About the Winnipeg Jets at the halfway mark…Acts II and III of the NHL season…Chevy’s next move…trading Puck Finn for Matthew Tkachuk…the awfulness of Twitter and NFL replays…’oddly compelling’…Yahoo searches…and sharing oxygen with the giants

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if NFL replay guys don’t know a catch from a fumble or where to place the football, how are we supposed to know?

These Winnipeg Jets are an interesting study.

They have arrived at the midway mark of their regular-season crusade where many of us figured them to be—atop the Western Conference table—but they seem to be something of a tease.

Clearly among the National Hockey League elite, they go about their business in a very workmanlike manner, determined and purposeful, yet it’s as if they’re holding something in reserve, offering only hints of what might be.

They have strut, but they fall noticeably short of cock-of-the-walk arrogance, which is a good thing. It’s as if they know they’re damn good, but they also seem to know they aren’t damn near good enough.

Perhaps that’s the lesson learned from their dizzying ascent and subsequent comeuppance in last spring’s Stanley Cup runoff, when they were found to be a brick or two short of a load and eventually bowed to the upstarts from Las Vegas in the tournament semifinals.

Let’s face it, the NHL season is a three-part play: Act I is October-November-December hockey, Act II is January-February-March hockey, Act III is the beast known as the playoffs. You can get by with good in Act I. You need to up your game in Act II. Only great is acceptable in Act III.

And lest there be any doubt, it has become all about Act III for Winnipeg HC, not the regular season.

Puck Finn

Given that our hockey heroes have stared into the maw of the playoff beast, it follows that they surely recognize what lies in front of them will be contested at a higher in-your-face intensity. The grit quotient required to achieve the most favorable playoff seeding is amped up. It takes Blake Wheeler kind of grit. Does Winnipeg HC have enough of it? Well, every time I see Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine floating aimlessly about the freeze, I think not. Then I see Mathieu Perreault busting his hump along the wall and I think, “Ya, man, that’s how it’s done. Puck Finn take note.” Never thought I’d say it, but les Jets need more Perreault and less Puck Finn.

Chevy

Forty-one games in, I harbor the same concerns that I had in early October—centre ice and defence. I didn’t expect general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to tinker with his roster pre-Christmas, but, as I wrote before they dropped the puck, he’ll have to do something before crunch time. I don’t think this Jets outfit is as good as the group that bowed out vs. the Vegas Golden Knights last spring. Mind you, at least one pundit begs to differ. “I think it is. (They’re) very much as good as last year,” says TSN talking head Mike Johnson. Except he then mentions the need for an upgrade at—you guessed it—centre ice. “Ideally” Bryan Little would be on the third line and Chevy would go out and grab someone to slide into the No. 2 slot. “That’s the one spot the Jets might want to try and address,” Johnson suggests. So if I’m hearing him correctly, Johnson figures les Jets are as good as before, except they aren’t. Sure. And Milan Lucic is the same beast he was in 2011, except he isn’t.

Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele

Hightlight of les Jets’ first 41 skirmishes for me? Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. They just keep getting it done. And, unlike a lot of folks, I’m not convinced that Scheifele is the most valuable player on the Jets. I still say it’s Wheeler.

Question to ask yourself, Part I: Would you trade les Jets roster even up for the Golden Knights roster? I wouldn’t either, so why did Vegas get to the Stanley Cup final last spring and why does it have more wins and points than Winnipeg HC today (after a horrendous start to the season)? Could the reason be found behind the bench? Just asking.

Matthew Tkachuk

Question to ask yourself, Part II: Would you trade Laine even up for Matthew Tkachuk? I think I might. All that glitters with Puck Finn is goals. The rest of his game? Meh to disastrous. Tkachuk, on the other hand, brings a more complete package, including serious snark. Just turned 21, he’s already an assistant captain with the Calgary Flames, and I don’t think Keith’s kid takes a shift off, let alone a month. He has the kind of jam you need in the post-season, and his 49 points tower over Puck Finn’s 32. Nobody’s saying Chevy coughed up a hairball in choosing Puck Finn second overall in the 2016 NHL auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers, but, based on career growth to date, Tkachuk might have been the better choice. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.

