By now you’ve likely had it up to your eyeliner or chin whiskers with New Year’s predictions, but Nostradumbass has yet to weigh in on what shall transpire in the next 12 months. Here’s what the Nostradumbass Prophesies say about athletes and teams from Good Ol’ Hometown…
It’s a double whammy for Manitoba’s elite Pebble People, with the Kerri Einarson and Matt Dunstone rinks winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Brier.
“It’s about bloody time,” says Dunstone. “I know winning’s old hat for Kerri and the gals from Gimli. That’s their fourth Scotties title in a row. Damn well done, ladies. But it’s fresh territory for us Buffalo Boys. Let’s face it, Manitoba men have sucked at curling this entire century, except for 2011 when Jeff Stoughton won the Brier. One Brier win in all that time? Total BS. So I’m happy that we could end the drought. Does it make me want to move back to Manitoba permanently? Naw. My home’s in Kamloops. You can’t beat the B.C interior for beauty, especially in and around The Okanagan. We also get better WiFi there.”
Meanwhile, Dunstone accepts a challenge from Einarson, and the two championship teams meet in a mid-summer one-off. It’s a rout: Gimli Gals 9, Buffalo Boys 3.
“I feel a bit sorry for them,” Einarson admits. “I mean, all four of us girls are preggers, so maybe they were distracted by our baby bumps. It’s not like guys know what to do when a woman’s pregnancy hormones are raging, so between all the bathroom breaks, the food cravings and the totally bonkers mood swings, they didn’t know if they were in a curling game or a Hitchcock thriller.
“I’m sure when Val (Sweeting) ordered that bucket of KFC and got in a scrap with Briane (Harris) over the last drumstick during the fifth-end break, it threw them off their game. I’m guessing you lose something from your draw weight after watching two hormonal-crazed women go all Animal House and throw coleslaw at each other.”
Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and the 3rd Baron Thomson of Fleet, disheartened by a fairweather fan base and empty seats in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, sell the Winnipeg Jets—lock, stock and Ducky Hawerchuk statue—to rock ‘n’ roll fossils Burton Cummings and Randy Bachman.
The first order of business for Cummings and Bachman is to rebrand the National Hockey League club.
“We’re now the Winnipeg Canned Wheat,” Cummings announces at a press conference that includes the 3rd Baron and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s a salute to the Guess Who’s fifth studio album.
“We always thought Jets was a dumb name. What do airplanes have to do with Winnipeg? There isn’t even an airport here. If Winnipeg’s known for anything other than winter and Slurpees, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll scene in the 1960s and ’70s. We had great bands…the Squires, the Deverons, the Crescendos, the Quid, the Orfans, the Shondels, the Pallbearers, the Syndicate, the Eternals, Chad Allan and the Expressions, The Gentlemen Royal, the Dawgs, the House Grannies, the Feminine Touch, the Fifth, Finders Keepers, the Jury. That’s what I’m talking about. And, of course, there was me, Randy, Jimmy Kale and Garry Peterson in the Guess Who. Some of the Guess Who’s best stuff is on our Canned Wheat album—Laughing, Undun, No Time. Those songs are classics, like me and Randy. I was brilliant on them, and Randy was pretty good, too.”
Asked about fan support, Cummings harrumphs and says: “Not to worry. We’ve still got a long wait list for season tickets, but let’s just say if support goes soft the whole thing will come Undun (see what I did there?). We’ll move the team to Moose Jaw, and Mr. Bettman will support us 100 per cent.”
“They can squeeze 4,700 into the Moose Jaw rink,” the NHL commish says with a nod. “And, hey, if that number works for the Coyotes in an Arizona desert, it can work for the Canned Wheat on the bald prairies. Besides, Moose Jaw has better WiFi than Winnipeg.”
Local legal beagle David Asper, following the lead of Cummings and Bachman, bows to pressure and renames his Canadian Elite Basketball League franchise.
“Ever since I announced we had the team, all I’ve heard is ‘Sea Bears is stupid, Sea Bears is stupid.’ It’s been non-stop,” Asper says to a smattering of news snoops who had nothing better to do that day. “I haven’t had this many people PO’d at me since the 2005 Banjo Bowl, when I stormed into the Blue Bombers locker room after a loss and told the head coach he didn’t know a quarterback from a Q-tip. Now that was stupid. But I didn’t think naming a summertime hoops team after an Arctic predator was stupid. What was I supposed to call it? The Winnipeg Skeeters? The Winnipeg Potholes?
“Anyway, I heard from a lot of people and I listened, which I don’t normally do. I usually just listen to the sound of my own voice. But I eventually came around to the notion that Sea Bears was kind of dopey. So, as of today, we are the Winnipeg Riverboat. I remember riding the Paddlewheel Queen and the Paddlewheel Princess on the Red River when I was a kid. Good times. Just like a night watching my basketball team.”
A numbers crunch hits the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and CEO Wade Miller is forced to break up the Canadian Mafia by parting company with general manager Kyle Walters and replacing him with former news snoops Bob Irving and Ed Tait.
