The River City Renegade


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About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—another dive.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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

 


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My Hens in the Hockey House would fire Paul Maurice, even if the Winnipeg Jets won’t

Yesterday, my Hens in the Hockey House had a go at two of the Winnipeg Jets’ Fiddle-Farters Three—Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff—so now they’re taking aim at the much-maligned man behind the bench.

Take it way ladies…

Question Lady: I realize you don’t like head coach Paul Maurice, but…

Answer Lady: Whoa, girlfriend. I’ve never said I didn’t like Coach Potty-Mouth. I’ve never met the dude. I’m guessing he’s a decent guy, maybe even a salt-of-the-earth guy who’d be fun to share pints with. Probably a terrific hubby and father, too. And that’s more important in the grand scheme of things than winning hockey games. It isn’t a matter of liking or disliking him, though. So let’s make it clear from the get-go that my sole issue with Maurice is his coaching.

Question Lady: Fair enough. Am I correct in assuming you aren’t a fan of his coaching?

Answer Lady: Let me use two words to describe the job he’s done with the Jets this National Hockey League season. Actually, they’re the same two words Coach Potty-Mo used to describe his players the night the Montreal Canadiens curb-stomped them 7-4 in January—“horse shit.”

Question Lady: Ouch. Don’t beat around the bush, girlfriend. Tell us what you really think of Maurice.

Answer Lady: Okay. He’s been “effing horse shit.”

Question Lady: Care to expand on that?

Answer Lady: Oh, darling, that shopping list is longer than a Winnipeg winter. Where to begin…his overuse of the erratic Dustin Byfuglien…his refusal to rein in Byfuglien…his set of rules for Byfuglien and his set of rules for everyone else…his odd infatuation with Chris Thorburn…his hard-ass attitude toward Nic Petan…his defensive scheme—if such an animal actually exists…his goalie blindness, which, in fairness, is a fatal flaw shared by all members of the Fiddle-Farters Three…his line juggling—he changes more parts than the pit crews at Daytona Speedway…his penalty-killing unit…his head-scratching use of Patrik Laine on the powerplay…his inability to make his workers clean up their act—seriously, all those brain-fart stick penalties…his moaning and groaning about the schedule and injuries…

Question Lady: Well, is it not true that the Jets’ early-season sked was historically demanding?

Answer Lady: Spare me. At the Christmas break, seven teams had played 36 games and only one of them—the Jets—was below the playoff line. Coach Potty-Mo’s constant whinging about the schedule was a great big wah-wah-wah pitty party. He was giving himself and, worse, his players an excuse for failure.

Question Lady: I’ve heard it said and I’ve seen it written that not even the great Scotty Bowman could have gotten more out of this Jets team than Maurice. You don’t agree?

Scotty Bowman

Answer Lady: That’s an insult to Scotty Bowman. That’s all I have to say about that.

Question Lady: Would you fire Maurice at the end of the season?

Answer Lady: I would. Maurice isn’t going to become a better coach during the summer, and I don’t need or want a head coach who can’t grow with all the young talent on the Jets roster.

Question Lady: Wouldn’t a true No. 1 goaltender make him a better coach?

Answer Lady: Sure. And directing a movie with Meryl Streep in the lead role would make someone a better director. Or at least it should. But I don’t see GM Kevin Cheveldayoff prying Carey Price out of Montreal, Henrik Lundqvist out of Gotham, Braden Holtby out of D.C. or Devan Dubnyk out of Minny. I’m convinced that the Fiddle-Farters Three are convinced that Connor Hellebuyck is the answer in the blue ice. Still.

Question Lady: The goaltenders Maurice has had over the years are a lot like most of the teams he’s coached—mediocre. Could that be the reason he’s a career .500 coach?

Answer Lady: Let me ask you this—were the teams he’s coached mediocre, or were those teams mediocre because they had a mediocre coach?

Question Lady: Geez, that sounds like one of those zen koans. Can you make it less of a riddle?

Answer Lady: Okay. You’re saying that Coach Potty-Mo has never been surrounded with talent, right? So you’re telling me that Puck Finn isn’t talent? Rink Rat Scheifele isn’t talent? Blake Wheeler? Bryan Little? Twig Ehlers? Jacob Trouba? Josh Morrissey? Matty Perreault? Adam Lowry? Byfuglien? None of that is talent? Cripes, girlfriend, half his team is high-end talent and he can’t get it into the playoffs. People can talk all they like about shoddy goaltending, but coaching is the main problem with this team.

Question Lady: Will Chipman kick Maurice to the curb?