Latest sign that the world has gone stark-raving mad: Cody Parkey flubs a field goal attempt that eliminates the Chicago Bears from the National Football League playoffs, and he receives death threats on Twitter. That’s some kind of scary stuff.

I’m a big fan of replay in sports. I’m not a big fan of replay officials. I mean, some of the decision-making in Sunday’s NFL wild-card skirmishing was as ridiculous as the gown Lady Gaga wore to the Golden Globe Awards gala. (Seriously. The train on that thing was longer than most of the passes Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson tossed.)

Kawhi Leonard

This from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “After only four months in the country, Kawhi Leonard has become the most oddly compelling athlete in the country.” I really wish sports scribes working in the Republic of Tranna would stop telling those of us who live in the colonies what we’re thinking. It’s rude and offensive. I read all of Canada’s major dailies, and I don’t see any of our flowers of jock journalism (outside The ROT) writing about Leonard or the Raptors. Leonard and the Tranna Raptors are not a topic of conversation where I live. Of the athletes most searched on Yahoo! Canada in 2018, Leonard is nowhere to be found. Genie Bouchard is there. Brooke Henderson is there. Erik Karlsson is there. But not Kawhi Leonard. Among the top 10 sports searches, the Raptors fell into the seventh slot, behind soccer’s World Cup, the Tranna Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Leonard and the Raptors are a “thing” in The ROT. Nowhere else.

Genie Bouchard

If we do have a most “oddly compelling” athlete, it has to be tennis diva Bouchard. I mean, aside from flashing a great amount of flesh in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, she did nothing of note in 2018. She’s short on charisma and seemingly long on sourpuss-ism. So how is it that she was the second most-searched athlete on Yahoo! Canada, behind only Tiger Woods? I guess it’s not how many tennis matches you win that counts, it’s how many pieces of clothing you remove. Here are the Yahoo! Canada search lists for ’18:

Overall
Donald Trump
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Justin Trudeau
Meghan Markle
The Canadian dollar
Doug Ford
Melania Trump
World Cup
Winnipeg Jets

Athletes
Tiger Woods
Eugenie Bouchard
Serena Williams
LeBron James
Cristiano Ronaldo
Brooke Henderson
Erik Karlsson
Conor McGregor
Ronda Rousey
Roger Federer

Sports
Word Cup
Tranna Blue Jays
Tranna Maple Leafs
Winnipeg Jets
Edmonton Oilers
Montreal Canadiens
Tranna Raptors
Vancouver Canucks
Australian Open
U.S. Open (tennis)

matty
Matty

And, finally, as a follow-up to comments I made Sunday about old friend Paul Friesen’s superb, thoughtful and touching piece on legendary broadcaster Bob Picken in the Winnipeg Sun, I must mention how fortunate and blessed I was to have worked with, and against, some of the men from what Paul F. described as the “golden age” of sports media in Good Ol’ Hometown. It was a treat and privilege to rub shoulders with Pick, Jack Matheson, Don Wittman, John Robertson, Hal Sigurdson, Jack Wells, Don Wittman et al. I certainly didn’t belong in their class, but it was kind of them to share the classroom with me.

Man oh man, the Sexism Police are having a field day with the Rio Olympics

If it’s true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is equally accurate to suggest sexism is in the ear of the beholder.

And, oh boy, do the Sexism Police monitoring the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro ever have good hearing. And eyesight. They’re listening to and viewing the Five Ring Circus with ears and eyes wide open, convinced that there’s a sexist bogeyman lurking in every sound bite and turn of phrase. Why, if you listen and read closely enough, they’ll have you believing that there’s as much raw sewage and garbage spewing out of the broadcast booth and press box as there is into Guanabara Bay.

Katinka Hosszu: Her husband made her do it.
Katinka Hosszu: Her husband made her do it.

I mean, I’ve probably read two dozen articles accusing the media of sexist reporting. It’s to the point where I’m thinking that Slip of the Tongue and Dangling Participles might be new Olympic sports.

