Winnipeg Sports 1970-present: The top-50 movers and shakers

Something a little different today, kids.

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.

Ben Hatskin, the day he signed Bobby Hull at Portage and Main.

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.

Michael Gobuty

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.

Cal Murphy

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.

Anders Hedberg, agent Don Baizley and Ulf Nilsson.

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.

John Ferguson and Ducky at the 1981 NHL entry draft.

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.

Jennifer Jones and Jill Officer

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.

Teemu Selanne and the Calder Trophy

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.

Moosie Turnbull

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.

Coleen Dufresne and Garth Pischke.

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.

Brian Dobie

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.

Tom Kendall and his U of W Lady Wesmen

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.

Jennifer Botterill

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.

Harvey Warner

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.

Milt Stegall

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.

Andy Van Hellemond

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.

Gold medalists Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.

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.

Sandy Riley

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.

Friar Nicolson and his former sidekick Sod Keilback.

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.

Let’s talk about survival and the Winnipeg Jets…Hoser Hockey and the NHL’s Hoser Division…Dustin Johnson’s swagger…the Incredible Bulk…Alex Trebek’s hairy lip…the lady is a GM…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and it’s the rainy season where I live, so here’s a downpouring of some watered-down notions…

During a pandemic that shows no inclination toward surrender, men with tall foreheads and bulked-up bankrolls plot strategy, concocting ways to make a 2021 National Hockey League crusade doable.

And, by doable, that means as minimal a financial wallop as possible.

Mark Chipman

In the most-desired timeline, they’ll drop the first puck on a runt of a season on New Year’s Day, on both sides of our closed border. Alas, they’ll do so in empty buildings, which means zero gate revenue, zero concessions revenue, zero game-day merchandise revenue, and zero parking revenue. Meanwhile, the millionaire players expect at least 72 per cent of their pay from the billionaire owners.

In a best-case scenario, squints in lab coats will discover a vaccine that brings COVID-19 to heel early in 2021, allowing the faithful a safe return to the rink and a revenue stream, however weak, for the owners as they complete a season of no fewer than 48 games and no more than 72.

But all of that is as iffy as Donald Trump’s quest to overturn the will of 78,662,167 people who voted him out of the Oval Office.

It’s a guessing game. I mean, if Moses were to trundle down from Mount Sinai during this pandemic with an updated edition of the 10 Commandments, it would be written in pencil on a paper napkin, not etched in big, stone tablets, because what’s gospel today won’t necessarily be gospel tomorrow.

Which brings me to the point of this essay: Survival and the Winnipeg Jets.

David Thomson

Good Ol’ Hometown is the smallest market in the NHL and the Jets frolic in the smallest barn, with room for 15,321 rumps in the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Co-bankrolls Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and David Thomson haven’t seen any game-day revenue since March, when the coronavirus put sports on lockdown, and there doesn’t figure to be any ka-ching in their immediate future.

Therefore, I remind you of something NHL commish Gary Bettman muttered on May 31, 2011, the day the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City and officially became the Winnipeg Jets:

“To be candid, this isn’t going to work very well unless this building is sold out every night.”

We know not every game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie was SRO during the 2019-20 crusade, and it’s a certainty that there’ll be zero customers to begin a shortened 2021 season, even as the Puck Pontiff and/or Thomson cut six- and seven-figure cheques for their on-ice work force. So what’s the financial breaking point?

Yes, of course, I realize Thomson is the wealthiest man in Canada, with a net worth of $35.7 billion. But he didn’t build that bankroll by being stupid.

And here’s something else to consider:

In the Winnipeg Sun annual survey of the Jets faithful, readers were asked if they’ll attend games once health officials give the okie-dokie to return. Of the approximately 1,200 respondents, 38.2 per cent will be back, 36.5 per cent will return only once there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, while 25.2 per cent are done with the Jets.

Do the math: Even after the squints in lab coats have done their job, Winnipeg HC is looking at a post-pandemic audience of 75 per cent capacity, or 11,490 customers per game.

Sources have told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that there are three to five owners who insist their franchises won’t survive a makeshift season, not if it means empty or near-empty buildings and paying players 72 per cent of their contracts. I’d like to think that doomsday scenario doesn’t apply to the Jets, but we can’t be certain because the Puck Pontiff has less to say than a street mime.