To Russia, with Cherry.

Answer Lady: Don Cherry will coach the Russian national team first.

Question Lady: What are you telling me? That Maurice is going the distance?

Answer Lady: Naw, nobody gets a lifetime contract. Except Chris Thorburn apparently. I’m saying that Coach Potty-Mo will be behind the bench in October. He might even have a new contract tucked in his britches. But a three-year deal doesn’t mean you get to coach for three years. Loyalty only stretches so far. Ask Claude Noel.

Question Lady: Before we go, is there anything about Maurice’s coaching that you like?

Answer Lady: Ya, I think he’s a snappy dresser.

Question Lady: Cheeky girl. What do you say we do dinner and talk about the players tomorrow?

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. There’s plenty to like there.

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


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About Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice’s job status…No. 3 centre Mark Scheifele…too much ice for Big Buff…too much whinging about the schedule…and a Grey Cup for the Stampeders

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

What’s that chirping I hear? Crickets? Nope. It’s the natterbugs.

They’ve begun to make noise about Paul Maurice, who, should the Winnipeg Jets’ current funk stretch beyond five games, soon will be described as a much-maligned man. No surprise there, really. I mean, the Jets went 0-for-the road last week, so it must be the head coach’s fault. Surely, his best-before date is about to expire.

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

Well, you can put the pitch forks and torches away. Pa Ingalls isn’t going anywhere.

When Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his College of Yes Men headed by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff chose to go all-in on the greening of the Jets at the commencement of this National Hockey League crusade, they were telling us that their expectations vis-a-vis the playoffs were low and, short of mutiny, nothing was going to move Maurice from behind the bench. Ownership/management were giving him a Mulligan before he took his driver out of the bag.

Think about it. They saddled the guy with a gaggle of greenhorns. By my count, there were half a dozen rookies at the start of business. More youth joined the fray due to various owies. What did you expect would happen?

This is the nature of the youth beast: All-world one night, all-woe the next five.

The same scenario is unfolding in the Republic of Tranna, where the Maple Leafs tease then torment the rabble, and in Buffalo, where the Sabres show promise then perform a faceplant, all the while wondering if the other shoe will drop on Evander Kane. And, of course, we watched it in Edmonton, where the Oilers were a decade-long, class-action joke and remain erratic, even with Connor McDavid on board.

So get used to it, Jets Nation. This season will have more ups and downs than the Trans-Canada Highway through the Rocky Mountains.

I don’t want to sound like an apologist for Maurice. I’m not. It’s just that I believe he’s been set up to fail this season. The Puck Pontiff and his College of Yes Men went younger by design, and I don’t think they expect the Jets to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. Is the goaltending Maurice’s fault? I doubt Cheveldayoff would recognize elite puckstopping if Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur were playing pond hockey in his back yard. How, then, can ownership/management or anyone else lay the blame at the coach’s feet? They can’t. Thus, he stays.

None of this is to say Maurice is fault free. He juggles his forward lines like he’s a street busker. His unwavering faith in, and reliance on, Chris Thorburn remains as much a mystery as how they get the caramel inside a Caramilk chocolate bar. Mark Stuart belongs on an NHL roster like Don Cherry belongs on the cover of a Moscow tourism brochure. Then there’s coach Pa Ingalls’ adopted son, Alexander Burmistrov. Can we not send him back to the Russian orphanage?

Mark Scheifele

Mark Scheifele

I don’t know about you, but I often detect a whiff of haughtiness in many of Maurice’s chin-wags with news snoops. There’s just something about his way with words that suggests a self-declared upper-crustacy. But can he really be the smartest man in the room when he spouts the kind of nonsense he delivered on the heels of a recent loss to the Carolina Hurricanes? “Bryan (Little) played four shifts for us this year, so our No. 1 centreman is out,” he said. “Matty Perreault’s been gone for a while, that’s our No. 2 guy.” Either Maurice thinks we’re stupid, or he’s actually the dumbest man in the room. If he truly believes that Mark Scheifele, the NHL’s leading point collector at the time, is his third-line centre and will be slotted as such once Little and the do-nothing Perreault return from the repair shop, he should be fired immediately.

If Dustin Byfuglien is this bad in the first go-round of his five-year contract, how bad will he be in the 2020-21 season, at which time he’ll be 36 years old and likely weigh about 300 lb.? It’s clear that Byfuglien is getting far too much ice time from Maurice, who, much like his predecessor Claude Noel, treats Big Buff with kid gloves. Sit him down, for cripes sake. He’s not Bobby Orr. Give the top-pairing minutes to Jacob Trouba.