If so, we can present the gold medal to Dan Hicks right now, because the NBC gab guy had the bad manners to credit Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s world-record performance in the 400-meter individual medley to her coach/hubby, American Shane Tusup, who is “the guy responsible for turning his wife into a whole different swimmer.”

Joining Hicks on an increasingly crowded podium would be a couple of his colleagues at the Peacock Network—NBC’s chief marketing officer John Miller and talking head Jim Watson—as well as Hannah Parry of the Daily Mail in the U.K. and a twit of a tweeter at the Chicago Tribune.

But are we dealing with sexism or thin skin here? Let’s take a sober second look at a handful of the alleged sexism cases.

Dan Hicks: At first blush, yes, his comment sounds horribly sexist. A case, however, could be made that Hicks’s timing and news evaluation, if anything, were wonky.

Verdict: Did Hicks make the coach the story because Tusup is a he and Hosszu is a she? I doubt it. Clearly, in the immediate aftermath of her accomplishment, the focus ought to have been squarely on the Hungarian Hosszu. She was the lead story and deserved to be lavished in praise. Tusup should have been assigned as an afterthought. A sidebar, if you will. Hicks is guilty of a colossal gaffe in editorial judgment. He got it bass ackwards.

U.S. women's gymnastics team: Let's all celebrate at the mall, girls.
U.S. women’s gymnastics team: Let’s all celebrate at the mall, girls.

John Miller: The NBC marketing poohbah reacted to criticism of the network’s delayed coverage by saying, “The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

Verdict: Guilty. Must-see TV coming to NBC next season—Real Housewives of Rio. No matter how you slice and dice Miller’s remarks, he’s guilty of sexist tripe of the highest order.

Jim Watson: The United States women’s gymnastics team wowed ’em in the qualifying round and, upon observing them smiling, giggling and glowing on the heels of their performance, Watson said the women “might as well be standing in the middle of a mall.” Yes, Jim, nothing delights a woman more than hanging out with all her mall-rat friends while the menfolk are off doing the heavy lifting in life.

Verdict: Guilty of sexism, as charged. Watson is sentenced to an entire afternoon of traipsing behind his wife (girlfriend?) while she travels from shoe store to shoe store to shoe store with all her mall-rat besties. And, of course, while the ladies are inside slipping in and out of pricey pumps, he must stand outside holding his wife’s purse. Then pick up the tab.

Katie Ledecky: Man oh man, what a swimmer.
Katie Ledecky: Man oh man, what a swimmer.

Hannah Parry: Can a female reporter make sexist comments about female athletes? Well, I know gay people who are homophobic and transphobic. So sure. But is it sexist for Parry to write that American swimmer Katie Ledecky is being “touted as the female Michael Phelps?” By way of comparison, consider Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair, long regarded as the best female footballer on the planet. If I were to write “Christine Sinclair is the female Lionel Messi” am I guilty of sexism? Must I write, “Christine Sinclair is to women’s soccer what Lionel Messi is to men’s soccer?” I’m saying the same thing, only using a different turn of phrase.

Verdict: Not guilty. Parry did not betray the sisterhood. She is comparing Ledecky favorably to the greatest swimmer of all time, which is not faint praise. It is, in fact, the highest manner of praise.

Chicago Tribune: After U.S. trap shooter Corey Cogdell-Unrein reached the podium, someone at the Trib posted this Twitter tease: “Wife of a Bears’ lineman wins a bronze medal today in Rio Olympics.” Yikes. That old “wife of” thing just doesn’t cut it. Not even when the husband plays for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League.

Verdict: Guilty on the lesser charge of making a woefully lame attempt at localizing an international story. I mean, if Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States and the Trib tweets, “Wife of former President wins White House” I’ll scream “Sexism!” In this case, though, trivializing Cogdell-Unrein’s achievement by linking her to her hubby is more an example of pathetic news judgment than it is sexist.

In summation, your honor, yes sexism has reared its ugly head at Rio, some of it outrageous and some of it exaggerated. And it’s a lot like the garbage in Guanabara Bay—there’s probably more to come.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.