“Toughest decision I’ve had to make,” says Miller. “Kyle, coach Mike O’Shea and I are fast friends and we did great things together, winning two Grey Cups and playing in a third. But there’s an operations cap in the Canadian Football League, and we were banging our head on the ceiling. Kyle is the odd man out, and we wish him well when he replaces Pinball Clemons with the Argonauts.
“Some of you probably think I’m off my rocker, hiring two former media guys as co-GMs. Fine, but let me remind you that you thought I was a bit loopy when I hired Mike O’Shea to coach the team. How’s that worked out?
“Knuckles and Eddie have been part of the CFL for about as long as the rouge, and they’re what you call cheap dates…Knuckles is working pro bono, and Eddie’s already on staff for chump change. Hey, what can I say? It’s Winnipeg. We do things wholesale or on the real, real cheap. I would have hired Sarah Orlesky, too, because a pro sports franchise can never have enough burned-out news snoops on staff. But the Jets beat us to Sarah and she probably wouldn’t have worked for food stamps.”
Both Irving and Tait are unavailable for comment due to a previous commitment: Fixing the WiFi in Miller’s office.
The pride of Stony Mountain, Aaron Cockerill, takes the money and runs to the LIV Golf Series.
“All I have to do is show up with a bag of golf clubs and a caddy and play three rounds of stress-free golf. I don’t have to worry about making cuts and I’ll have more cashola than any player on the Jets roster,” Cockerill says. “I’m not going to say how much coin Greg Norman and the Saudis are giving me, but I can buy all of Stony Mountain and the rest of Rockwood if I want.”
“We think Aaron is a real up-and-comer, a rising star,” says Norman. “He’s ranked 346th in the world, so he’s no Rory or Scottie Scheffler, but he’s the kind of player we want in LIV Golf. He’s young, talented and eager. And don’t talk to me about blood money. His hands will be clean when he cashes his cheques. We’ve all got clean hands at LIV Golf. If anybody’s got dirty hands, it’s Rory and those dirty, rotten scoundrels who run the corrupt PGA Tour. They wouldn’t have a pot to pee in if it wasn’t for old golfers like me! If I sound bitter, it’s because I am bitter. I just don’t know why I’m so bitter.”
The Vancouver Canucks shed themselves of good guy Bruce Boudreau and introduce Barry Trotz as head coach.
“I know I said I wanted to coach an Original Six team,” says Trotz, “but I’m happy to be with an Original 14 team. Especially one in such a beautiful locale. I’m just a prairie boy, but I’ve been around some. I mean, I’ve seen the inside of the White House and the Grand Ole Opry, so you need to take the long way around the barn to impress me. And that’s what Vancouver does…it impresses me. Looking out my window and seeing mountain and ocean views every morning is a long hike from Dauphin, let me tell you.”
Asked to comment on the roster he’s inherited, Trotz says: “As Shania Twain sang, that don’t impress me much.”
There’s a huge shakeup on the local media landscape, with (a) the suits at Postmedia in the Republic of Tranna shutting down the Winnipeg Sun without notice, (b) the resurrection of the Winnipeg Tribune, and (c) the Winnipeg Free Press converting to a tabloid format.
The unexpected chain of events begins when the geniuses at Postmedia stop the presses at the Sun.
“What the hell, we haven’t shut down a newspaper or laid off hundreds of workers for at least six months, so we were overdue for some blood-letting,” says a company spokesperson. “And, let’s face it, the Winnipeg Sun had become the Toronto Sun, especially in the sports section. Think of it this way: We didn’t kill a newspaper, we saved a few forests.”
Out-of-work Sun employees aren’t out of work for long, thanks to a group of local business leaders fronted by Gail Asper, who’s named publisher of the new, employee-owned Winnipeg Tribune.
“My dad, Izzy, loved the old Trib,” she says. “He loved everything about it. Our plan is to bring it back to its original glory, and that might even include hiring some of the people who were on staff when the paper folded in 1980. I’m just not sure how many of them are still alive. But our new sports editor, Paul Friesen, has been tasked with tracking them down, and he’s been told to offer them their old jobs back.”
Friesen discovers a handful of ex-Tribbers scattered hither and yon in old-folks homes across the Frozen Tundra, but has no luck luring them back to Good Ol’ Hometown.
“Every time I thought I had one of them convinced to come back, my WiFi went on the fritz and I never heard from them again,” he explains. “Damn Winnipeg WiFi. No wonder the Jets can’t sign any decent free agents.”
Meantime, freshly minted publisher at the Winnipeg Free Press, David Asper, announces the switch from broadsheet to tabloid format, and it includes a daily Sunshine Girl.
“I know what you’re going to ask me. You’re going to ask why a tabloid after 150 years as a broadsheet,” Asper says at the launch of his newest toy. “Well, I like the size and feel of a tabloid. It isn’t as unwieldy as a broadsheet, especially when you’re reading the paper on a bus or at a snack bar. Nobody needs some stranger’s newspaper flapping in their face when they’re trying to eat a corned beef sandwich at Oscar’s.