It’s also important to note that, even at the best of times, he’s bringing in Canadian dollars and paying out American greenbacks, so can he make a go of it at 75 per cent capacity? Commish Bettman says no.

The question, therefore, is this: How much of a bath are the Puck Pontiff and Thomson prepared to take?

Chevy

Nobody asked me, but I say there’s nothing about an all-Canadian division in the NHL that should keep the Jets awake at night. Oh, sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs look boffo on paper, but we all know what happens to the multi-millionaires in blue-and-white when the games really matter. That’s right, pratfall. The Leafs are paper tigers until they prove otherwise, but I’ll concede them first place in a runted season of 48 games, or thereabouts. After that, it’s a crap shoot in Hoser Hockey. Seriously. Edmonton has Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a bunch of spare parts. Vancouver has lost its goaltender. Marc Bergevin has given the Montreal Canadiens an interesting makeover, but I wonder what’s left in Shea Weber’s tank. Ottawa is on training wheels. What about Calgary? Can you say Milan Lucic, kids? Having said all that, I’d like the Jets a whole lot better if GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would give his head a shake and do something about his blueline. Chevy’s dithering in that area is rather disturbing, also extremely negligent.

Interesting survey of 21 NHL player agents in The Athletic. Asked to name a high-profile player most likely to change work clothes in the next year, our guy Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres topped the list with four votes each. I’m okay with Chevy dealing Puck Finn, but he better receive a package that includes a legit top-pair defenceman in barter, otherwise he’ll never be able to go grocery shopping in Good Ol’ Hometown again.

Dustin Johnson

So, I’m watching Dustin Johnson bring Augusta National to its knees in the first three rounds of The Masters, and I’m wondering if he has a pulse. I mean, he golfs with all the enthusiasm and urgency of a guy whose wife has asked him to get off the couch and change a light bulb.

Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy who’ll take one look at The Masters champion’s green jacket and ask, “Does it come in different colors?”

I don’t know if Johnson walks with a strut or a swagger, but I’m pretty sure the Earp boys and Doc Holliday were walking with the exact same stride when they headed toward the O.K. Corral.

I can’t explain why the Incredible Bulk, Bryson DeChambeau, bugs me so much, but he really gets up my nose. Maybe it’s the deformed body. Maybe it’s the uppity attitude and him pooh-poohing Augusta National as a par-67 golf course when everybody else is playing to par-72. Maybe it was him asking a marshal if his lost ball would be declared a lost ball on third hole Friday, as if a different set of rules applies to him. Whatever the case, I don’t normally root for athletes to fail, but I didn’t mind watching him implode at The Masters.

Phil Mickelson at The Masters: “I’m driving like a stallion.” Ya, and putting like a donkey.

For some reason, the talking heads on ESPN and CBS golf insist on telling us that Tiger Woods made the “greatest comeback in sports history” by winning The Masters last year. I have two words for them: Ben Hogan. The great Hogan lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, lifelong circulation difficulties, and he required blood transfusions. Oh, and did I mention that he almost died due to blood clots? He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that. Tiger battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges, but nothing life-threatening. The talking heads know all this, so why do they continue to prop Tiger up as a mythical creature?

Apparently Tokyo officials are toying with idea of a no-cheering policy at the Olympic Games next summer. That’s right, fans will be instructed to refrain from rowdy behavior and not allowed to cheer, although muttering is acceptable. Hmmm, muttering but no cheering. Sounds like a New York Jets home game.

What’s up with Tony La Russa? The Chicago White Sox manager was pulled over last week and slapped with a DUI charge, his second, after wheeling his vehicle into a curb and then becoming uppity and belligerent with cops. “Do you see my ring?” he asked. “I’m a Hall of Famer baseball person. I’m legit. I’m a Hall of Famer, brother. You’re trying to embarrass me.” That’s so lame. The only guy who can use the “Do you see my ring?” defence wears a pointy hat and rides in the Popemobile, and he can only get away with it if the arresting cop is Catholic.

