question Cole has lost a step, but his ouster is sad, nonetheless.

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet refers to the Ted Lindsay Award as the “NHLPA vote for MVP.” Not true. The Lindsay trinket goes to the NHL’s “most outstanding player,” as determined by members of the players’ association. If the media can’t get these things right, why are they allowed to vote for seven award winners?

Last Wednesday night in sports: NHL teams toss everything but hand grenades at each other as the Stanley Cup tournament begins. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 0. Major League Baseball teams throw baseballs at each other. Number of bench-clearing brawls: 3. Yet hockey still gets a bad rap for being a goon sport. Go figure.

Yogi Berra-ism of the week comes from Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs, suspended three games for his predatory hit on Boston Bruins Tommy Wingels: “I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that, I just felt like he, uh, I was already committed to the hit.”

Tweet of the week comes from Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, following a media exchange with Jets head coach Paul Maurice:

Media: “If Jack Roslovic was the Beatles and (Mathieu) Perreault was the Rolling Stones, what song would you be humming this morning?”

Maurice: “It’s all Led Zeppelin. It usually is.”

Masters champion Patrick Reed on fighting off challenges from Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler at Augusta last Sunday: “It’s just a way of God basically saying, ‘Let’s see if you have it.'” Question: If God was at Augusta National watching golf last Sunday and helping Reed win an ugly green jacket, who was watching over my church?

Colin Kaepernick

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: The Seattle Seahawks cancel a workout for outcast quarterback Colin Kaepernick because he might take a knee during the national anthem, yet Reuben Foster is still a member of the San Francisco 49ers after punching his girlfriend eight to 10 times, dragging her by the hair and rupturing her eardrum. Foster is charged with felony domestic violence, inflicting great bodily injury, forcefully attempting to prevent a victim from reporting a crime, and possession of an assault rifle. He faces up to 11 years in the brig. But, unlike Kaepernick, he’s good to go. So that’s your NFL: Take a knee, go home; beat the hell out of a woman, play on. And they wonder why people aren’t watching anymore.

Today is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, so it’s worth noting that there were only 63 Blacks on opening-day rosters this year. That’s 8.4 per cent of all players. And for pure irony, consider this: The Kansas City Royals were one of two teams sans a Black player—K.C. is home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Mark McGwire tells The Athletic that he could have swatted 70 home runs in the 1998 MLB season without the benefit of steroids. “Yes. Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinals slugger says. Right, Mark, and Rosie Ruiz would have finished the 1980 New York Marathon without riding a subway for 26 of the 26.2 miles. And she would have won the 1980 Boston Marathon if she had run all 26.2 miles, not just .2 miles.

Marc Savard, right, on the set with Daren Millard and John Shannon.

When is a mea culpa not an apology? When Steve Simmons delivers it. The Postmedia Tranna columnist last week expressed a callous disregard for Marc Savard’s mental health issues, slamming the freshly minted Sportsnet commentator for failing to make time for media while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. And now? “What I wrote about Savard had nothing to do with concussions or his personal battles. But what I wrote about him was improperly worded and far too harsh. For that, I apologize. For not welcoming new media members who have treated the industry disrespectfully, I don’t apologize.”

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons: “I’ll never understand the NHL. Playoff series starts tomorrow. Patrice Bergeron not available for 50 or so media members, many of whom just flew into Boston this morning.” The poor dear. Marc Savard wouldn’t take his phone calls and now Bergeron of the Bruins is unavailable. Oh, the humanity.

Should the Winnipeg Jets get out the brooms, or will Devan Dubnyk steal a game for the Minnesota Wild?