“As for the Sunshine Girl, I plead innocence. That wasn’t my call. And don’t think my little sister Gail hasn’t filled me in on what a cad I am. She gave me an earful. In both ears. I realize a Sunshine Girl isn’t in step with the social climes of the 21st century, but it went to a vote of the Board and I don’t have a veto. We’re going to make it up to all the girls and women who read our sports section. I’ve directed sports editor Jason Bell to start covering female sports on a daily basis, and suggested in strong terms that he think about hiring a woman the next time there’s an opening in his toy department. That would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?”
The Freep asks Hockey Night In Canada commentator and Olympic champion Jennifer Botterill to appear as its first Sunshine Girl, and it’s a non-starter.
“Oh, yuck,” she says. “I have enough trouble dealing with the frat boys on Hockey Night without them having something like that to throw in my face every Saturday. Can you imagine what Kevin Bieksa would say? That guy creeps me out at the best of times.”
You might think of today as Christmas Eve, kids, but it’s also Christivus, a day-before-Christmas and a day-after-Festivus celebration of all that is good in the playground and, just as important, a time for the airing of grievances. Some athletes/sports figures discover lovely gifts under the Christivus treepole, while others find a big, ol’ lump o’ coal with their name on it…
GIFT: There’s just no beating the Gimli Girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts. Kerri Einarson, Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris are three-peat belles of the ball, and you wouldn’t want to bet against them when they Go For Four two months hence at the national women’s curling championship in Kamloops. Only the Colleen Jones quartet from Nova Scotia has managed to put up a four-spot at the Scotties (2001-2004), so Kerri and her gal pals could be breathing rarified air in beautiful B.C. And, by the way, last time I checked, the Gimli Girls were ranked No. 1 among all the world’s female Pebble People, and I’d say that sounds about right.
GIFT: Juggernaut. That’s the word to describe Manitoba’s female curlers. You’ve got Einarson and her gal pals from Gimli, plus the Jennifer Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Abby Ackland and Cheleas Carey rinks ranked in the world top 22. All together now: Buffalo Girls rock!
GIFT: Let’s have a show of hands. Who among us believed that Mike O’Shea would one day become the winningest head coach in the lengthy and lore-filled history of the Winnipeg Football Club? Not me. Not you, either. I mean, Coach Grunge was greener than St. Paddy’s Day when they handed him the headset in 2014, and I doubt even Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller and GM Kyle Walters figured they had an all-timer on their hands. It was as unlikely as prayer service in the Rum Hut. But now that O’Shea is locked in as sideline steward of the Bombers for another three Canadian Football League seasons, it’s a question of when, not if, he reaches the most hallowed of gridiron ground in Good Ol’ Hometown. Bud Grant, a legend in a trench coat, collected 102 regular-season Ws in his 10 crusades of mostly pushing the right buttons. O’Shea, a legend in the making in short pants, faded t-shirt/hoodie and ratty, ol’ ball cap, has 82 notches on his belt. Do the math. Sometime in the autumn of 2024, Coach Grunge should pull astride the Silver Fox, if not pass him. Who had that on their radar? Nobody.
GIFT: Zach Collaros became a two-timer, collecting the Most Outstanding Player Award in Rouge Football for the second successive season and, no, we aren’t going to talk about his dodgy performance in the Bombers 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argos in the grass-grabber for the Grey Grail in late November.
LUMP O’COAL: We will, however, discuss Marc Liegghio’s right leg. Two missed converts in the West Division final, one missed convert and a botched field goal attempt in the Grey Cup game doesn’t cut it. He has the worst limb since Long John Silver and everyone from Buzz and Boomer to Dancing Gabe knew all about it, but it somehow escaped the notice of Bombers brass and it cost them dearly. We can talk all we like about other foulups (there were plenty) in the bid for a Grey Grail three-peat, but a kicker has one job to do and Liegghio failed miserably.
LUMP O’COAL: Yo! David Asper! I think maybe you’ve been spending too much time at the Journey to Churchill exhibit at Assiniboine Park Zoo. Either that or you’ve been having nightmares about polar bears lumbering through the pot-holed streets of Good Ol’ Hometown. I mean, the Winnipeg Sea Bears? And a polar bear logo? Seriously? That’s the best you could come up with for your newbie, summertime Canadian Elite Basketball League outfit? C’mon, man. Winnipeg is a seaside locale like a box of Crackerjack is fine dining, and there hasn’t been anything resembling a polar bear near Portage and Main since Chris Walby retired.
AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: Oh, woe is Hockey Canada, guardian of our national pastime and keeper of secrets, slush funds and trafficker of lies. We discovered that HC had stacks and stacks of coin to quietly pay off victims of sexual assault, and some board members summoned to Parliament Hill to explain themselves looked like so many Pinocchios after a big, fat fib. This was the biggest and, by far, the most disturbing sports story on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra in 2022. It rocked HC to the core.
