About the WHA Jets vs. les Canadiens…B. Hull still ragging on Fergy…remember Benny and the Jets…a roster of rejects isn’t fair?…newspaper wars…meet the new Leafs GM, Harry Potter…Kypreos has ‘no idea’…Daren Millard and a smarmy guy on Hockey Central…Evander Kane’s wish list…dirty, rotten Darian Durant…fashionista Phil…boxing’s jail break…the greatest cheater…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…

The boys are back in town, so let’s settle this Habs-Jets thing once and for all.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

Let me begin by saying that I stand second to few people in admiration for the Winnipeg Jets, circa Hedberg-Nilsson-Sjoberg-Hull-et al. They played hybrid hockey. Canadian grit met Scandinavian swirl to form a swashbuckling brand of shinny not seen on this side of the great waters until the two cultures dovetailed in the mid-to-late 1970s.

If we are to believe Slats Sather, those Jets provided the blueprint for his rollicking Edmonton Oilers outfits that ruled the frozen ponds of the National Hockey League a decade later.

So, ya, the Jets were good. Good enough to give the mighty Soviet Union national side a 5-3 paddywhacking one January night in 1978.

But…were they Montreal Canadiens good? That is, how might the World Hockey Association’s signature team have measured up against the Habs juggernaut that featured a Hockey Hall of Fame head coach and nine HHOF players who produced Stanley Cup parades in four successive springs, 1976-79? Well, let’s ask three people who ought to know—Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.

Peter Young, Ulf Nilsson, Kathy Kennedy, Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Sod Keilback.

The three members of the legendary Hot Line were in Good, Ol’ Hometown this weekend for a gathering of the players who conspired to win the club’s second WHA title 40 years ago this month, and Kathy Kennedy summoned them to her CJOB studio for a gab session. Also sitting in for the 40-minute chin-wag were veteran broadcasters Peter Young and Sod Keilback, who steered the chatter in the direction of les Canadiens.

Keiback: “Would you have beaten the Montreal Canadiens?”

Hull: “No, but it would have been a great game.”

Keilback: “I want to ask this to Ulf, because Friar Nicolson told me the most honest man he ever met in his life—the guy couldn’t lie—was Ulf Nilsson. Ulf, would you have been able to win the Stanley Cup with the WHA Jets?”

Nilsson: “No, I don’t think so. I agree with both Bobby and Anders. We were short maybe a few defencemen. Goaltending was good, though, and I think we had enough good forwards, but defence, we could have used one or two more.”

Hedberg: “We could have reached the final, no question.”

So, there you have it. While hundreds (thousands?) of locals to this day remain convinced the Jets could have given the Habs a wedgie, three of the WHA club’s four most influential players (defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg was the fourth) insist it’s a notion built on fantasy.

It would have been a boffo series, though.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson in the good, ol’ days.

Former Jets general manager John Ferguson has been bones in the ground since 2007, but Hull won’t let his feud with Fergy go to the grave. Proudly talking about the open-door policy the Jets had with fans during the WHA days, Hull said this during the ‘OB gabfest: “They wanted me to take over the team, and they brought in a guy by the name of Ferguson and Tommy McVie, and that was all the goodwill we’d built up in all those years from 1972 to 1979 or ’80, or whenever it was that they joined with the NHL, went out the window. Doors were closed, there was rippin’ and cursin’ and kickin’ buckets and throwin’ oranges.” When host Kathy Kennedy relayed a story about an angry Fergy once kicking a hole through the Jets’ dressing room door, Hull said, “He not only had the foot in the door lots of times, he had that size 13 in his mouth.”

Ben Hatskin

As the present-day Jets continue their Stanley Cup crusade vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, give a thought to the WHA Jets, because they’re the reason what’s happening today is happening today. Had original owner Ben Hatskin folded his tent, the NHL wouldn’t have given River City a second glance. Edmonton and Ottawa probably wouldn’t have franchises either.

