There are good guys in hockey, there are great guys in hockey, then there are the absolute best guys in hockey.
Alvin Brian McDonald, known to family, friends and on-ice foes as Ab, was among the latter.
If there was a nicer man in the game than Ab, I never met him, and that takes in 30 years worth of time and people on frozen ponds and in puck palaces across our vast nation.
From scrubs on skates to National Hockey League players, Ab had time for everyone, including news snoops who’d call him at home to pick his brain about anything from playing alongside Jean Beliveau to getting the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association off the ground in October 1972.
The return phone call was among the measuring sticks we would use in the rag trade. If they called you back, they were good guys. Ab unfailingly returned calls. Didn’t matter what time of day or night, he’d get back to you. In time for you to make deadline.
Frank McKinnon and Don Baizley were like that. The old goalie, Joe Daley, is too.
Frank and Baiz are gone, and now Abbie is, too. The Jets original captain died at age 82 on Tuesday night, and you know a pall has spread across the hockey community, most notably in Good Ol’ Hometown.
Ab was, in many ways, like the aforementioned Beliveau—a kind, gentle, engaging and obliging man. Respected and admired, he was a proud Winnipegger who left home to play hockey hither and yon but returned to River City each summer. There was a regalness about him, yet, at the same time, he had the carriage and touch of an aw shucks common man.
You’ll find that’s what folks will talk about today when they learn of Ab’s passing.
Oh, sure, they’ll also mention the Stanley Cup rings with the Montreal Canadiens (three) and Chicago Blackhawks (one), the Cup-winning tally against the Detroit Red Wings in 1961, his playing alongside Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram to form one version of the Blackhawks fabled Scooter Line, and scoring the first goal in Jets history in New York (on the same night the youngest of his five children, Kristina, was born). They might also mention that the past two years have not been kind to the Scooters—Wharram passed away in 2017, while Mikita and Ab left us this year.
But there will be one common theme in all reflections—Ab the man.
Daley, in conversation with The Canadian Press, remembered his former teammate as “just a super nice guy who mentored a lot of the young guys, including me.” Ab was “very humble.”
“I’ve had a weepy day today,” Daley added.
Most likely, he wasn’t alone. In fact, I know he wasn’t alone. Abbie was a dear, dear man.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I can’t help but weep when I hear the many victims/survivors of diabolical Larry Nassar tell their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of the predator doctor when they were sweet, innocent little girls with dreams of Olympic Games gymnastics glory.
So it’s damn straight that I gave a fist pump and let loose a mighty “hell ya!” when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina booted Nassar’s sorry ass back to a jail cell on Wednesday, saying, “I just signed your death warrant” as she tacked 40-175 years onto the 60-year sentence the defrocked doctor is already serving on a child pornography conviction.
The lady judge rocks. Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis rocks. Investigative journalists Marisa Kwiatowski, Tim Evans and Mark Alesia at the Indianapolis Star rock. The 156 women who appeared in a Michigan courtroom to confront Nassar with victim-impact statements rock.
And now Nassar can pound rocks. Or whatever it is that sexual predators pound behind bars.
Watching Judge Aquilina sentence formerU.S. Olympic gymnastics/Michigan State University doctor Nassar, I couldn’t help but think the outcomes of the original O.J. Simpson (Judge Ito) and Oscar Pistorius (Judge Thokozile Masipa) murder trials would have been different had she been on the bench. It’s little wonder Judge Aquilina’s nickname while serving in the Michigan Army National Guard was Barricuda. She’s a nasty bit of business, in a good way.
Quick question for those who insist that we keep sports and the real world separate: How is that possible when the real world refuses to stay out of sports? Nassar was the top medic for USA Gymnastics and the MSU women’s gymnastics teams. He sexually abused the girls. Sports, meet real world.