I’ve heard enough whinging from Maurice and the rabble about the Jets horrible, unfair, cruel, hardship, blah, blah, blah schedule. Yes, it’s a grind, but no more so than what the Calgary Flames or Edmonton McDavids are dealing with this month. The Flames will play 16 games in November, 11 on the road and four back-to-backs. The McDavids play 15 games, 10 away from home. The Jets will be 16 and 10. The Dallas Stars play 16 games. So, don’t talk to me about the schedule. It’s a copout.

Does Sportsnet know that the 104th Grey Cup game will be played this afternoon in the Republic of Tranna? There were exactly zero stories about the Canadian Football League title match on the front page of the Sportsnet website when I brought it up at 5 o’clock this morning. Zero. There were more than a dozen on the TSN front page.

I know it’s the easy pick, but I’ve got to go with the Calgary Stampeders in the large football match this afternoon. I’m thinking it’ll be a whupping, and only garbage points by the Ottawa RedBlacks in late-game skirmishing will make it seem closer than the reality of a rout. Calgary 32, Ottawa 19.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

 


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Coach PoMo morphs into Coach Claude…the God squad…Bo knows quarterbacking…and Ronda Rousey isn’t so tough after all

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

Okay, who stole Paul Maurice and why have you replaced him with Claude Noel?

Claude Noel

Claude Noel

Seriously.

That 7-0 wedgie the Nashville Predators delivered to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Twangtown, Tenn., was 50 shades of gawdawful and conjured up flashbacks from the gory days, when most games seemed to be equal parts Keystone Kops and Chinese fire drill. It was slapstick shinny. Helter-skelter hockey.

That was circa Noel, the yuk-a-minute yet bewildered head coach who, when asked by news scavengers to explain the woeful ways of his workers, would reply, “I can’t give you the answers as to why.”

So there was Maurice post-paddywhacking in Music City on Saturday, parroting his predecessor.

“I don’t have an answer for you yet,” is how the Jets coach began his scrum with scribes and other gatherers of sound bites, then later adding, “we have to keep searching for answers.”

It’s one thing for Maurice to sound like Noel. Coaching like him is a more disturbing matter.

In that tire fire in Nashville, the Jets were scrubs on skates, an outfit in utter disarray and one that cannot possibly harbor any hope of qualifying for the playoffs in the National Hockey League’s most-challenging precinct, the Central Division. To be blunt, they looked poorly coached. You know, just like when the players stopped listening to Noel.

I agree with all those advocating an increase in the size of NHL nets. Why, with larger nets there’s no way the Predators would have shut out the Jets 7-0. It would have been more like 14-1.

It might feel like the sky is falling in Jets Nation because the hockey heroes are one-for-November, but losing four straight games and six of seven assignments is not cause for alarm. So says the team captain, Andrew Ladd, who assures us it is just “a little funk.” Yes, and Don Cherry’s clothing is “just” a little loud.

American Pharoah

American Pharoah

When I look at the list of finalists for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, I don’t see any man, woman or animal who had a better 2015 than American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years of horses making left turns at North American race tracks, and first to the wire in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But wait. If the great Secretariat didn’t win the award in 1973 (it went to fast car driver Jackie Stewart), American Pharoah cannot possibly get the nod. Unless, of course, horses are given a vote. Then he’s a shoo-in.

So, how are we to summarize the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season? Try this: Paul Wiecek, in the Winnipeg Free Press, writes about them “laughing, joking and horsing around” during their final workout of yet another Canadian Football League crusade gone horribly wrong; defensive back Maurice Leggett believes there is a shortage of “mean jerks” in the changing room; and they have a placekicker, Sergio Castillo, who is convinced an invisible God has already predetermined which of his kicks shall sail off course. Apparently, the invisible God decided that Castillo would misfire on two of his five field goal attempts in the 21-11 season-ending loss to the Argonauts in Toronto. “I didn’t have the game I wanted to, but I enjoyed it,” he said. Who knew screwing up could be so much fun? Makes you want to rush out and purchase 2016 season tickets, doesn’t it?

Quarterback Henry Burris is certain to be named most outstanding player in the CFL, but I’m guessing that if you were to quiz the league’s nine head coaches, asking who they’d prefer behind centre, they’d all answer Bo Levi Mitchell of the Calgary Stampeders before Burris, the Ottawa RedBlacks greybeard QB.

Am I the only one who finds that Scotiabank Fifth Season commercial featuring the girl with all the Marie Osmond teeth painfully irritating? I mean, she’s a cute kid and I’m sure she’s lovely, but, geez Louise, did they have to make her out to be such a nerdy girl? Oh, it’s more than just annoying, Miss Woods.

