The River City Renegade


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About a Hall pass for “hell-ya!” girl Hayley Wickenheiser…keeping it behind closed doors for the Winnipeg Jets…fickle fans…and a new turn for the CFL quarterback carousel

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

I suppose the manner in which Hayley Wickenheiser walked away from hockey says something about the women’s game, if not her: Under-stated. Under the radar.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser

There was no ballyhoo. No emotion-charged, tear-jerker live press gathering on TV or streaming across the Internet. Just a simple tweet from Wickenheiser at 4:02 in the afternoon on a Friday the 13th , stating, “Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang ’em up!! Thank you!”

In the world’s greatest hockey nation, that’s how the greatest of all our female players bid adieu. A 22-word tweet, almost one for each of the 23 years the product of Shaunavon, Sask., wore the Maple Leaf with Canada’s national women’s team. As farewells go, you can’t do it at a lower volume than that, unless you say nothing at all.

That’s the nature of the beast, though.

I don’t believe I’d be off the mark were I to submit that female hockey operates under the radar three out of every four winters. We get geeked up about the girls’ game only when the Olympics arrive. Then it roars into our consciousness, like a hell-bent Hayley Wickenheiser dropping a shoulder and driving to the net against those always troublesome American girls.

Think Sochi 2014. Anything at those Games more dramatic, breath-halting and inspiring than the finish to the women’s gold-medal game? Nope. At least not for us. Our neighbors to the south, no doubt, don’t share such romantic sentiments.

The point is, we genuflect in the direction of the women’s game during the five-ring circus that is the Winter Olympics, otherwise it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind venture.

The two main organizations in North America—the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League that operates in the northeastern U.S.—basically function in anonymity. I mean, until the Wickenheiser tweet on Friday, the only headlines in female shinny this season were the coming out of Harrison Browne, a transgender forward with the Buffalo Beauts, and the Edward Scissorhands-like slashing of NWHL salaries.

Not many people were shocked to read about a transgender hockey player or a 50-per cent cut in wages—they were gobsmacked to learn that something called the NWHL actually existed.

I doubt many are aware that the CWHL, in which players are not paid, is enjoying its 10th season.

All hail Hayley.

All hail Hayley.

So, Wickenheiser doing her thing on the down low was rather in lockstep with the women’s game, but no doubt any and all tributes that accompany her into retirement won’t be so muffled.

Wickenheiser is deserving of fanfare, not merely because of the unprecedented numbers (168 goals, 379 points in 276 games with the national side) or the gold trinkets she collected at the Olympics (four) and world hockey championships (seven). Most significant, it’s about what she has done for girls and women who wish to play hockey without being viewed as freakish or not quite right.

It wasn’t so long ago when boys wore the black skates and girls wore the white skates with the toe picks. It was considered the natural order of things. Any deviation was viewed with cynicism, if not open ridicule and bullying. Indeed, Wickenheiser speaks of her early days on the frozen ponds of Western Canada, when she felt obliged to conceal her identity in order to play hockey.

I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl,” the 38-year-old told Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press. “I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”

No they don’t. And much of that is Hayley Wickenheiser’s doing.

Does she belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hell ya, girl! And that will be worth more than a 22-word tweet.

I’m not sure what’s worse, being paddywhacked 7-4 by the Montreal Canadiens or surrendering four first-period goals to the Arizona Coyotes. I mean, the Desert Dogs are the only National Hockey League outfit that has yet to reach double digits in wins this season. They’ve collected nine Ws in 41 assignments. But here’s the deal: The Winnipeg Jets, in dropping a 4-3 verdict to the ‘Yotes on Friday night, now have 22 losses for their 2016-17 crusade. Only one club, the Colorado Avalanche, has more Ls. Grim.

So, the Jets were late in allowing news snoops to enter their inner sanctum at Gila River Arena on Friday, because they thought it would be a swell idea to discuss their misgivings amongst themselves before captain Blake Wheeler surfaced to share a terse bon mot with the media. Next up was a chin-wag with head coach Paul Maurice on Saturday morning in Tinseltown. It’s official, then: The Jets have had more emergency meetings than wins this week.

It has come to my attention that there are those among us in Jets Nation who believe much-maligned goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is the remedy for what ails the local hockey heroes. Yes, oh ye fickle fans, and Donald Trump will fix the great racial divide in the U.S.

Oops newspaper headline of the week comes from the Winnipeg Sun: “Jets catching Canadiens at right time.” D’oh. I’m guessing Paul Maurice would disagree, since coach Potty-Mo has expressed nothing but four-letter displeasure in the wake of the 7-4 wedgie the Habs gave the Jets at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on Wednesday night.