I woke up to a tsunami warning(true story) in the small hours of Tuesday morning, after a 7.9 shaker rocked and rolled offshore of Alaska, and I had visions of my high-and-dry, eighth-floor home in downtown Victoria being swamped and swallowed by the Pacific Ocean. Turns out the ‘quake had all the bite of a Jimmy Fallon monologue. Yup, that tame. There’s more oomph in American beer. So, after review, the tsunami warning was overturned due to goaltender interference. Just like every goal scored in the National Hockey League this week.
Moving on to more pleasant matters, it seems that most times I look up the Winnipeg Jets are winning another game. Who saw that coming? I mean, okay, at the commencement of their current crusade I figured Team Draft & Develop for a wild-card playoff spot. At best. But first place? In the NHL’s toughest division? There was a better chance of the Paid Pinocchio in the White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, dissing her boss Donald Trump for his take on immigration.
Here’s what I wrote re the Jets on Sept. 14: “It appears that the Western Conference road to the Stanley Cup is likely to go through Northern Alberta. If not, it’ll be Southern Alberta, where the Calgary Flames are shaping up to be a force, even as ownership squabbles with politicos and beats the drums about relocation should the city refuse to pony up substantial coin for a new shinny palace. The trouble with the Jets—aside from the people behind the bench—is geography. Until they prove otherwise, they’re still the third best outfit on the Canadian prairies.” D’oh! D’oh! D’oh!
I note that two members of the San Jose Sharks—Tomas Hertl and Justin Braun—have issued an apology for calling Winnipeg a “dark and cold” locale with no smart phones, WiFi or any other 21st-century gadgetry. Apparently, the mea culpa should arrive by Pony Express, carrier pigeon or Western Union telegraph in time for the NHL playoffs.
This just in—Don Cherry doesn’t like Europeans. Who knew? In related news, dogs don’t like cats, Donald Trump doesn’t like the FBI, and Taylor Swift isn’t fond of Kim, Kanye or Katy. Seriously. Grapes needs a new script writer. Once again he’s dredged up his antiquated Cold War-era lament about Euros taking jobs away from homebrews, in this case on the rosters of Major Junior outfits across our vast land. “What happens is, if you look at it, there’s a Canadian kid not playing,” says the resident curmudgeon/blowhard on the Hockey Night in Canada intermission feature Coachless Corner. “You’re asking me, ‘Do I believe in Europeans playing in (the) Canadian Hockey League?’ No. I don’t.” Fine, Grapes, and while we’re at it let’s keep all those French kids in Quebec.
Paul Wiecek offers some interesting thoughts on the NHL misreading the climate of the day by hiring Kid Rock as the intermission act for its all-star frolic this afternoon in Tampa.
The way the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has it figured, the two of them deserve each other because the NHL is whiter than a virgin bride’s wedding gown and Kid Rock’s neck is redder than a rooster’s wattles.
“If the Confederacy had won the U.S. Civil War, America today would look a whole lot like an NHL hockey game,” Wiecek writes. “The NHL is not only the whitest professional sports league in North America—by a mile—it also has the whitest fans of any of this continent’s four major pro sports. Again, by a mile. If you’re anything other than white and heterosexual, you’re every bit as much of a minority sitting in the stands at an NHL game as Dustin Byfuglien is skating out on the ice. Hockey is played by white people, for white people.”
This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle white. I mean, has Wiecek taken a look at press row in Canada (newspaper sports division)? Nothing but white, heterosexual, mostly male faces.
Full marks to the Freep scribe for calling out the NHL on the Kid Rock hire, because the guy has a fondness for the Confederate flag and a history of anti-gay/anti-transgender spewings. But Wiecek’s own business has all the diversity of…well, the white NHL.
Ask Wiecek to name all the black sports writers with whom he’s worked. Ask him to name all the openly gay sports scribes. None and none. Ask him to name all the women. Two. I worked at five different dailies. I recall one non-Caucasian colleague. Just one. In 30 years. I worked with only four females scribes. In 30 years. I worked with zero openly gay sports scribes. In 30 years.
At least the NHL has some African-American players. But blacks and gays can’t even be called a minority in Canadian newspaper sports writing, because they simply don’t exist.