Interesting take from Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun on the Jets-Golden Knights skirmish for bragging rights in the NHL Western Conference. “I get that Vegas being good is beneficial for the league, but it still doesn’t seem fair that an expansion team can come in and contend for a Stanley Cup right away.” Fair? You tell me what’s fair. I mean, the Golden Knights entered the fray last October with a roster of rejects. Nobody thought it was unfair back then. So now that same roster of rejects is eight wins from hoisting the holy grail in Glitter Gulch and it isn’t fair? As if.

It occurs to me that it isn’t just the clubs competing in the NHL’s annual spring runoff. It’s also the daily rags. And, two series and one game deep into the playoffs, I’d say the Sun has opened a big, ol’ can of whupass on the Winnipeg Free Press. The tabloid troika of Wyman, Paul Friesen and Ken Wiebe have been cranking out the good stuff daily since the puck dropped on the Jets-Minnesota Wild series. Over at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, Jason Bell and Mike Sawatzky are doing boffo business, but it doesn’t help that the Freep’s Sunday edition is an after-thought and the sports columnist seems to be MIA every second day.

kyle dubas3
Harry Potter lookalike Kyle Dubas

I turned on the TV the other day to watch the coronation of Kyle Dubas as GM of the Tranna Maple Leafs and they introduced Harry Potter instead. Seriously. If Dubas isn’t Harry Potter, he’s Harry’s big brother. The question now is this: Can he do anything about the boggarts on the Leafs blueline?

Nick Kypreos has come clean about running off at the mouth. Sort of. If you’ll recall, our man Kipper implied that Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and his star player, Auston Matthews, have been giving each other the ol’ stink eye. “Babcock lost Matthews. There was no trust anymore. For whatever reason, Babcock lost Matthews,” he said after les Leafs had bowed out of the Stanley Cup tournament. Kipper offered zero evidence to support his suggestion of a spat. And now? “It is based purely on my instincts following a 12-year professional career,” the Sportsnet and Hockey Night in Canada gab guy tells us. “It is nothing more, nothing less. To my knowledge, there is no major rift between Babcock and Matthews. There is no conspiracy, but trust me, it isn’t fake news either. I have no idea how Matthews feels about his coach.” I think that last sentence sums it up: Kypreos has no idea.

Daren Millard

Loved the chatter between Daren Millard and “smarmy” Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon last Wednesday, when they engaged in a to-and-fro about ice time for elite NHL performers.

Cox: “Good teams don’t give their best players 23 minutes. Or, if they do it’s very rare. Or they’re coached by John Tortorella.”

Millard: “Barkov plays…Sasha Barkov plays 23 minutes.”

Cox: “Oh, Connor McDavid plays more than 22 minutes and they’re horrible. So, that’s what you want? The idea is to have a well-balanced team. Now…”

Millard: “You’re so smarmy sometimes.”

Cox: “Why is that smarmy?”

Millard: “You just…you are. You’re just…”

Cox: “I was giving you an example.”

Millard: “It’s the way you say it. ‘No, they’re terrible. Is that what you want?‘”

Cox: “That is not smarmy. You can say it’s overcritical, but it’s not smarmy.”

Well, let’s see. Smarmy is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Of low sleazy taste or quality; revealing or marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.” The urban dictionary describes smarmy as: “A certain attitude often accompanied by a squinty look and a superior smile that makes you instantly hate a person.” It’s settled then: Millard is correct—Cox is smarmy.

Evander Kane

Old friend Evander Kane, soon eligible for free agency, has revealed his needs-and-wants list for re-signing with the San Jose Sharks or moving to another NHL club: “Common sense tells you there are three priorities that you look for as a player: money, chance to win and lifestyle. Those are the three priorities and it just depends on how you rank them.” In Kane’s case, considerations of lifestyle would have to include proximity to Las Vegas, a private jet and, of course, comfy jail cells. Okay, okay. That was a cheap shop. I mean, it’s been at least a year since cops have had to slap the handcuffs on Kane in public. Shame on me.