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 1 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Wednesday night…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: Love living on the West Coast. Game time is 4 o’clock, meaning it should be over at about 7 chimes, which is bedtime for moi. Don’t know what I’ll do if it goes to OT…Just for the record, yes, I have a rooting interest in this series—rah, rah, rah for Good Ol’ Hometown—but, no, I am not wearing white…That’s quite the scene in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and outside on Donald Street in downtown Pegtown. I haven’t seen that much white since Donald Trump released the official White House staff photo…The Winnipeg whiteout tradition has always struck me as kind of Halloweenish, kind of creepy. But whatever works, I guess. Oh, wait. I forgot. The whiteout has never worked for the Jets, this version or the original NHL version…As I recall, there was no need or desire for this whiteout gimmickry at the Old Barn on Maroons Road during the 1970s. You know, when the Jets actually won playoff series and championships…I note reseller tickets for this Wild-Jets opener were being offered on StubHub for as much as $1,026 U.S. Geez, for $1,026 U.S. you can book a seven-day Las Vegas vacation and wear whatever color clothing you want…Am I supposed to be disappointed that Sportsnet has put Paul Romanuk, rather than Bob Cole, behind the play-by-play microphone? Well, I’m not. Romey doesn’t have Cole’s pipes, but I’ve always liked his call. The guy’s got energy. He’s got game. He’s also got Garry Galley with him in the chat room, which is probably a good thing. I mean, say what you will about Galley as a color commentator, but he’s got at least one thing in his favor—he’s not Greg Millen…Ron MacLean delivers sad news: The lovely young Dayna Brons, trainer for the Humboldt Broncos, succumbed to injuries suffered in last week’s fatal team bus accident. That raises the death toll to 16. Damn…Nice job on the anthems by Stacey Nattrass, who, of course, is rockin’ the white. You’d never know Stacey’s been awake since 5:30 in the morning. I’ve often wondered if anthem singers hang around to watch the game or leave for another gig…Time to drop the biscuit.

Bruce Boudreau

First Period: Why is Cassie Campbell-Pascall wearing a white top? A really fashion-challenged white top? She’s working the game for Sportsnet, a national network. She’s supposed to be impartial. Yo! Cassie! You don’t see Scott Oake in white, do you? You aren’t a member of the Jets organization. Knock it off…Garry Galley says the underdog role is a “new look” for Wild head coach Bruce Boudreau. I don’t know about that. He’s still short, still wide and still has a very red face…It’s 15 minutes into the match and I’m not seeing a lot of nasty out there. There’s definitely big-boy bodychecking, but no nasty…Mathieu Perreault crashes the Minny blue paint and Devan Dubnyk dumps him on his britches. Good for Dubnyk. Goaltenders shouldn’t take any crap…Refs are keeping the whistles tucked away. Wonder how long that’ll last…Are the Wild playing for a tie? I mean, four shots?…Zip-zip after 20 minutes, but I’m already convinced that Minny has one chance to win this best-of-seven series. His name is Devan Dubnyk.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Second Period: If I had a hockey stick, I’d leave it outside on the porch tonight…Ka-runch! Dustin Byfuglien snot bubbles Joel Eriksson Ek and Mikko Koivu returns the favor with a broadside on Perreault. Maybe that’ll turn on the nasty switch…Perreault is a gamer, but I’m not convinced his body is made for NHL playoff hockey. If he survives the night, he won’t survive the series…Loved Romanuk’s call on a Bryan Little dash toward the Minny goal: “A dazzling, buccaneering play from Little.”…Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay to put the Jets up 1-zip. Wild are paying so much attention to Puck Finn (Patrik Laine) that they’re ignoring Scheifele in the high slot. Something to keep in mind as the series moves on…Is Paul Stastny even playing? Or has Jets bench boss Paul Maurice decided to give him the night off? And here I thought they brought the guy over from St. Louis specifically for the playoff push.