Kim Ng

Yes, I agree, it’s fantastic that Kim Ng has been anointed GM of the Miami Marlins, the first female to hold that lofty position with a Major League Baseball team. But let’s not get carried away with comparisons to Jackie Robinson. Ng’s is a signature appointment, to be sure, and hopefully it’ll open a door for other women, but she’s been in the game, and accepted, for 30 years. Numerous women have owned MLB franchises. Others have served in different administration roles, and on coaching staffs, and in the broadcast booth. This is nothing like a Black man entering MLB in 1947.

Murat Ates of The Athletic has pulled away from the keyboard to clear his head after suffering a third concussion. He won’t be sharing his fine prose with us until December, and I can only hope he recovers fully. Concussions can be a tricky bit of business and, yes, I speak from lived experience. I’ve had 10 of them. So nothing but good wishes for Murat.

A young Alex Trebek

Love this Alex Trebek story from Ken Campbell of The Hockey News:

“The year was 1971 and Hockey Night in Canada had just fired Ward Cornell and was looking for a younger and more dynamic replacement. The way former executive producer Ralph Mellanby tells it, five candidates made the short list. One of them was Dave Hodge, who ultimately got the job and hosted the show for 16 years. Another was Trebek, who had joined the CBC after graduating from the University of Ottawa and was best known for hosting a high school game show called Reach for the Top. He had also hosted broadcasts of horse racing and figure skating. ‘We wanted to get younger and more vibrant,’ Mellanby said. ‘And one of the guys I got from Ottawa was Alex Trebek. He was doing some sports and other things. I really liked Trebek.’ Mellanby said he was in the office of his boss, Ted Hough, the former president of the Canadian Sports Network, which produced Hockey Night. As Hough and Mellanby watched the audition tapes of the five finalists, the more Mellanby wanted Trebek to fill the chair. But he was overruled by his boss, who had a strict rule that immediately eliminated Trebek from the running. ‘We’re watching (Trebek’s) audition and I said, ‘Ted, that’s the guy I really want,’ Mellanby said. ‘And he said, ‘We’re not hiring him. We don’t hire guys with moustaches!’ So I hired Dave Hodge.’”

I note that Neil Young turned 75 last week. Many of us from Good Ol’ Hometown lay claim to Neil as one of our own, because he went to high school at Kelvin and he began his music career at our teen dances. My favorite Neil Young tune: Harvest Moon. Favorite Neil Young album: Old Ways.

And, finally, I think it’s only fair to warn you that the shelf life of the River City Renegade has almost expired. I turn 70 at the end of the month, and I think that’s as good a time as any to cut back on my peculiar brand of silliness. I won’t be quitting cold turkey, but the end is nigh.

Let’s talk about no sports for writers to write about…dog sled racing and a vasectomy in the Drab Slab…Cheech and Chintzy won’t show arena workers the money…strange scribblings from The ROT…trashing the Thrashers…the Church of Maggie…and Rachel Homan fires Lisa Weagle

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and great Caesar’s ghost, does anything good ever happen on the Ides of March?

My most-distant recollection of sports dates back to the mid-1950s, either ’55 or ’56, when I sat in the nose-bleed pews of Winnipeg Arena, which was rather spiffy in its newness.

Below on the freeze whirled Billy Mosienko and Eric Nesterenko and Spider Mazur and others adorned in the gold-and-black livery of the Winnipeg Warriors, a freshly minted outfit in a nine-team Western Hockey League that stretched from Good Ol’ Hometown to Victoria and dipped south into Seattle.

I would have been five or six years old at the time, my eyes as wide as the centre-ice faceoff circle, and although I don’t recall the Warriors’ foe—nor the final score or whether I had a hot dog, a box of popcorn or both to go with my Coke—I can report that none of us in attendance gave consideration to “social distancing.” We were scrunched into the barn, somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 of us cheek-to-jowl, each delighted to be eye witnesses to a real, live professional hockey match.

That night represents Ground Zero for me in a lifetime of observing the kid’s games that grown men play for what once was a working-man’s wage but now makes them instant millionaires.

I’m now four months into my 70th spin around the sun and I’ve not known a world without sports since my Winnipeg Arena baptism in ’55 or ’56, even if I have sometimes wondered what a world without sports would be like.

Winnipeg Arena circa 1955.

I played sports. I watched sports. I harbored a voracious appetite for sports reading. Had I spent as much time with my nose stuck in school text books as I did jock journals and the sports section of the daily newspapers, I might have achieved higher loft than a C student. And bringing my report card home might not have been done with such paralyzing dread.