Quote of the week comes from the Boston Licker, Brad Marchand, whose filthy habit of licking opposition players commandeered much of the chatter during Round 2 of Stanley Cup skirmishing: “I have to cut that shit out,” he said. Ya think? What was your first clue, Inspector Clouseau?

Darian Durant

I’d like to feel sorry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers today. I really would. I mean, they got stiffed. That dirty, no-good, rotten scoundrel and noted green guy Darian Durant took their money and ran. Paid him $70,000 and he flat out quit. Didn’t even have the good manners to bid a polite adieu. And now the Canadian Football League club is left without its security blanket for starting quarterback Matt Nichols, a week before the large lads in pads gather to grab grass and growl at their 2018 training sessions. Well, here’s a thought: Stop relying on other outfits to do your dirty work. That is, find and develop your own damn QBs instead of this decades-long dependency on others’ retreads. I think Dieter Brock was the last in-house starter of note, and the Bombers haven’t groomed a backup who could toss a spiral since Hal Ledyard rode shotgun for Kenny Ploen.

Having said that, Durant’s departure was totally lame. Really bad form. You want to quit, fine, quit. That’s cool. Get on with your life. But, good gawd, have the gonads to tell the people who invested $70,000 in you. Pick up a phone and call them. Don’t let them find out on social media.

Phil Mickelson

Meet Phil Mickelson, fashionista. Who knew? If you missed it, the normally frumpy and flabby Phil has taken to wearing button-up dress shirts on the golf course, complete with starched collars and cuffs. What, no cufflinks, Lefty? No ascot? Not sure if Lefty is caught in a middle-age crisis, but this is a good look like Hair In A Can was a good idea. It’s Giorgio Armani bogies the back nine.

The good news is, Drake has been eliminated from the National Basketball Association playoffs. The bad news is, jock journos in the Republic of Tranna will have to scramble to find another groupie to fawn over. Are there any rapper/hip-hop stars who like the Blue Jays? If not, I’m sure they’ll settle for a B-list celeb like Dave Foley or Steven Page.

Boxing is on the menu in The ROT next Saturday, with champion Adonis Stevenson defending his WBC light-heavyweight title against Badou Jack. It’s quite the seedy main event: Stevenson has spent time behind bars for pimping out women; Jack is known as The Ripper, an obvious reference to Jack the Ripper, serial killer of prostitutes; and the challenger is among the stable of boxers promoted by Floyd Mayweather Jr., himself a convicted woman-beater. That’s not a sports event, it’s a jail break. And yet people will part with their money to watch. Go figure.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 1): “The greatest Toronto athletes in my time: Donovan Bailey, Ben Johnson. @De6rasse has a chance to surpass both.” Can you say hypocrite, kids? I mean, Simmons sits on a horse named Morality and refuses to vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in Baseball Hall of Fame balloting because they flunked his smell test. That is, they stuck needles in their butts. They cheated. Yet he lists this country’s most-disgraced cheater, druggie Ben Johnson, as one of the two greatest Tranna athletes during his 61 years drawing oxygen. A freaking cheat! Can you say zero credibility, kids? Zero!

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 2): “The Leafs can’t beat Boston three straight. Probably no team in hockey can.” Tell that to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just beat the Bruins four straight.

This week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna (Volume 3): “It’s entirely possible that all four conference finalists in the NHL will be teams that have never won the Stanley Cup before.” No, it was not possible. Tampa and Boston, who met in the eastern semifinal, have both won the Stanley Cup. Simmons explained his gaffe by saying he was soooooo “tired,” then deleted the tweet.

 

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Saskatchewan Roughriders: Hey, spit happens, so let’s not lose our heads here (except maybe Gainer)

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

Duron Carter: Spit happens.