Devan Dubnyk

Third Period: No surprise. Perreault is in the repair shop and done for the night. Poor guy took a fearsome pounding…What’s this? The Wild put two pucks past Connor Hellebuyck, first Matt Cullen then Zach Parise. There is no joy in Mudville, only silence and a 2-1 Minny lead…Not to worry, Puck Finn pulls the locals even “like the predator he is,” as Romanuk put it. And, hey, look who fed him the puck with a nifty drop pass—Stastny. Nice to see Maurice recognizes that Stastny has a pulse…Adam Lowry definitely is built for playoff hockey. He arrives at the rink with flared nostrils and in a bad mood, and he plays with a take-no-prisoners mentality…Who had Joe Morrow in the game-winning goal pool? Anybody see that coming? Jets up 3-2 and I’d say they’re home and cooled…Boudreau gives Dubnyk the night off two minutes and 30 ticks from time. Kind of early to yank your goalie, but the Jets use that 2:30 to ice the puck six times. Or was it seven? They need to work on their empty-net skills and not much else…Don’t know who chose the three stars at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, but Dubnyk, not Lowry, was the best player on the ice…Final score: Jets 3, Wild 2. No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep…Okay, it’s past my bedtime. See you Friday for Game 2.

About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 

Winnipeg Jets: Nice brain fart by the captain, Andrew Ladd

Notes on a napkin while munching on pizza and watching the Winnipeg Jets and Disney Ducks do their thing in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup tournament series…

Pre-Game: You know you’re getting old when you need to take an afternoon nap just so you can stay up to watch an entire National Hockey League playoff game that commences at 7:30 p.m. Kind of sad, wouldn’t you say?…The Gab Four on Sportsnet—Daren Millard, Damien Cox, P.J. Stock and some dude named Billy Jaffe—are prattling on about the Edmonton Oilers winning the draft lottery and the right to make Connor McDavid their next mistake. My first two thoughts: 1) How can Craig MacTavish screw this one up; 2) Can he decline the No. 1 pick in June?…McDavid really looks excited about the prospects of going to Edmonton, doesn’t he? I’ve seen happier mugs on death row. Can’t blame the kid, though. I mean, who the hell wants to go to Edmonton?…Actually, on second thought, maybe McDavid looks creeped out because he’s sitting in the red chairs with George Stromboloupouloupouloupoulous. There’s definitely something creepy about Boy George…Fashion note: P.J. Stock is wearing the ugliest neck tie I’ve ever seen…It’s official, there is one man on TV more annoying that Glenn Healy. His name is Damien Cox, who doesn’t speak to us as much as he lectures us while staring creepily into the camera. I think Cox thinks he’s profound, whereas in fact he delivers nothing noteworthy and really, really, really creeps me out as he stares creepily into the camera…So far, this is all very creepy…I dislike these two anthem games. Drop the puck already…I don’t know who cuts Corey Perry’s hair, but I’m guessing it’s the equipment manager with the skate sharpener. If the Ducks big winger actually goes to a barber or hair stylist for that hatchet job, he should sue.

First Period: The pizza’s ready. Pepperoni, piles of smoked chicken and extra cheese. Gonna put on a pound or two tonight. No problem. Just go for a long walk along the ocean shore on the morrow…Good to see Mathieu Perreault back in the Jets lineup. The guy looks like Frank Zappa with that wild mane and facial foliage…My, my my. This is big boy hockey. That’s some serious body belting going on. The Ducks can give as good as they get, though…I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad Rogers didn’t assign Bob Cole to handle the play-by-play for this Jets-Ducks joust. Dave Randorf isn’t my idea of Danny Gallivan, but it’s night and day between him and Cole. First of all, he’s got a full head of hair and a full set of teeth, but he also knows the names of the players and can tell us who has the puck. What a concept…Ryan Kesler can play on my team…No scoring. Just a lot of banging for 20 minutes.

Second Period: It’s great that the Jets are doing all this banging, but I think it might be a good idea if they actually tried to play some offence. What happened to that strong possession team we watched all season? Who drew up the game plan for the playoffs? Claude Noel?…I don’t know about you, but the way this thing is unfolding, I’m already thinking we’re headed for overtime. Maybe double OT…Is there something wrong with the color on my TV? Bruce Boudreau’s face is the same shade of orange as the Ducks uniforms. The Ducks rolly-polly coach looks like he got his tan from a spray can…The Ducks are trying to be too fancy. Gary Galley is right—shoot the thing…Hey now! What’s this? Adam Pardy scores to put the Jets up 1-zip. The last time Adam Pardy scored a goal I was still young enough that I didn’t have to take an afternoon nap so I could stay up to watch a 7:30 hockey game. Actually, it was four years ago. Way to go, Adam…The zebras convene for a chin-wag to determine if Lee Stempniak interfered with Ducks goaltender Freddie Andersen. No way, Jose. That was a good goal…I take back what I said about Ryan Kesler. He’s a complete doofus.