AN ENTIRE COAL MINE: As Hockey Canada roiled in the guck and muck of egregious wrong-doing and a sex-assault scandal, since-defrocked CEO Scott Smith had the dreadful manners to surface in Denmark and strut on-ice to dispense gold medals to our Canadian women at the world championship. It was like the graduating class at a police academy receiving their badges from Tony Soprano. Smith’s appearance was callous, tacky and a rented-bowling-shoes level of odious.
GIFT: Rick Westhead of TSN was at the forefront of reporting on L’Affaire Hockey Canada and all other manner of misdeeds in the playground.
GIFT: Our national women’s team provided a ray of light in the Hockey Canada darkness, striking gold at the Winter Olympic Games and the world tournament. Brianne Jenner was our leading goal-scorer and MVP in Beijing, and Sarah Nurse set an Olympic record for most points, 18. Meantime, Jenner scored both goals in a 2-1 victory over the U.S. in the gold-medal match in Denmark, while Sarah Fillier was our leading scorer and a world tournament all-star.
LUMP O’ COAL: Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star decided that Beijing 2022 was an appropriate time to piddle on Ponytail Puck at the Olympics. “I’ll get crucified for saying so, but women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Games,” Rosie informed her readers. “It’s a cheap medal, in no way comparable to the paramountcy that some nations historically enjoy in a specific sport—like the Norwegians and cross-country skiing or Jamaicans and sprinting. There is at least some semblance of competition—gobs of it actually—with scads of elite athletes to make a challenge.” She added: “It will doubtless come down, as ever before, to a U.S.-Canada final on Feb. 17, with the Canadians looking for revenge after their loss to the Americans in Pyeongchang. Honestly, I’m getting sick of this mythologized rivalry and everybody else an also-ran. It ain’t sportin’.” Whatever you say, Rosie. But, honestly, I’m getting sick of mainstream media pooh-poohing or ignoring females in the playground.
GIFT: Two of my favorite Dons—Baizley and Duguid—received overdue hosannas this year. Baiz, a lawyer and player agent to many of hockey’s glitterati, was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, while Dugie, a world curling champion and pioneer among Pebble People, became an official member of the Order of Canada. I just wish Baiz was still around to enjoy the honor, even if he was never comfortable with people fawning over him.
GIFT: There’s been a Rouge Football revival on the Wet Coast of the land thanks to B.C. Leos bankroll Amar Doman and his foot soldiers. The Leos attracted an average audience of 20,387 to B.C. Place Stadium during the past CFL season, which is a hefty bump of 7,879 customers from a year ago, and they had a league-high gathering of 34,082 for their home opener. (Does it matter now that half the audience was there for a OneRepublic concert?)
LUMP O’ COAL: They have a Grey Cup champion football team, yet the rabble in the Republic of Tranna avoid the Argos the way a letter carrier dodges a mutt baring fangs. The average head count at BMO Field was 11,875 with a low of 9,806, and it’s apparent that only a halftime show featuring Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner streaking au naturel will bring The ROT rabble out to Argos games.
LUMP O’ COAL: Good grief. Another year and still zero female news snoops in the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. By my count, the CFHF media wing has a roll call of 103 members, 100 per cent of them male, 99.9 per cent of them white, 0 per cent of them female or gay. News snoops are quick to call out sports organizations for a lack of diversity, but apparently the same rules don’t apply to their own houses. The Football Reporters of Canada need to recognize that any female news snoop who survived close encounters with Cal Murphy in the 1980s and ’90s belongs in the Hall of Fame.
LUMP O’ COAL: The staggering proliferation of betting banter on sports TV news/highlight programming is a distressing bit of business.
GIFT: There’s been considerable gum-flapping about a play-for-pay women’s futbol league on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra three years hence, and the people doing the yakkety-yakking seem to have a clue. Diana Matheson and her business partner, Thomas Gilbert, have yet to put all their ducks in a row, but they’ve got two franchises in place (Vancouver and Calgary), they’ve brought Christine Sinclair on board (it’s never a bad idea to link arms with the all-time international goal-scoring leader), and they’re playing with CIBC and Air Canada money. By the time they kick off in 2025, the League To Be Named Later will feature eight teams across the land (four west, four east), and players can expect salaries ranging from $35,000-$75,000. My question: Is there anyone in Good Ol’ Hometown anxious to pony up with a $1 million up-front fee and $8-$10 million in operating costs for women’s soccer?
LUMP O’ COAL: TSN natterbug Kara Wagland described the creation of a women’s pro futbol circuit in Canada as a “monumental development.” Ya, it’s so “monumental” that TSN slotted it as the final item on its hour-long, overnight SportsCentre news/highlights package. Cripes, man, Joey Chestnut eating perogies got more prominent play that night, and I think we can all agree that the sight of Chestnut stuffing food into his gob is right up there on the cringe-o-metre with Glen Suitor swooning over Keith Urban on TSN’s broadcast of the 2019 Grey Cup game. Beasts with cloven hooves have better table manners than Chestnut. Yet TSN determined that his stomach-turning pigout was more newsworthy than the “monumental” women’s fitba story. Sigh.