Duron Carter is spittin’ mad. Gainer the Gopher is losing his head. Rod Pedersen wants to call the cops. And Doug Brown is so PO’d that he almost forgot his thesaurus at home.

Where to begin?

Well, let’s start with Carter, a Canadian Football League pass-catching marvel whose strings are sometimes pulled a tad too tight and apt to snap at any second. Seems Chris Carter’s lad was engaged in some post-joust schmoozing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders faithful on Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field in Regina, scant seconds after Gang Green had rag-dolled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, 38-24, when out of the blue (and gold) someone launched a loogie.

Splat!

A trash ass Bombers fan spit on me…worst fans in the league…can’t wait to kick y’all ass again!” griped Carter, who describes himself on his Twitter account as an “expert level troll.”

Thus, he continued trolling.

Gainer: Going out of his head.

The worst part about it, he definitely didn’t brush his teeth in about 20 years!!!” Carter ranted. “Who knows what creepy crawlers were hiding in there!!! The old me would have dragged him to the 50 yard line and gave him a beating like his parents failed to do in 1955.”

Whew. That’s a lot to absorb.

First of all, we know Carter must be some kind of ticked off because he used seven exclamation points!!!!!!! That’s a serious mad-on!!!!!!! Second, while some accuse the Riders wideout of fabricating the spitting story, I believe him. Yup, I’m convinced that a Bombers loyalist did, indeed, unload a loogie on Carter because he said the guy hadn’t brushed his “teeth” in 20 years. Had it been a Riders fan, he would have said the guy hadn’t brushed his “tooth” in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Gang Green play-by-play squawker Rod Pedersen, in a classic case of over-the-top hyperbole, went all drama queen in rallying to Carter’s side in Gobgate.

I think spitting on anyone is the most heinous act that anybody can commit, in sports or in society,” Pedersen spat.

Well, yes. There’s something sinful in saliva if used as a weapon. Still, it’s a most curious bit of logic from Pedersen. I mean, most of us in the rest of the country would place crimes like rape, murder, pedophilia and human trafficking higher on the heinous metre than unleashing a loogie. Must be a Saskatchewan thing.

Pederson also lashed out at a Bomber-ite who, in a shocking display of bad manners from a house guest, attempted to yank the head off the Riders prairie dog mascot, Gainer the Gopher. Gab guy Rod described the incident as a “disturbing act of violence” and, when asked if the long arm of the law ought to reach out and charge the cad with assault, he replied, “absolutely.”

Which brings us to Doug Brown, a former Bombers defensive lineman who sits in the CJOB booth during broadcasts and also scribbles a weekly column for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Chris Jones: A cheater, cheater pumpkin eater?

Brown wants you all to know that Chris Jones is a dirty, rotten scoundrel. A cheater, cheater pumpkin-eater. How so? Well, the Riders head coach apparently has a defensive front four that includes Ronaldo, Neymar, Arjen Robben and Luis Suarez, lads notorious for pulling up lame or slipping into their death throes whenever inconvenienced on the soccer pitch. Same thing with the Riders. The moment the Bombers choose to shift into their no-huddle offence, down goes a Gang Green D-man. Gut shot. And laughing.

These clearly are faux fallen foes and Brown describes the tactic as “a B.S. manoeuvre.” Jones has arrived at an “all-time low in coaching malfeasance.” Yes, he actually used the word malfeasance. No sports scribe I know uses the word malfeasance. Ever. Most would write about wrong-doing or hanky-panky or coaching chicanery, but not our Doug. He has a thesaurus.

What does it all add up to? Hey, spit happens. Which ought to make for an interesting week in advance of the Banjo Bowl on Saturday afternoon at Formerly Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, where the Bombers and Riders will do it all over again.