Third Period: Arithmetic wasn’t my strongest subject when I was a wee kid in Grade 1, but I could count to six. Apparently two linesmen and two referees cannot count to six, because the Ducks have six skaters on the ice. That’s one too many. No call, though. It’s one thing to ignore some of the nasty stuff and let the boys be boys, but you have to call too many men..I don’t like the tone this game has taken. It occurs to me that it’s just a matter of time before the Ducks get the equalizer…Brain fart! Brain fart! Brain fart! And it’s by none other than Andrew Ladd, the Jets captain. He clips his counterpart with the Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf, near the right ear with his stick and he’s off to the bin for two minutes. Gonna be costly, mark my words…Yup. A Cam Fowler shot goes off Patrick Maroon’s right glove and past Ondrej Pavelec. 1-1. Great leadership with that stupid penalty, Laddy boy…Now it really looks like OT, but something tells me the Ducks aren’t done yet. They’ve really taken it to the Jets this period…WTF? Jakob Silfverberg scores! With just 21 ticks remaining in regulation. Geez, Louise…Jets Nation will be whining about the officiating after this 2-1 loss. This isn’t about the skunk shirts, though. It’s about the Jets’ preoccupation with banging and crashing and not enough attention to generating offence…Prediction: The Ducks are up 2-zip in this best-of-seven series, but I say it returns to Anaheim tied 2-2.

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

Winnipeg Jets: A tough-talking coach and a tough team to play

If it’s true that a team assumes the personality of its coach, then it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg Jets play hockey the way they do and why they have fooled so many people.

I mean, you look at their puppet master, Paul Maurice, and the first two words that come to mind are not “tough guy.” More like “book worm” or “bean counter.” Coach PoMo looks tough like Clark Kent or Buddy Holly look tough. Start with the eye glasses. Black, horned rimmed and science-project nerdy, if he were in junior high school he’d be a wedgy waiting to happen.

Coach PoMo’s hair doesn’t help, either. It’s thinning and in rapid, middle-age retreat, like a neglected lawn. Another few years and he’ll have enough forehead to start a second face.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

It’s only when Maurice opens his mouth that you realize what you see isn’t what you get.

The Jets’ bench jockey talks like a tough guy. His voice is bottom-of-the-barrel deep. Commanding and no-nonsense. He often speaks with a clenched jaw, as if he is clamping down—hard—on an irksome thought that requires his immediate attention and deserves the back of his hand. He sniffs a lot, like a pug at the end of 10 rounds. It is clear he does not suffer fools well. There is a street fighter in Maurice, someone with a hidden fury who’s prepared to throw down on you at the very hint of defiance.

And so it is with his Jets.

You look at the Winnipegs’ roster and it is found wanting when measured against those of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Yet there they are, in lockstep with the Blackhawks, two points in arrears of the Blues and distancing themselves from the Kings, who entered this 2014-15 National Hockey League fray as defenders of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.

The inclination, even this deep into a crusade that began with scant hope of achievement and even less promise, is to suggest the other shoe has yet to drop. That the Jets shall awaken one morning, perhaps not long after this weekend’s all-star recess, and collectively say, “Who are we trying to kid? We aren’t this good.”

Just don’t count on it.

The Jets, you see, have assumed the Maurice mentality. They are street fighters. They are—dare I say it?—truculent. Which is why they win games they have no business winning. It explains how they can skate into the United Center in Chicago and, challenged by the Blackhawks to a bash-and-bang bit of roller derby on ice, they give as good as they get. And win.

In short, the Jets don’t take any crap.