Take that, Ronda Rousey.

Take that, Ronda Rousey.

I think Holly Holm did every fight fan a favor when she boxed Ronda Rousey’s ears and put the boots to her in their Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title bout. Perhaps now people will stop making senseless noise about Rousey whupping convicted woman-beater and world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather. She isn’t even the toughest girl on the block, let alone the baddest ass in all of mixed martial arts fighting.

Shouldn’t the Winnipeg Free Press have hired a sports columnist to replace Gary (La La) Lawless by now? A sports section without a columnist is like a pub without pints or a church without prayer. I need someone to pick on.

Speaking of needing a scribe to pick on, there’s always Steve Simmons, thin-skinned columnist with the Toronto Sun. In making the case for Darryl Sutter to be considered for a coaching post in the World Cup of Hockey next September, Little Stevie Blunder advises us that the mumbling bench boss “has won three Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.” Really? Three? I demand a recount. No surprise he’d have it wrong, though. Facts are too often a casualty in today’s sports writing, which is a pet peeve of mine.

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.


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Alexander Burmistrov: Is born-again Burmi the Winnipeg Jets new Fro Lite or Kane Lite?

Quiz yourself this, kids: Would you trade Michael Frolik for Alexander Burmistrov? Even up?

Didn’t think so.

That, however, is essentially what Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff did last week. For reasons yet to be clearly defined, the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets was unable to convince his most useful forward to remain in River City, thus Frolik shall continue his Jack-of-all-trades career while wearing Calgary Flames adornments.

To compensate for the Fro defection, the Grand Master prepared the fatted calf and welcomed home the prodigal player, Burmistrov, who, when last seen prior to resurfacing at the National Hockey League club’s development camp this past weekend, was acting every bit the petulant, pouting punk and skulking off to Mother Russia.

So that’s your exchange: Frolik out, Burmistrov in.

I have heard it suggested that Burmistrov is Frolik Lite, in that he delivers all those special niceties that the Czech forward provided. He just doesn’t do them as well. I believe that to be an accurate assessment.

But, is Burmistrov actually Fro Lite or is he Kane Lite?

The dearly departed Evander Kane was, of course, a skilled (much of it wasted) player with attitude issues. He played cat-and-mouse with defrocked head coach Claude Noel, challenging his authority on more than one occasion. Although never putting it on public record that he wanted out of Winnipeg, we know he liked Pegtown about as much as Phil Kessel likes media scrums. Eventually, he was shuffled off to Buffalo.

Similarly, Burmistrov and Noel were singing from different sheets in the songbook, thus he skedaddled home for a two-season gig with Ak-Bars of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Now he’s back and what the born-again Burmi brings to the party come October will be among the main storylines as the Winnipegs commence their 2015-16 crusade. If he’s Frolik Lite, it’s all good. If he’s Kane Lite, not so much.

As it is, the former teenage prospect is now a 23-year-old prospect with plenty of upside but a past that fuels skepticism, and the Jets surely harbor a morsel of uncertainty about this migrant young man, otherwise they would have welcomed Burmistrov back to the flock with something more than a two-year contract.

The hope, of course, is that he’s finally got his shite together, meaning he knows head coach Paul Maurice is the boss.

Desperate Hockey Wives: Okay, money aside, we still don’t know the intimate details of Michael Frolik’s defection to the Calgary Flames, thus rumors abound.

One such trickle of gossip suggests his girlfriend, Diana, pulled a Lauren Pronger and forced Frolik to sign anywhere but Winnipeg. The way it is whispered, she developed a considerable distaste for all things River City and, much like Lauren Pronger with hubby Chris and the Edmonton Oilers, she held veto power on where they set up house with daughter Ella.

I have neither heard nor read anything to lend credence to that rumor but, if true, I ask this: So what? Should a wife/girlfriend not have a voice in where she lives?

It seems to me she should have a loud voice.

Sam’s Story a Non-Story? Once upon a time, a lot of football people were strictly Xs, Os and bite-the-head-off-a-live-chicken kind of guys. It would seem that at least one of those dinosaurs still walks among us.

I say that because of a snippet in a Kirk Penton piece last week.

It seems an unidentified Canadian Football League coach or manager pooh-poohs the considerable copy and air time devoted to Michael Sam, whose on-again, off-again career appears to be on again, although it’s expected that the Montreal Alouettes will arrrive in River City for their date with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this Friday sans the only openly gay man to sign a CFL contract.