I thought it was awful sporting of game officials and the CFL command centre to basically hand the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, now 1-8, their first win of the season on Monday at Timbits Field. Three absolutely atrocious calls late in the fourth quarter—a fumble that was ruled an incomplete pass; a 15-yard no-yards penalty that never should have drawn a flag; and a pass ruled complete when the ball obviously bounced to Luke Tasker—all went in favor of the Tabbies, who topped the Toronto Argonauts, 24-22, in a dreadful match delayed two hours and eight minutes due to a thunder-and-lightning storm. And we won’t even mention the fact that timekeepers twice were instructed to add time on the clock because they allowed it to run after play had stopped. This was one for the conspiracy theorists.

Say, who was that guy delivering pizza to the press box during the storm stoppage at Timbits? Why, it was CFL commish Randy Ambrosie. Nice touch. Not that sports scribes need an extra injection of pasta and carbs, but still a nice touch.

Well, Jay and Dan made their much-anticipated return to late-night Sports Centre on TSN shortly after the football game. My take: New set, same old silliness. But it works for them and their faithful. Meanwhile, The Reporters with Dave Hodge returns to TSN’s air on Sunday, and I’m assuming the usual suspects—Bruce Arthur, Michael Farber and Steve Simmons—will join Hodge to sit at a table and agree with each other. Just wondering: If those four guys were The Beatles, which one would be Ringo? I’d have to say Simmons.

The Beatles

Which brings me to today’s top five—my five favorite Beatles tunes…
1. A Day In the Life: Totally brilliant.
2. I Am the Walrus: An astonishing psychedelic journey of incredible lyrical imagery. There’s “yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye” and a naughty girl who “let her knickers down” and “man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe.”
3. Hey Bulldog: George and Paul get after it on the guitar.
4. Rocky Raccoon: Her name was Magill and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy.
5. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number): Way, way out there. The lads are having us on.

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

Bob Irving: As great as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is as a play-by-play man, he’s even a better person

Knuckles Irving

I’ve often wondered how, and why, Bob Irving has kept trucking along.

I mean, the man we know affectionately as Knuckles has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ main storyteller since 1974. It’s easy to do the math. That’s 43 years ago. Numbers, however, don’t provide perspective on his time describing the goings-on of the Canadian Football League outfit.

For perspective, try this: The year Knuckles began blah, blah, blahing about the Bombers on CJOB…

  • Mike Riley’s pop, Bud, was head coach and Dieter Brock was a rookie backup quarterback we knew as Ralph.
  • The Winnipeg Tribune was a vibrant alternative to the Winnipeg Free Press.
  • Richard Milhouse Nixon was still in the White House, although RMH left the building in August and our American friends said hello to President Gerald Ford.
  • Trudeau the 1st was Prime Minister of Canada, Ed Schreyer was Premier of Manitoba, and Steve Juba was Mayor of all the people in Winnipeg.
  • One-time teenage heartthrob Paul Anka released the regrettable (You’re) Having My Baby, but the top song in Canada was Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks.
  • The top-selling album worldwide was Band on the Run by breakaway Beatle Paul McCartney and Wings.
  • Archie Bunker was the No. 1 bigot on TV, with he, Edith, Gloria and Meathead ruling the ratings on All in the Family.
  • Mikhail Baryshnikov defected from the Soviet Union.
  • Muhammad Ali played Rope-a-Dope, then KO’d George Foreman to reclaim the heavyweight boxing championship in the Rumble In The Jungle.
  • The RCMP swore in its first female police officers.
  • A Big Mac cost .65, a loaf of bread .28, a car $3,500, and minimum wage in Manitoba was $2.15.

So, ya, Knuckles has been around some. Squints use carbon dating to determine his age. But that doesn’t mean he’s passed his best-before date. His voice is still as smooth as Tennessee whiskey, his delivery as descriptive as a Steinbeck novel, his integrity unassailable.