That enchantment with all things jock led to a career in sports journalism, not by design so much as circumstance and a favorable nod from Dame Fortune.

But I divorced myself from sports on a professional level 20-plus years ago, three decades after walking into the fifth-floor toy department at the Winnipeg Tribune for the first time. I’d like to say it was a full, never-look-back split, but that would be a mistruth. There have been numerous freelance gigs. There was a brief and self-aborted return to the rag trade. There have been contributions to various websites. And, of course, every time I’m struck with the notion to shut down this River City Renegade blog, something or someone (e.g. my doctor) reels me back in.

“You have to keep your mind active,” has been his repeated reminder, always accompanied by a caution that a rousing game of bingo does nothing to activate my grey matter.

Thus, I have discovered there is no world without sports.

Until now.

Sports is over. It’s been dark since last Thursday.

They won’t flip the switch back on until intelligent women and men in lab coats and with microscopes and test tubes discover a vaccine to corral the coronavirus, then give health authorities the okie-dokie for athletes and the rabble to return to the playground.

So while the squints stare at germs under glass and sports remains in limbo, will it change my life? A smidgen.

I’ll still make my twice-a-week pilgrimage to my favorite watering hole, Bart’s Pub, and the pints Jack the Bartender pours will still be wet and cold. I just won’t be able to sneak a peek at the flatscreen in the corner to see how the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the Jets or Manitoba’s curlers are getting on, and I’m okay with that.

Frankly, the suspension/pause/cancellation of sports might be my cue to exit. Finally. I mean, I’ve had my innings. Like, more than 50 years worth of innings scribbling about the jocks in Good Ol’ Hometown.

It’s been a trip. A bloody good trip.

Truthfully, I’m concerned about today’s jock journos, print division. They had no desire to quit sports, but sports has quit them. And now they’ll begin to run on fumes. I mean, they’ve already exhausted their main talking point—shutting down was “the right thing to do; life is bigger than sports”—so there’s nothing left for them to wax on about until the squints have their say, and that will be many, many months from now. Their only hope is for the Olympic Games to proceed, which is a faint and delusional expectation, and I’m sure it’s a shuddering reality for some. I really wonder how many of them will still be there when sports breaks through to the other side.

You think I’m kidding about the ink-stained wretches running on fumes? Consider this: The sports front in the Drab Slab this very day is a full-page pic of a Chinese badminton player and, inside, you can read all about vasectomies and dog sled racing. Meanwhile, columnist Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna was tweeting about women’s Olympic wrestling on Saturday. He cares as much about women’s grappling, and ponytail sports in general, as Jose Altuve and the Houston Astros care about getting caught stealing signs. It’s anything to justify one’s existence, I suppose.

Come to think of it, why were women wrestling in Ottawa when every other sports activity known to man has gone dark (except the UFC, where Dana White insists on showcasing grown women and men beating each other to a bloody pulp)? What, wrestlers don’t touch each other’s face with dirty hands while rolling around on a dirty floor? Odd bit of business, that.

Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman: “No pay for you!”

It’s not my business to tell Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman or David Thomson how to spend their millions and billions of dollars, but I wonder if the Jets co-bankrolls know how chintzy they look by leaving their 1,050 event workers at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie high, dry and out of pocket now that the National Hockey League has hit the pause button. “They work when we work,” the Puck Pontiff informed news snoops last week, his tone as cold and callous as a jury foreman reading a guilty verdict at a murder trial. So the minions don’t get paid, but the millionaire players continue to fatten their wallets, and that’s something Cheech and Chintzy might want to reconsider. It’s a dreadful optic. Just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.

This just in: Cheech and Chintzy now say they’ll pay their casual and part-time workers for postponed events until the end of the month. As I was saying, just because you don’t have to do something, it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But True North Sports+Entertainment took a massive PR hit nonetheless.

Kudos to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun for calling out Chipman on the no-pay for arena part-timers issue. It had to be written. Scott Billeck of the tabloid, meanwhile, shamed the Jets co-bankrolls on social media.  Unless I missed it, opinionists at the Drab Slab have been mum on the matter, but I suppose they were too busy digging up those compelling vasectomy and dog sled stories.