GIFT: Sue Bird retired after 19 seasons and four WNBA championships with Seattle Storm, also five hoops gold medals at the Olympic Games…Brooke Henderson won two LPGA tournaments, including a major…Hoopster Brittney Griner found her way home to the U.S. after spending too much time in a Russian gulag…Felix Auger-Aliassime won four events on the ATP Tour and anchored Canada’s successful run at the Davis Cup…Iga Swiatek won 37 tennis matches in a row from February to July and two Grand Slam titles, the French Open and U.S. Open. Overall, she was 67-9 with eight titles…Roger Federer retired and the tennis maestro went out the same way he came in—with class…Aaron Judge swatted 62 dingers, more than any non-steroid-era player in Major League Baseball history…Nathan Rourke dazzled Rouge Football audiences until a foot owie laid him low nine games into the B.C. Lions crusade…Phil Kessel became the NHL’s iron man with a Pilsbury Dough Boy body. Go figure…Ironically, the first World Series since 1950 with zero U.S.-born Black players on either roster was won by a U.S.-born Black man, manager Dusty Baker of the Houston Astros.
GIFT: The Premier Hockey Federation remains the sole women’s shinny league in North America that actually is a league and—get this—it pays its players in salary, benefits and marketing share. In other words, it walks the walk. Now in its eighth season, there’s a $750,000 per-team player payroll that doubles to $1.5 million a year from now. Notably, that’s a 10-fold increase since 2021.
LUMP O’ COAL: The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. Created in May 2019, there was no league then—just a hissy fit—and there’s no league today—just the same old, tiresome hissy fit. Rather than play in the Premier Hockey Federation or unite to form a Ponytail Puck super league that the rabble might want to watch, PWHPA members prefer to hold their breath, stamp their feet and assemble for a scattering of glorified scrimmages that are mostly ignored by fans and mainstream media each winter. In the meantime, they talk, talk, talk and hope someone is listening. Oddly enough, the talking stopped at the recent all-star gala in Ottawa—PWHPA officials refused to make players available for natters with news snoops after the event. Way to sell your game, ladies.
LUMP O’ COAL: Back on Nov. 3, the puppetmasters at Postmedia informed Winnipeg Sun readers that they would be spiking the weekly TV listings and bulking up the sports section, “so you can get more from our award-winning sports reporters.” To which I responded: “Let’s hope going forward they fill the additional space with local copy, or off-beat copy, not a bunch of dreary rot from the Republic of Tranna.” Well, as advertised, Postmedia has bulked up the sports section in the Winnipeg Sun on Sundays, averaging 12 pages. But, as feared, it’s being filled with rot originating from hither and yon, with only 1-to-3 pages devoted to local sports and the majority of bylines from Republic of Tranna scribes. Don’t believe me? Well, in the four Sunday sections since Nov. 27, this is the byline tally: Toronto writers: 25 Winnipeg writers: 10 So, yes, it reads like the Torontopeg Sun. (Or should it be the Winnironto Sun?)
LUMP O’ COAL: Why does Postmedia insist on forcing Steve Simmons’ weekly alphabet fart on the Winnipeg market? His musings and cheap shots are almost totally Republic of Tranna-centric, and he mentions the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown about as often as a squandron of pink elephants perform a fly-by before a Bombers game. In his most-recent offering, for example, Simmons had 17 items on athletes/teams from the The ROT and the grand total of one (1) on the Jets/Bombers/anything Winnipeg. Do the suits at Postmedia truly believe that’s what the rabble in River City want to read?
LUMP O’ COAL: Management geniuses at the Drab Slab refuse to hire a sports columnist. The guy they bill as their sports columnist, Mad Mike McIntyre, has never written a piece on the fabulous female curlers in Manitoba, which is like scribbling for National Geographic and not writing a word about Mother Nature. I mean, the jock news pecking order in Good Ol’ Hometown is Jets, Bombers and curling. So how do you snub female Pebble People when all they’ve done is win four of the past five Scotties (it’s five-for-five if you want to include homegrown Chelsea Carey in 2019)? He also mostly ignores the Bombers, who’ve been in the past three Grey Cup games, winning twice. It’s lame, negligent and unacceptable, and I’ll never understand how a big-city daily allows its sports columnist to snub two of the three major beats.
GIFT: Between Ted Wyman at the Winnipeg Sun and Jeff Hamilton at the Drab Slab, Good Ol’ Hometown receives the best print coverage of Rouge Football on Our Mostly Frozen Tundra. Teddy and Jeff lap the field every year.