Maurice calls it “teamness” where “everybody takes care of everybody else.”

One, of course, could point to the Daniel Carcillo-Mathieu Perreault crosscheck episode in the Toddlin’ Town on Friday night and suggest it didn’t look that way. That the Jets’ reponse to their hottest hand being harpooned and rendered unavailable by the Chicago pest was less than adequate. That they had lost the plot. This repeat offender should have been drawn and quartered, right? Well, a case could be made that the time wasn’t right to deploy the assault squad. There was a hockey game to be won. The bill collector could perhaps visit Carcillo another time, another place.

The Jets might choose to not seek retribution for Carcillo’s callous act, but on no level would that be in disagreement with the reality that they can be a rather beligerent bunch with gusts up to ornery. We shouldn’t expect that to change as long as Maurice is riding herd.

You are who you are as a team,” says Maurice, his jaw clenched, “and you have to be true to that.”

That’s a tough guy talking…even if he doesn’t look the part.

HITHER & YAWN: I realize he’s a broadcasting legend, a wonderful man and he still has the great chops, but listening to Bob Cole describe a hockey game is painful. It’s anybody’s guess who has the puck. It’s like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in the jar…So, what was this week’s lesson for “all you kids out there” from the resident curmudgeon on Coachless Corner on Saturday night? Just this: Be like Phil Kessel—if you score the most goals, kids, don’t sweat the little details like backchecking. “Kessel…forget it comin’ back,” Don Cherry bleated. “Just score goals. He’s your magic guy with the hands. Forget backchecking. Let him go.”…Is it just me, or does anyone else sometimes forget that Ottawa actually has a team in the NHL?…Mark Hunter, director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, on junior phenom Connor McDavid: “He could play in the National Hockey League right now and get 50, 60 points, I think. That’s how good I think he is.” Not if McDavid played for the Leafs. They only score one goal every four games...So, the Disney Ducks retire Teemu Selanne’s jersey No. 8 in an elaborate ceremony that takes a little more than 90 minutes. The L.A. Kings retire Rob Blake’s No. 4 in a ceremony that takes 35 minutes. The Buffalo Sabres raise Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters in a ceremony that takes less than 20 minutes. At this rate, jersey-retirement ceremonies soon will last about as long as a Hollywood marriage…This from Roberto Luongo, courtesy Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province: “People don’t understand how hard it is to be a goalie in a Canadian market. You have to wear the pressure during the game; then, after the game, you have to answer every question about every goal. ‘How did that one go in? Why did that one goal in?’ And it’s after every game. You can’t escape it.” Somewhere, Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets is nodding in agreement.

THE FAB WHO? Blake Wheeler is my new fave Jet. I like the way he plays, first of all, but when I discovered he can name the Beatles—all four of them—I was sold on the Jets big winger.

The folks at NHL.com have this fun feature called Puck Personalities, you see, and Wheeler was one of 14 players asked to provide the names of the most famous rock band in history. How did they score? Let’s just say this: If they were this bad at hockey, they’d all be playing in beer leagues.

Except Wheeler, who was the sole player of the 14 who rattled off John, Paul, Ringo and George—in that order—while the others…so sad.

Erik Karlsson wondered if “John Something?” was a member of the Beatles. Claude Giroux asked about “McArthur?” and Kyle Okposo figured a lad named “Paul Ringo” was one of the Fab Four. It was left for Henrik Lundqvist to sum up the exercise by saying, “This is awful, by the way.”

Yup, it was.

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.

I’m a Winnipeg Jets junkie again…damn them!

I’ve just returned from a fortnight in detox. Had to get the Winnipeg Jets out of my system. Didn’t read anything about them. Didn’t hear anything about them. Didn’t watch them. Went cold gobbler.

Life was good. Nothing like the purified, invigorating air of shinny sobriety.

Then it happened.

I was sitting in my local watering hole on Friday, trying to remain oblivious to the din of post-work week celebrants as I contemplated the events of the past five years of my life, when one of the regulars approached.