Cathal Kelly

Some seriously strange scribbling out of the Republic of Tranna last week, starting with Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. In reference to COVID-19 shutting down 99.9 per cent of the sports world, he offered this:

“When I think of the very best of sports in the city I live in, I remember that night last May when the Toronto Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks for the NBA’s Eastern Conference title. A lot of Canadians hadn’t cared until that moment. Suddenly, every single one of us did.”

We did? My friends and I must have missed that memo.

Kelly then added, “Whatever comes next is not going to be good, but I believe the spirit of that night will hold in this city, and every other one in Canada.”

Oh, good gawd. Only someone from The ROT would believe that those of us who live in the colonies are clinging to the memory of a distant basketball game to get us through the coronavirus crisis. I guess we can all stop stocking up on toilet paper now.

Similarly silly was Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star calling Rudy Gobert “a hero.” I don’t know about you, but my idea of a hero is a war veteran, a firefighter, a cop, a first-responder, a doctor, a nurse, not a basketball player who thought the coronavirus was a big joke and likely infected people because he acted like a complete doofus.

Then there was Steve Simmons, whose weak attempt at humor re pro teams performing in front of empty facilities fell flat. “Anyone who attended Atlanta Thrashers games back in the day knows what it’s like to have a pro sporting event without fans,” he tweeted. That’s rich. A guy from The ROT trashing another burg because of poor attendance. The Tranna Argonauts, with their sub-10,000 head counts at BMO Field, are an embarrassment to the Canadian Football League, and the Blue Jays have led Major League Baseball in lost customers two years in a row. Fact is, the Argos attracted an average of 12,493 last season, and we all know the actual head count was considerably lower than that. In their final whirl in Atlanta, the Thrashers attracted an average of 13,469, and that included audiences of 16,000-plus five times down the stretch. But, hey, let’s ignore the facts and take cheap shots Atlanta. What a d’oh boy.

Pastor Maggie

Hey, turns out there’s an easy fix for the deadly coronavirus—gather all 7.5 billion of us together and squeeze us into the Church of Maggie, otherwise known as the Victory Life Church, a temple in Perth, Australia, created by tennis legend and raging homophobe Margaret Court. Seems Pastor Maggie sent out a communiqué last week claiming: “We are in agreement that this Convid-19 (sic) will not come near our dwelling or our church family. We are praying daily for you, knowing that we are all protected by the Blood of Jesus.” Hmmm. If only Tom Hanks and his bride Rita Wilson knew.

Pastor Maggie’s statement included this ‘oh, by the way’: “For your convenience, hand sanitiser readily available at all of our sites.” Meaning what? The “Blood of Jesus” isn’t enough?

Rachel Homan and Lisa Weagle

So Rachel Homan and her gal pals have fired lead Lisa Weagle from their fab curling team, and apparently Homan, Emma Miskew and Joanne Courtney did the dirty deed behind Lisa’s back. Just wondering, will Homan now be crapped on from high heights, or is that treatment still reserved for Jennifer Jones? If you recall, Jones fired Cathy Overton-Clapham from her championship team back in 2010, and it was as if she’d tied a large rock to a little, warm puppy and dropped her in the middle of Lake Winnipeg. It will be interesting to see if there’s similar fallout for Homan, but somehow I doubt it.

And, finally, I’m down to my last pack of toilet paper, so why do I feel guilty about going to the market and buying another dozen rolls?

Let’s talk about kids’ piggy banks, Peter Warren and empty seats…the Winnipeg Jets D…Tiger’s tell-all tome…a coverup in Tinseltown…dumb stuff at Sportsnet…St. Louis Blues visit the Trumps…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I understood some of what Don Cherry said on Saturday night, so I’ve made an appointment with my shrink…

Okay, kids, time to bust open the piggy banks and empty the coin jars.

And, hey, is it too soon to send an S.O.S. to Peter Warren, asking him to fire up the flatbed Ford and start tooting around town to prod senior citizens into turning over their pension cheques?

I know. Sounds crazy.

Bobby Hull and Peter Warren.

I mean, just because our hockey heroes recently performed in front of (unsold) empty seats for the first time (officially) since 2011, there’s no cause to declare a state of emergency. The Winnipeg Jets aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so let’s have no talk of Houston or Cleveland or San Diego or Ville de Quebec.