LUMP O’ COAL: Carey Price put up a pro-gun post four days prior to the 33rd anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique massacre, in which 14 women were slaughtered. It’s okay for the Montreal Canadiens goaltender to be pro firearms, but the timing of his post was ghastly. Almost as bad was teammate Joel Edmundson, who said this about that: “None of us are really aware of what happened 30 years ago. The (Polytechnique) anniversary is fast approaching—it’s news to all of us, to be honest.” Good grief.
GIFT: To say Rick Bowness came in with a bang would be the biggest understatement since Noah said, “Geez, it smells like rain.” The Winnipeg Jets freshly minted head coach hadn’t been in town long enough to order a cup o’ java and cheese nip at the Sals when he instructed the seamstress to snip the ‘C’ off Blake Wheeler’s jersey, and I’d say it’s been win-win for both parties. Bones’ Jets are running with the National Hockey League’s big dogs, and Wheeler, until being felled by an owie, had been productive with less ice time and less face time with news snoops. That’s the bonus, of course: No more daily sourpuss sound bites from the former Captain Grumpy Pants.
GIFT: The Jets hit all the right notes when they unveiled a downtown pigeon perch to legend Dale Hawerchuk in October.
LUMP O’ COAL: Let’s be clear, Greg Norman and Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson et al have a right to earn a living with the LIV Golf Series, even if it means they need to wash the Saudi blood off their hands every time they cash a paycheque. But does Norman have to be so bitter about it? My goodness, it’s as if every horse in the Kentucky Derby piddled on the Shark’s Corn Flakes one morning.
LUMP O’ COAL: Here’s all you need to know aboutthe Saudi/Greg Norman LIV Golf Series: Pat Perez was handed a four-year, $10 million deal, just to stick a tee in the ground. “Look, I know I can’t beat those kids (on the PGA Tour) anymore. This was a great opportunity for me. I have nothing against the PGA Tour; they did a lot for me, but I had to earn everything I got out there.” Imagine that. Earning your wage. What a concept.
LUMP O’ COAL: TV talking heads made complete donkeys of themselves with their gushing over has-beens Tiger Woods and Serena Williams like they’re still at the top of their games. Hey, maybe Tiger will win another golf tournament (doubtful), and perhaps Williams hasn’t actually retired and she’ll return to win another tennis tourney. Until then, the boys and girls in the blurt box need to use their yakkety-yak time to talk about athletes winning today, not back in the day.
LUMP O’ COAL: Damien Cox and friends of the Toronto Star still believe they have the final say on Canada’s athlete-of-the-year. As if…Novak Djokovic is still wearing tin foil on his head…Bob Costas sat behind the play-by-play mic during MLB playoffs and he refused to shut the hell up. He talked about everything but baseball…The Arizona Coyotes play in a 4,800-seat rinky-dink rink…Danny Maciocia canned Khari Jones due to a lack of discipline and hired himself as head coach of the Montreal Larks. So what happened in the fourth quarter of their East Division final vs. the Toronto Argos? Maciocia’s Larks took four undisciplined penalties to seal their fate…TSN talking heads continually lied about head counts for CFL games. Yo! Boys! We aren’t stupid. We can see the empty seats. Glen Suitor was the worst, constantly blabbing about “packed” ballparks and telling us there was “close to 40,000” at B.C. Place Stadium for the West semifinal, even if attendance was scarcely more than 30,000. Meanwhile, Milt Stegall informed us the Bombers had “sellouts through the season.” There were, in fact, two sellouts, both in September…Kyrie Irving, just because he’s Kyrie Irving…The Boston Bruins signed bully Mitchell Miller and the Montreal Canadiens signed Logan Mailloux, a young man who likes to take pics of women engaged in sexual activity and, without their consent, share the photos with his frat boy buddies. Oinkers.
LUMP O’ COAL: Dumbest tweet of the year from Theoren Fleury, the former NHLer and current conspiracy theorist who, when last seen, was plummeting into a deep rabbit hole: “The biggest spreaders of misinformation are the ones who are spreading misinformation.”
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Plenty to unpack this morning, kids, so let’s get right down to business…
Well, the boys at TSN almost got it right, the operative word being “almost.”
I mean, they pieced together their all-time Winnipeg Jets roster and they’re trying to tell us that The Shoe, Larks-Erik Sjoberg, is not—repeat, is not—one of the top six blueliners to wear the local shinny side’s livery? Instead, they name him the “foundational” player?
Good gawd. That’s like giving Jesus Christ a participation badge for showing up at the Last Supper.
Speaking of Christians…it’s about Dave Christian. Fabulous guy. Part of the Miracle On Ice. Saw him score his first goal, seven seconds into his first shift in his first National Hockey League game. Crowd at the Old Barn On Maroons Road went bonkers. Led the team in scoring one winter. But no. He isn’t an all-timer.
And on what planet known to man is Rink Rat Scheifele superior to Alexei Zhamnov? Only Planet TSN.
Andrew freaking Ladd? Talk about losing the plot. Freddy Olausson? Great kid, scattershot game. Paul Maurice? Are they spoofing us now?