“You’re from Winnipeg, right Patti?” he said.

“You know I am,” I confirmed. “But I’ve already heard all the Winnipeg jokes about mosquitos, winter, spring flooding, slurpees, the murder capital of Canada, the Blue Bombers and especially the Jets. So save your breath.”

“But people aren’t joking about the Jets anymore.”

“Why not? Last time I looked, they were in last place.”

“Not anymore, little lady. They’ve picked up points in seven straight games. They’re only a few points out of first place. They’re winning ugly, but they’re winning.

“What do you mean by winning ugly.”

“They’re doing it without scoring any goals.”

“That’s crazy. You can’t win in the National Hockey League without scoring?”

“The Jets do.”

“What happened? Kevin the Possum (GM Cheveldayoff) finally make a trade for a bonafide NHL goaltender? They get King Henry? Jonathan Quick? Ryan Miller? Dominik Hasek come out of retirement?”

“Nope. Ondrej Pavelec is still the goalie.”

This fellow now officially had my undivided attention. I stopped nibbling on my grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich, put it down and fixed him with a hard look of suspicion. The boys in this bar tend to tease me about all things Pegtown, you see, so I thought perhaps this was another exercise in “Let’s yank Patti’s chain.”

“Don’t do this to me,” I said. “Please, please, please do…not…do…this…to…me. I’m a recovering Jets junkie. I’ve been off them for two weeks. I’m as clean as St. Bernadette’s soul. I no longer suddenly wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering if coach PoMo really had Chris Thorburn playing on the second line or if I was just dreaming. I’m completely off Thorbs and Bogo and Pavs and Big Buff. I’ve been doing my rehab at Habs Nation. It’s a nice place to be. We have group sessions and talk a lot about the playoffs, because they’ve been there. And Stanley Cups, because they’ve won them. They retire jerseys, because they have Hall of Fame players. Lots of them. So don’t tell me the Jets are winning. I don’t want to go back there. I cannot go back there.”

Thus, I had a tough call to make. My choice on Saturday night was Montreal-Minnesota or Winnipeg-Ottawa.

I held the remote in my right hand. My trigger finger twitched like Charlie Sheen when a police cruiser approaches. Channel 13 or channel 23? P.K. Subban and Carey Price or Thorbs and Pavs? Bob Cole or Dave Randorf (my, but what a lovely set of teeth you have). Either way, I knew there would be pain, because I couldn’t avoid P.J. Stock or Curdmudgeon’s Corner (if Don Cherry spent less time whining about not having enough time to say what it is he has to say, he’d have plenty of time to say what it is he has to say), and I also knew that I’d be seeing that pudgy, quasi-annoying A&W guy out on the streets pestering people about the non-use of steroids, hormones or antibiotics in chickens and cows (hey, pal, it’s fast food; it’s not healthy whether you’re feeding the critters caviar or shooting them up like Alex Rodriguez).

At any rate, I’m here to report that addiction won the day over sobriety. I’m hooked on the Jets. Again. I think.

I mean, this was gawdawful hockey. It was borderline unwatchable. If not for Wayne Gretzky surfacing in a pinstriped, mob hit man suit and joining Stromboy in the red chairs during the second intermission, I might have fled back to the serenity of Habs Nation. Seriously. The Jets have morphed into the New Jersey Devils. That isn’t Paul Maurice behind the bench. It’s Jacques Lemaire.

What I saw was a whole lot of same old, same old. Mark Scheifele is still on his knees more than his feet. Thorburn is still losing fights. Dustin Byfuglien is still wandering aimlessly. Zach Bogosian is still fortunate to have Toby Enstrom as an accomplice. Really, the only difference I noted in the Jets, individually, was between the goal posts. Pavelec actually looked good. Really good. Especially in the shootout of this 2-1 victory over the Senators. Imagine that. Ondrej Pavelec, stud goaltender. Who knew? Certainly not me. And he’s the reason the Jets have earned points in eight successive assignments.

So now I need another Jets fix. Damn them!

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.