Still, for those of us who recall dire times and more than one Save The Jets campaign that really did include kids and piggy banks—and Warren turning his CJOB Action Line into a Jerry Lewis-style telethon—it feels like deja vu all over again.

We remember Warren’s pleas from the lobby of the Marlborough Hotel in June 1974, and on downtown streets in May 1995. The legendary broadcaster who always got “right down to business” did more groveling than a dude whose wife found the wrong shade of lipstick on his collar.

It worked in ’74. Not so much 21 years later.

Benny Hatskin

Benny Hatskin, noticing too many empty seats in the Winnipeg Arena and weary of writing cheques in red ink in 1974, turned his then-World Hockey Association franchise over—lock, stock and Bobby Hull’s hairpiece—to civic leaders with all the right intentions, but only after the rabble had ponied up in excess of $600,000 in nickels, dimes and cashier’s cheques not made of rubber.

One of the many who helped save the Jets that year was Margaret-Ann Farr, a 76-year-old who had earmarked $500 in savings for a trip to her homeland in Scotland. Instead, she gave it to the Jets, even though she had never seen them play. No, I can’t tell you if Maggie eventually found her way home to the ol’ sod, but I can tell you that your favorite hockey team was once owned by a dog, because one guy donated $25 on behalf of his pooch, Lady Jet.

And so it went.

The old barn on Maroons Road.

It was much the same in 1995—not enough customers in the old barn on Maroons Road, amped-up salaries ($13 million player payroll), lousy Canadian dollar and, most important, no one with deep pockets interested in frittering away what remained in their deep pockets. Again, they went hat in hand to the people and raised more than $13 million in a bid to preserve their National Hockey League outfit. Trouble was, they needed $32 million, thus the Jets swanned off to Arizona.

And now we’re noticing reminders of the way it was.

The Jets were 561 people short of a sellout at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie last Tuesday with the Arizona Coyotes in town. Two nights later, they were 262 shy of a full barn for a visit from the New York Islanders. The Jets payroll is now $75 million, with gusts up to $83 million depending on Dustin Byfuglien’s mood du jour, the dollar is about as strong as the Jets penalty-kill, True North is charging more for a beer and a hot dog than what a ticket cost back in the day, and some folks are taking out second mortgages to pay for their season packages.

The difference, of course, is in ownership.

David Thomson

This time around, the dude with the deepest pockets in the country, David Thomson, is part of the package, and you’re never going to see him standing at the corner of Portage and Main asking little, old ladies to nix a trip to Scotland so he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman can keep Blake Wheeler and Rick Rat Scheifele in champagne and caviar.

A 4,000-person waiting list for season subscriptions suggests there’s plenty of shelf life left in these Winnipeg Jets, but I’m guessing some of you would probably feel a lot better if you were hearing that from Chipman instead of me.

Bottom line: You can tell your kids to keep what’s in their piggy banks. Once they’ve grown up, they can use it for college tuition or a mortgage on a nice house.

They just won’t be able to afford Jets season tickets.

Both main columnists with the daily rags weighed in on the head counts at last week’s Jets jousts, with Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab pointing to Good Ol’ Hometown’s “saturated” sports/shinny market as one possible reason for the non-sellouts. He added, “While there’s no sign a divorce is on the horizon, it seems the (fan/team) relationship is a lot more complicated than it used to be.” It isn’t complicated at all. As Paul Friesen pointed out in the Winnipeg Sun, it’s all about costs. The Jets, according to numerous folks who contacted Friesen, are pricing themselves out of their own market. As for a “saturated” market, what, they don’t have sports entertainment options in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver? As if.

If you’re wondering, the highest average head count for Jets 1.0 was 13,620 in 1985-96. That’s only 1,144 customers fewer than last week with the Coyotes in town, and they weren’t paying anyone $8.25 million per annum (hello, Blake Wheeler). In their final whirl at the old barn on Maroons Road, Jets 1.0 attracted an average of 11,316.

Tiger Woods has taken up the quill and will write a memoir to tell the “definitive story” of his life as a golf prodigy and icon. So we’ll finally get the answer to that burning question: “When Elin found out about all the blonde cocktail waitresses and escorts that Tiger was shagging, did she attack him with a nine-iron or a pitching wedge?”