Look, I realize this exercise by TSN was meant to generate chatter at a time when there isn’t a whole lot of sports to chatter about and, on that score, I suppose it’s mission accomplished. And, as mentioned, they struck most of the right notes. But their gaffes were as big as Ondrej Pavelec’s five-hole.
Start with The Shoe.
I don’t know the makeup of the TSN selection panel, but apparently none of them saw Sjoberg play. Here’s how I described him in a recent essay: “Squat like a fire hydrant, The Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.”
And this from Ron Chipperfield of the Edmonton Oilers: “I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the (World Hockey Association) five years.”
Here are some of Sjoberg’s bona fides: Team captain in both the WHA and NHL; three WHA titles; most outstanding defenceman in WHA (1977-78); first team all-star (’77-78); member of WHA Hall of Fame; member of Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame; member of Jets Hall of Fame.
Apparently all that escaped the notice of the boys at TSN, who slotted Olausson into the starting six instead. Hey, Freddy was a treat. Always quick with a smile. But if he was a better defenceman than The Shoe, then a bowl of Cheerios is a cure for COVID-19. We won’t see the day when Freddy’s name and number are raised to the rafters at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie beside The Shoe’s banner.
Now let’s move on to Scheifele v. Zhamnov. No comparison.
Zhamnov was slick, inventive, clever and did things with the puck that Rink Rat can only pull off with a PlayStation or Xbox joystick in his hand. The Russian finished third in NHL scoring one season, behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros, and he averaged 1.14 points per game with the Jets. Scheifele’s PPG is .855. Zhamnov also knew his way around the defensive end of the freeze, something that is too often a concept foreign to Scheifele.
Meanwhile, it’s about Paul Maurice.
Coach Potty Mouth is TSN’s choice as bench puppeteer, even though he’s accomplished squat. They trumpet his longevity and a .579 win/loss percentage, but ignore the reality that his Jets had their noses pressed to the window looking in at the Stanley Cup tournament three times in his first six crusades. When they did qualify for the spring runoff, his win/loss percentage is .407. That’s beyond lame.
Bobby Kromm should be the coach. Regular season record: .621; playoff record, .697; WHA titles, 1.
Finally, part of the TSN all-time team criteria was a checking unit. So, you remove Ladd and Christian from their lineup and insert Bill Lesuk, and Willy Lindstrom, who flank Thomas Steen.
The most talented of all Jets was Kent Nilsson, but the Swedish maestro wasn’t eligible due to a lack of games played. Kenta wore Jets linen for just two seasons before being taken hostage by the Atlanta Flames, and they were memorable. Both ended in WHA championships, he produced 107 points in each, and he was a two-time award winner (top rookie, most gentlemanly player).
Some might be surprised that I included Lesuk on my all-time team. Don’t be. When it came to dogging opposing forwards, no Jet did it better than the Tractor. He was like an extra layer of skin on foes, and also one of the nicest men in hockey.
Quick sidebar on Lesuk: After a particularly harsh critique in which I suggested the Jets had been wearing Pampers in a lopsided loss, the Tractor pulled me aside for a quiet chat the following day. “I don’t mind you being critical when we deserve it, but is it really necessary to write that we’re wearing diapers? I’m sure you can do better than that.” No screaming, no ranting, no confrontation. Just a reasoned comment. I’d never received such a polite dressing down. And, of course, he was correct.
By the way, I’m not alone in my rejection of TSN’s all-time Jets team. Old friend and longtime broadcaster Joe Pascucci and Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun took to Twitter to provide their choices. I’ll let you decide if they’re flawed. (Hint: They are.)
Canadian Football League commish Randy Ambrosie made his pitch for great gobs of cash ($30 million-$150 million) to the feds the other day, and he leaned heavily on syrupy sentiment, telling members of Parliament that private owners in our three-downs game aren’t in it for fame and certainly not fortune. “Sports philanthropists,” is how he described people like David Braley in B.C. and Bob Young in the Hammer, while Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment purchased the Tranna Argos out of “love,” don’t you know. There was also the predictable mention of “Canadian culture” and how much the CFL means to the masses. Except, according to a recent Angus Reid poll, the rabble doesn’t appear to be all-in on our quirky game. Asked if they would be “disappointed” should the 2020 CFL season be scuttled, here are the numbers:
Manitoba: 63 per cent
Saskatchewan: 61 per cent
Alberta: 45 per cent
B.C.: 34 per cent
Quebec: 31 per cent
Ontario: 28 per cent
Atlantic Canada: 17 per cent
As you can see, a huge majority of folks in Eastern Canada really don’t give a damn about the CFL and, in fact, they’ll be more disappointed if the National Football League season is trashed.
No COVID-19 vaccine, no herd immunity, no large gatherings in B.C. Which means no pro football. “The B.C. Lions need to have bums in the seats. I don’t see that happening,” Premier John Horgan said last week. So it won’t happen. The Leos’ bankroll, David Braley, isn’t going to pay his players to perform in front of empty pews at B.C. Place Stadium without cash flowing his way. Which begs the question: Will the Lions ever return, given the indifference that already exists on the Left Flank?