That will be absent from the ‘OB broadcast on Friday night in Vancouver, when the Bombers pay a visit to B.C. Place for a skirmish with the Lions. Knuckles has retreated to the repair shop to permit medics to tinker with his ticker and, while there’s little doubt the capable Kelly Moore will perform admirably in his stead, Knuckles is one of those guys you fill in for but cannot replace.

If there is a Vin Scully of the CFL, it’s Knuckles Irving, who’s actually a nicer guy than he is a play-by-play broadcaster.

The sports media, on both the print and electronic side, can be an open range for galloping egos and a misguided sense of significance, but it is largely the province of genuinely good, honest women and men who recognize they’re working in the toy department and, thus, acknowledge that they’ve got a great gig.

I don’t think Knuckles has ever lost sight of that. He’s a humble, earthy man with a killer wit that often keeps the sidelines at Bombers practices at full guffaw. He takes his job seriously but not himself. His passion for his work, the Bombers and the CFL is unparalleled, and I suppose that’s what keeps him trucking after all these years.

No telling how long Knuckles will continue to blah, blah, blah about the Bombers, but his career is kind of like his forehead—it never seems to end.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

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

Goal or coal: Sports Santa has stocking stuffers for jocks and Jills

Okay, Sports Santa, time to do your thing. You know the drill. Make your list, check it twice, tell us who’s been nice, naughty and flat-out nasty this year.

What will it be, goodies or a lump of coal or two in those Christmas stockings?

naughty santaCOAL: Kyle Walters, because he lied. The man who generally mismanages the Winnipeg Blue Bombers insisted that the signing of University of Manitoba Bisons grad Jordan Yantz to a tryout contract was not—repeat, NOT— a publicity stunt.

“He’s a legitimate quarterback prospect,” Walters told news scavengers. “Jordan is going to come in and compete for a spot on our roster at quarterback. We feel he has shown all the tools needed to play this position at the professional level, and we look forward to watching him compete in camp. This isn’t a charity case.”

Liar, liar. His pants were a three-alarm fire.

Yantz had about as much chance of earning employment with the Canadian Football League club as Walters has of being appointed GM of the Dallas Cowboys. He was given less than a handful of reps at practice and, although dressing for one preseason exercise, head coach Mike O’Shea refused to send him into the fray to take a snap.

COAL: That’ll be three lumps of the black stuff for O’Shea. Actually, make it an entire coal bin. First for gagging his assistant coaches, who are not allowed to speak to news scavengers; second for refusing to deliver an honest evaluation of his players and/or their performance without first having an opportunity to “watch the film;” and third for his role in the Jordan Yantz sham.

Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.
Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen.

GOAL: Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Dawn McEwen, champions of all the land’s lady curlers. The Buffalo Girls won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, no small feat, and how they were overlooked as a team-of-the-year finalist in balloting by the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association is a mystery. Apparently, their continued success in Canadian and Olympic curling has become ho-hum. Shame, that.

GOAL: The Montreal Alouettes, for having the junk to sign Michael Sam, who became the first openly gay man to perform in the CFL.

COAL: Michael Sam. What a wasted opportunity. Rather than make a strong statement for LGBT athletes, he bugged out on the Alouettes not once, but twice. He played one game at rush end, recorded zero sacks and zero tackles, was made to look the fool on one play, then skipped town and, once back in the U.S., he prattled on about the CFL being beneath his talent level.

COAL: Steve Simmons, scant days after the debut of Sam, an openly gay man playing for the Alouettes, the Toronto Sun scribe, whose work oft appears in the Winnipeg Sun, wrote: “In reality, pro football still awaits its first openly gay player.” Apparently, Little Stevie Blunder is much like that tree falling in the forest…it doesn’t happen unless he’s there to see and hear it.