HarperCollins Publishers considered several titles for Tiger’s tell-all tome before settling on Back, and it’s believed these were among the rejected suggestions:
1) Birdies, Bogeys, Bunkers & Bimbos.
2) That’s Not A Putter In My Pants…I’m Just Happy To See You.
3) T&A at the R&A (Tits & Ass at the Royal & Ancient).
4) Pin High & Horny.
5) Tiger Woods: My Pants Were Always Lower Than My Score.

News item: The NHL tells Valentin Zykov of the Vegas Golden Knights to get lost for 20 games because he either stuck a needle in his butt or swallowed a PED. Imagine that, a Russian using illegal drugs. Who would have thought?

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that young Ville Heinola has become the darling of the local media. The Finnish kid can do no wrong with news snoops, even when he’s doing something wrong on the Jets blueline. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just saying.

The more I watch the NHL, with its limited fisticuffs and greatly reduced body belting, the more I think of former Jets centre Peter Sullivan. Today’s game was made for the man we called Silky.

Stupid headline of the week No. 1, from Sportsnet: “Why the Maple Leafs need a statement game against struggling Wild.” Oh, c’mon man. No one makes a statement game against the Minnesota Wild, the worst team in the NHL. Beating a team with a pulse, like the Boston Bruins, is a statement game.

Stupid headline of the week No. 2, from the Drab Slab: “Pionk steadies young D.” Good grief, Charlie Brown. Two days earlier, the Jets surrendered seven—count ’em seven!—goals v. Sid and his Pittsburgh pals. Then they gave up a four-spot v. Arizona. Then three v. the Islanders. Fourteen goals in three games. That’s steady like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. The accompanying Taylor Allen article was no better. It read like a puff piece hot off the True North propaganda printing press. Look, it’s time the Drab Slab told the truth, which is this: Neal Pionk is a top pairing defenceman for one reason—everyone who can skate and chew gum at the same time left Dodge long ago, Josh Morrissey being the exception.

Oh, wait, now I’m really confused. Just four days after Allen’s puff piece on Pionk and the “steady” blueline, along comes Mad Mike McIntyre to tell us this about the Jets: “The needs are many, with two major areas of concern—the blue-line and the penalty kill.” I see. The steady defence actually sucks. Methinks the boys on the beat might want to exchange notes before hitting the send button.

Los Angeles Kings fans decided that Taylor Swift had a curse on their team, so a banner saluting the pop singer’s record number of sellouts at Staples Center is now blotted out by a large black cloth at each game. It’s the most talked-about coverup in Tinseltown since the O.J. Trial.

Stupid tweet of the week, from Kristina Rutherford of Sportsnet: “The NHL season is underway and MLB playoffs are happening and the #1 article on @sportsnet yesterday was about the @nwhl and pro women’s hockey. So I guess all y’all that say ‘nobody cares!’ about women’s hockey can go fly a kite.” That smacks of Grade 5 schoolyard na, na, na, na, na-ism. Yes, it’s juvenile. The placement of Rutherford’s article at the top of the main page on the Sportsnet website means just one thing—they did something dumb again. You know, like on Saturday morning after a Major League Baseball playoff game, numerous NHL games including the Edmonton McDavids, two CFL games, Brooke Henderson firing a hole-in-one and leading an LPGA tournament, Sportsnet’s main story was an exhibition basketball game. Like I said, dumb.

On the matter of Pontytail Puck, I wonder why it is that the National Women’s Hockey League refuses to include attendance figures in its game summaries. I asked but didn’t receive a reply. So I can only assume they’re embarrassed by the modest head counts.

I also find myself wondering why no one in mainstream media is challenging the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on their true mission, which is to put the NWHL out of business. They can talk all they like about building a better future for little girls, but I’ll believe that fairy tale the day they actually sit down with NWHL commish Dani Rylan and look for ways to make the women’s game work. As it is, the PWHPA refuses to engage in meaningful dialogue, instead serving up a sham called the Dream Gap Tour.