Just a thought: If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers don’t survive the COVID-19 pandemic, how long will it take for David Asper to hop on a white steed and rescue the franchise?
Now that Brendan Leipsic has been used as a pinata the past three days (justified) and the Washington Capitals have washed their hands of the fringe forward (also justified) for his dreadful, callous comments about women, let me just say this about that: I hope he enjoys hockey in Russia. The KHL, of course, is a haven for those with a sordid past. For evidence, see: Voynov, Slava. See: Peters, Bill. Hey, perhaps the Peters-coached Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg can provide a soft landing for Leipsic. Mind you, can there be anything “soft” about a place called Yekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk Oblast. Sounds like 200 square miles of hard labor.
Not all young, testosterone-fueled hockey players think of women as nothing more than meat on the hoof, but no one should be surprised that Leipsic and buddies harbor a mindset that belongs in another century. Their vulgar, body-shaming natter simply underscores the reality that misogyny and sexism in male sports remains as commonplace as chin whiskers at playoff time. And don’t run off with the notion that it’s limited to the locker room. It exists in the pews, or have you forgotten about the “Sedin sisters” and “Cindy” Crosby?
Former player Brett Hull has weighed in on Leipsic and pals, offering these thoughts: “We did the same things, we said the same things, but there was no way to get caught. We can go out after games, we can go to strip clubs, we can go to bars, and we could do whatever we wanted, and it would all be hearsay. The fun is gone. The game is not fun anymore to me.” Yes, hockey was so much more fun when the lads could spend their down time on the QT, hooting and hollering at a woman while she peeled off her clothing. Sigh.
Although the intimate details re locale and principals are sketchy, I recall standing on the fringe of a circle of Winnipeg Jets one winter, all of us loitering in an airport boarding area while awaiting a connecting flight. The topic du jour was trash talk. Although not a lengthy natter, it produced one nugget of insight: Players can rag on each other about anything—“Except wives, girlfriends and kids; they’re off limits.” I’m thinking it was Peter Sullivan who said it, but, as stated, my memory is iffy. It might have been Lyle Moffat or Kim Clackson. Doesn’t matter. Leipsic called Vancouver Canuck forward Tanner Pearson’s bride Meaghan “fat,” and that’s breaking an unwritten code.
My favorite tweet re L’Affaire Leipsic was delivered by Melissa Martin of the Drab Slab: “To be honest, I’m super burned out on writing about shitty men in sports. So I wrote about some awesome women instead.” Melissa’s column is top drawer, and hers is one of the few mainstream media female voices heard in the discussion. Which is most unfortunate. Only women can speak to the very heart of this issue, given that they’ve spent a lifetime listening to such bile, so we need more of them in jock journalism. Not just on the print side, understand. On air, too. As it is, it was left for Jeff O’Dog, Jamie McLennan, Ray Ferraro and Bryan Hayes to do the blah, blah, blah thing on TSN Overdrive. And what did they discuss? Leipsic not being welcomed back into the Capitals locker room and privacy issues/social media. There was very little mention of misogyny. Hayes feels “horrible for Tanner Pearson and his wife,” but he and the others expressed scant concern for the other woman trashed by Leipsic and fellow cads.
Worst take had to be a Twitter exchange between Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab and a reader/follower. The latter called the former “a fat looking nerd” and the former responded by calling the latter “a garbage human being.” Good grief. Are we back in Grade 5, boys?
There’s talk of former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson returning to the ring at age 53 to fight Kiwi boxer-turned-rugby star Sonny Bill Williams. But apparently Williams began to have second thoughts when Tyson looked at him and said, “My, what big ears you have.”
Is it just me, or does anyone else look at TSN’s UFC guy Robin Black and see an aging Eddie Munster? I swear, Eddie and Robin were separated at birth, and Herman and Lily Munster probably don’t even know about it.
And, finally, how big a star was Little Richard, who died on Saturday? Well, the Beatles and Rolling Stones once were his opening acts. Yup, that big. My favorite Little Richard tune is Long Tall Sally, and rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t get much better than the Beatles’ version. Paul McCartney really gets after it on vocals and Ringo gives his Ludwig drum kit a fearsome thrashing. The lads recorded Long Tall Sally in one take, and it’s the last song they ever performed on tour.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. What’s the point? I know I wouldn’t keep them.
I mean, I could resolve to cease my regular criticisms of jock journalists. And I could really, really mean it. Girl Guides honor. Cross my heart and hope to die. But then one of the girls or boys on the beat would scribble or say something goofy, dumb, ridiculous or all of the above and it would be like a tub of chocolate swirl ice cream—I would have to have at it.
Thus, I do the opposite. I make New Year’s non-resolutions. That way, I can’t go wrong. I know I’ll break every one of my non-resolutions long before the year is done and I’ll be happy about it.
With that in mind, here are my New Year’s non-resolutions for 2017…
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 47 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.