I note there might be a starting quarterback vacancy in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer Chris Jones parted company with Darian Durant by dispatching him to the Montreal Alouettes for a song. One line of logic suggests this is an opening for Matt Nichols, potential free agent QB. That might make sense if not for the fact Jones tossed Nichols into the dumpster when they were both with the Edmonton Eskimos. Once the Canadian Football League QB carousel stops spinning, I believe you’ll find Nichols where he was last year—behind centre with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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 more flag football…beers and boozing with Matt Dunigan…the two Freep Grumpets dissing Dieter Brock…and Shaq’s laugh track

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

homer-melon-headQuiz me this, kids: What’s the most common comment heard around the Canadian Football League these days? Nope. You’re wrong. It isn’t “When did Chris Jones morph into Homer Simpson?”

That’s running a close second, although it might be No. 1 with a bullet among plow jockeys and people who wear water melons on their heads. I mean, if you park your pickup truck anywhere between Fertile and Lloydminster, chances are you’re convinced the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer is to coaching what Homer is to good parenting.

For evidence, they will point to Jones’s curious call on third down late in Gang Green’s skirmish with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday afternoon at the Facility Formerly Known as Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. Without going into the gory details, suffice to say Rider loyalists will suggest that the play was brought to you by the letters WTF.

Still, while Jones becoming a d’oh boy might be the topic du jour among Green People, the main CFL catch-phrase right about now is: “…there’s a flag on the play…”

There’s always a flag on the play in the CFL. Red flags. Yellow flags. Flags for bumping, grinding, grabbing grass, growling, bad breath, bad hair, bad attitude and, as excitable TSN gab guy Matt Dunigan put it at one point, “checking naughty parts.”

I swear, if the two play-by-play voices, Chris Cuthbert and Rod (Friggin’) Black, said “there’s a flag on the play” once, they said it 52 times during Saturday’s doubleheader on TSN. And that was just for the penalties, phantom or legitimate. The coaches can’t resist the urge to get in on the act and hurl their yellow hankies, too. Trouble is, I’m convinced they now sometimes do it because they can, not because they should.

Matt Dunigan...let's have some beer and go to Hooters.

Matt Dunigan…let’s have some beer and go to Hooters.

Actually, I don’t know what’s worse, the coach’s challenge or pass interference/contact.

Hands up anybody who can explain pass interference. How about illegal contact? Didn’t think so. The insufferable TSN talking head Glen Suitor is forever prattling on about PI/contact, attempting to educate us mere mortals, but he should save his breath. He doesn’t have any more of a clue than we do. Or the game officials.

Seriously. A receiver deliberately runs into a defender, yet the defender is flagged?

I say we ditch the coach’s challenge, ditch the five-yard contact rule and get back to playing football.

I am perhaps in the minority, but I get a kick out of Matt Dunigan’s color commentary. The guy is as geeked up as the players, and it’s always interesting and entertaining when there’s no filter between the brain and the lips. Everything Get ‘er Done Dunigan does is wrong. Like, he talks about beer and boozing (not to forget Hooters) as much he does football. And he talks over Rod Black too often (which is probably a good thing even if it’s wrong). But he works for me, as long as I get him in small doses.

say what banner4In the weekly segment of Say What?, an in-print gab session between the two resident Grumpets in the Winnipeg Free Press toy department, editor Steve Lyons (Viscount) and columnist Paul Wiecek (Gort) pooh-pooh the induction of quarterbacking legend Dieter Brock to the Blue Bombers Roll of Honour because “he never won anything.” Interesting. Neither did Milt Stegall. Why no whinging from the Grumpets when loser Milty got the call? Viscount and Gort also had to mention Brock and the zoo. Let it go, boys.

If you want to read a terrific piece on Brock, check out Ed Tait’s article on the Birmingham Rifle at bluebombers.com. It offers wonderful anecdotal insight, including a tale about the day he tossed a football 93 yards. Or, as Rod Black put it while chin-wagging with Brock in the booth during the Blue Bombers-Riders joust, “93 friggin yards.”

At the back end of May this year, when the natterbugs were already wagging their chins about the World Cup of Cash Grabs, I wrote: “Is it unCanadian of me if I really don’t care to talk about the World Cup of Hockey again until September? I don’t believe so. If, on the other hand, I still don’t wish to talk about it once the frost is on the pumpkin, feel free to take away my maple syrup, my back bacon and my Don Cherry voodoo doll.” Well, it’s September and I still can’t arouse any passion for the gimmicky WCOH.

Shaq...a funny man.

Shaq…a funny man.

Watched Shaquille O’Neal’s Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech. Too funny. And Shaq hasn’t missed many meals in retirement. He’s bigger than some third-world countries, at least five of the United States and one Canadian province. He’s also one of the funniest and most engaging, charismatic athletes ever.

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.