Michael Sam hasn’t played a down of football north of the border and he has gotten a thousand times more recognition than Randy Chevrier, who won the Tom Pate Award (for oustanding sportsmanship and someone who has made a significant contribution to his team, his community and the CFLPA),” Coach/Manager No Name said. “That’s pathetic. You guys (in the media) should be embarrassed.”

Well, no. Here’s what’s pathetic and here’s who should be embarrassed: A football lifer who doesn’t recognize or appreciate the social significance of Sam’s story.

It should never be just about Xs, Os and quarterback sacks. Sam is man-bites-dog copy. Can an openly gay man not only survive but, indeed, succeed in the macho world that is professional football? Is major professional sports in North America still a homophobic hinterland in a day and age when same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and the U.S.? Will Sam pave the way for more gay athletes to come out? That’s why noted sheets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Daily Mail in the U.K. and so many others track the trials and tribulations of the Alouettes would-be rush end.

But what do those papers know about news? They’re pathetic, right coach?

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.


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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.


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Winnipeg Jets: Is Paul Maurice really that good a coach?

I lied. Sort of. Kind of. It wasn’t an intentional lie, understand. It wouldn’t even qualify as a little, white lie.

When I wrote last month that I was shutting down The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog, I meant it. I was done after more than 40 years of scribbling about all matters on the Winnipeg sports landscape. Now, as you can see, The ‘I don’t have a Basement but I’ve got a Blog’ Blog is again very much up and running.

Perhaps I merely needed time away. Some space, as they say (whoever they are).

Paul Maurice

Paul Maurice

There have been things I wanted to write about in the presence of my own absence, most of them pertaining to the Winnipeg Jets, who continue to send front-line players to the infirmary yet still conspire to win games and make a genuine push toward participation in next spring’s Stanley Cup tournament.

I truly do not know what to make of this National Hockey League outfit. I mean, is Paul Maurice that good a coach? His backline has been ransacked, but he plugs the holes with spare parts provided by general manager Kevin (The Possum) Cheveldayoff or the farm in Newfy Land and the beat goes on, tickety-boo.

I must confess that, until this week, I had aligned myself fully with the skeptics. There is, in hockey, an axiom that tells us “You are what your record says you are.” Well, that didn’t wash with me. I remained unconvinced that these Jets, a group with no post-season pedigree, were built of playoff brick and mortar. Then they skated into the Toddlin’ Town and laid a proper paddywhacking on the Blackhawks, 5-1. You win with that defence—Adam Pardy, Paul Postma, Jay Harrison, Grant Clitsome and Ben Chiarot? In Chicago?

That’s not to dismiss the sizeable contribution (literally and figuratively) of Dustin Byfuglien, the born-again blueliner who’s been wearing his happy face ever since coach PoMo freed him from his purgatory of right wing. Big Buff has been gobbling up ice time like burgers at a BBQ. He spent just under 28 1/2 minutes roaming the Madhouse on Madison freeze Tuesday evening, and he managed to do so without crippling calamity.

This, of course, is a notable departure from the past, when Byfuglien patrolled the blueline like he had a live grenade in his hockey britches. To say Big Buff was prone to pratfalls is to say Don Cherry is apt to wear loud clothing while dissing Europeans.

So now this is the question: What does coach PoMo do when Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba and Mark Stuart rejoin the fray?

He will, no doubt, do the right thing because Maurice seems to have a knack for doing the right thing.

None of this, by the way, should be taken as an indictment of coach PoMo’s predecessor as the Jets’ bench puppet master, Claude Noel. The club’s unexpected perch in a playoff position as we carve our Christmas turkeys does not mean Noel is a lousy coach. It merely confirms what many of us believed long before his dismissal last January—he was the wrong coach for this group.

Whereas these players zoned out Noel, Maurice has them in a zone.

Naturally, skeptics remain. At least one pundit, Gary (La La) Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, directs our attention to the Jets’ pre-break form chart which indicates they have feasted on sub-.500 outfits (12-1-3) and struggled vs. stronger sides (6-9-4).

“If they continue on the same trajectory, this team will fade down the stretch,” Gary La La writes, noting that the Winnipegs will line up against plus-.500 teams in 32 of their final 47 skirmishes.

Could be it’s an accurate assessment. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time this franchise has performed a faceplant in the back half of a once-promising crusade, and operating sans your top four defencemen surely will take a toll.

I’m still not convinced that we’ll see spring shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie after April 11, but I am sold on one thing: Paul Maurice. Apparently his players are, too.

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.