So, signature scrawl is now restricted to kids in Sin City. That’s right, only kids 14 and under are allowed access to Vegas Golden Knights players for autographs at the NHL club’s practice facility, City National Arena. Adults need not apply. Seems it’s a safety measure, because grown-ups were “pushing kids out of the way” and kids were “running into the street.” My question: Why would a grown man want another grown man’s autograph? Except, of course, to profit. In which case, he should get a life.
Yes, kids, you can grow up to look like Box Car Willie after spending a night sleeping on a slow-moving freight train and still become a five-time (do I hear six?) Super Bowl-winning head coach. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots remains the ultimate example of a man not letting success go to his clothes, so the next time a cynic takes a cheap shot at Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward Mike O’Shea for his “goofy shorts,” show him this pic of Belichick, taken scant seconds after his Patriots had won their eighth American Football Conference title on his watch.
Grappling guru Vince McMahon made it official last week, advising us that his aborted and gimmicky XFL from 2001 will reboot in 2020, sans the WWE-scripted shtick and the up-the-skirt cheerleader cams. Vince is going legit—from sleazy to squeaky clean—and he vows to hire only boy scouts (“Even if you have a DUI, you will not play in the XFL.”). He’ll order players to stand during the national anthem. He wants games to be completed in two hours or less. He wants us to “reimagine” football. Okay, I reimagine football in 2020 without Vince McMahon.
McMahon’s no-bad boys statute seemingly rules out Johnny Manziel, the former Cleveland Browns quarterback who likes to brawl in bars when he isn’t beating up women. So let’s see…the National Football League has washed its hands of Manziel and the not-ready-for-prime-time XFL wants no part of him, yet the Canadian Football League is eager to welcome him with open arms. What part of embarrassing does CFL commish Randy Ambrosie not understand? (For the record, if Manziel shows serious interest in the XFL, bet the mortgage money that McMahon will turn a blind eye to his rap sheet.)
For those who insist that there’s no depth in women’s tennis, the past five Grand Slam events have produced five different champions—Serena Williams (Australian Open), Jelena Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), Sloane Stephens (U.S. Open) and Caroline Wozniacki (Aussie Open). Five events, 13 months, five different champions. The men, meanwhile, have produced two different champions in that time frame—Roger Federer (three titles) and Rafael Nadal (two). I suppose an argument can be made that the universe would have unfolded differently for the women had mama Serena not been away having a baby, but that isn’t necessarily so. After all, she won just one Slam in 2016. Might have been the same last year. The point is, there’s intrigue on the women’s side.
Is there anything more cruel in sports than what Simona Halep and Marin Cilic were forced to endure after losing their respective Aussie Open singles championship matches this weekend? She battled Wozniacki for three hours less 11 minutes, he 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer for three hours and three minutes. Then, after being vanquished, they likely just wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Alas, they were required to loiter on court for the parting-gifts ceremony and boring speeches that seemingly droned on longer than the matches…then make a speech and smile…then listen to the victor’s speech and smile…then pose for photos and smile. Half an hour later, they were permitted to depart and lick their wounds (which, in Halep’s case, meant a retreat to the hospital for IV treatment). Like I said, cruel.
This week’s notable quotable: Before meeting his Waterloo vs. Marin Cilic, Rafael Nadal was rocking the sleeveless look at the Aussie Open. The guy’s got guns. Serious guns. Which did not escape the notice of commentator Jim Courier, who, during a courtside gab session about Rafa’s fashion statement, asked Swiss maestro Federer if he’d be following Nadal’s lead and show us his pipes. “That’s not gonna happen,” a laughing Federer said, glancing quickly at his chicken arms. “You know why? My arms are not like his arms. It’s pretty simple.”
This week’s Stevie-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna, taking a cheap shot at the XFL: “Did anybody out there ask for another football league? Anyone?” I have a better question, Stevie: Does anybody in the Republic of Tranna know they have a professional football team? Anyone?