GOAL: Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Winnipeg Jets general manager who proved he actually has a pulse by arranging for Evander Kane’s ticket out of River City. Unloading the underachieving, injury-prone problem child was a master stroke, especially given that Kane was done for the season. We don’t see a whole lot of big trades in the National Hockey League, and many of us didn’t think Chevy had it in him. We were wrong. Unfortunately, he went back into hibernation and hasn’t been seen nor heard from since. Sort of like that tree falling in the forest.

COAL: Cheveldayoff for allowing the very useful Michael Frolik to skate off to Calgary. For zip. Nada. If he does the same with Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, say goodnight, Chevy.

COAL: To every professional athlete who hit a woman this year.

Chris Thorburn
Chris Thorburn

GOAL: Chris Thorburn, the much-maligned man who continues to do everything asked of him by the Jets and is now the franchise leader in games played. Too often he is a fourth-liner dressed up as a third-line forward (with gusts up to the first line when head coach Paul Maurice loses his mind) and his very existence on the roster speaks to a disturbing lack of depth, but I admire his stick-to-itness.

GOAL: Bryan Little of the Jets for his understated excellence. No, he wouldn’t be the No. 1 centre on every NHL outfit, but he can play on my team anytime.

COAL: Gary (La La) Lawless, late of the Winnipeg Free Press and now a talking head with TSN. Give him the entire coal bin. While still the loudest voice at the Freep, he sucked up to Blue Bombers management by repeatedly telling readers that it takes more than 1 1/2 or two years to rebuild a broken-down CFL franchise. Hello? Can you say Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa RedBlacks, Gary? La La also asked the dumbest question of the year, when he wondered aloud if Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea was going to “give up,” even though his club was a mere two points removed from a playoff spot with six games yet to be played.

GOAL: Jonathan Toews, a Winnipeg product and class act who captained the Chicago Blackhawks to another Stanley Cup championship.

COAL: Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers. Because he’s Wade Miller, CEO of the Blue Bombers.

GOAL: Mo Glimcher, grand poobah of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Mo, one of the truly good guys, will be sacking his bats after 40 years with the MHSAA, giving giving the executive director plenty of spare time to attend Bandy tournaments across the globe.

GOAL: Dan Halldorson passed away in November and the Brandon/Shilo golfer was remembered for his vital role in keeping the pro tour in Canada alive and well.

GOAL: Take a bow Joe Pascucci of Global and Knuckles Irving of CJOB. Joe was inducted into the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, while Knuckles was awarded the CFL’s Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award.

Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.
Big Buff is no fan of three-on-three shinny.

COAL: Dustin Byfuglien dissed the NHL’s 3-on-3 overtime format, saying, “It ain’t hockey. It’s stupid.” Yo! Buff! If you weren’t huffing and puffing so badly after three periods, you’d probably enjoy a little pond hockey.

COAL: The Reporters with Dave Hodge on TSN moved from Sunday mornings to Monday afternoon. I can do Sunday mornings, but I don’t do Monday afternoons. Move it back.

GOAL: Old friend Teemu Selanne had his Disney Ducks jersey No. 8 raised to the rafters at the Honda Center in Anaheim early in the year and, during a lengthy speech, the Finnish Flash actually thanked the small people—the cleaning lady and the Zamboni driver. Class act to the end.

COAL: Paul Maurice, head coach of the Jets. See Peluso, Anthony. That’s why.

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 sports: 45 years later, a look in the rear view mirror

It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.

Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.

Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.

I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.

I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.

I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.

I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.

So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.

(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)

These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)

Matty
Matty

Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.

Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.

Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.

Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.

Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.

Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!

My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.

Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.

Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.

Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.

Tommy McVie
Tommy McVie

Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.

Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.

Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.

Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.

Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.

Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.

Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.

Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.

Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.

Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

Best player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.

Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.

Cal Murphy
Cal Murphy

Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.

Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.

Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners in booing the singing of O Canada en francais, a man called my home later that day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.

Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.

Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.

Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.

Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.

Vic Peters
Vic Peters

Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.

Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.

Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.

Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.

Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.

“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”

“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”

“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”

Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.

Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.

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.