Interesting take from Cathal Kelly on the St. Louis Blues’ visit to the Trump household last week. The Globe and Mail columnist had no problem with the Stanley Cup champions’ Tour de Oval Office, and he managed to squeeze in a swipe at National Basketball Association stars. “NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers,” he wrote. “These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.” Here’s my question: Why would NBA players need to find China on a map when they’re already in China?

Got a kick out of a couple tweets from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Apparently, he’s “still walking on air” after being elected to the media wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and he’s “still walking on air” about the Tranna Jurassics hoops title. I know the air is thick in the Republic of Tranna, but unless Steve has dropped a few pounds since I last saw him, it ain’t that thick.

And, finally, the Drab Slab devoted an entire page to curling in its Saturday edition. Nice. The three-part package included a sidebar from Taylor Allen on new mom Rachel Homan’s balancing act of mother-curler. Good stuff.

Let’s talk about Willie J. and the big, bad Winnipeg Blue Bombers D-men…the Studly Sophomore QB…the road to the Grey Cup goes through River City…oh so dumb in E-Town…Bianca, Bianca, Bianca!…the value of a 14-goal season…Coach PottyMo talks and talks and talks…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and we’re a bit behind schedule due to a swimming pool in my apartment, which is a little too close to the Pacific Ocean for my liking…

Whenever his universe unfolds as it should, Cody Fajardo likes to say his good fortune was a “sprinkling of Jesus.”

Well, unfortunately for Corn Dog Cody, he had a “sprinkling” of Willie Jefferson and friends on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and that seldom ends well for a quarterback.

So, as much as many among the rabble will rain hosannas down on Chris Streveler for his work in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 35-10 paddywhacking of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they might want to send a few atta boys in the direction of Richie Hall’s defensive dozen.

The Winnipeg D-men had a thing or two to prove, of course, because it was only a week ago when they coughed up a hairball the size of a St. Bernard’s head, costing the Bombers a W in the opening gambit of a home-and-home dosey doe with Gang Green. You had to know they were still licking that open wound when they arrived at the local ballyard for a sold out Banjo Bowl and, sure enough, they had a serious grouch on.

Fajardo never had a chance, but I suppose even Jesus needs a day off now and then.

Jefferson, naturally, was in the middle of the hell-raising with a bunch of tackles, a couple of QB take-downs and a forced fumble, and if there’s a better D-man in the Canadian Football League he’s yet to show his face. Give Willie J. the top-defender trinket now and be done with it.

Meantime, it’s about Streveler. You’re right. Matt Nichols couldn’t have done what the studly sophomore QB pulled off v. the Riders. I mean, that 17-yard scamper on second-and-17 from their own three-yard stripe? The one that pushed Winnipeg FC from one end of the pitch to the other and a 7-0 lead they refused to relinquish? In Nichols’ dreams. Scattering wannabe Sask. tacklers like so many bowling pins? In Nichols’ dreams, baby. But if you believe head coach Mike O’Shea will allow the 2-1 Studly Soph to keep the ball once Nichols returns from the repair shop, you also believe a unicorn will win next year’s Kentucky Derby. It ain’t gonna happen, kids.

What does this ninth W tell us about Winnipeg FC? Try this: In the past month, the Bombers have had first-place throw-downs with three clubs. Here are the results:
Aug. 8 v. Calgary Stampeders    26-24 W
Aug. 23 v. Edmonton Eskimos   34-28 W
Sept. 7 v. Saskatchewan*            35-10 W (* without Nichols, Andrew Harris, Lucky Whitehead, Nic Demski)
So there is no quarrel. Those three Prairie outfits have to go through the guys in the blue-and-gold kits if they expect to be playing football on the last Sunday in November, and I guess we haven’t been able to say that since 2011.

Bo Levi Mitchell

Right now, I really don’t want to hear a lot of blah, blah, blah about the Stampeders. Ya, Bo Levi Mitchell is back in harness and Bo is being Bo. The thing is, I’d be really impressed by the Cowpokes dusting the Eskimos in both ends of their two-game Alberta to-and-fro, except E-Town has either the dumbest players in the CFL or the dumbest head. I’m just not sure which one it is.

On a similar subject, old friend Rod Black had a d’oh moment when he described Bombers kicker Justin Medlock as “the ageless wonder” during the TSN broadcast. Come on, Blackie. The guy’s only 35 for cripes sake. That ain’t old for a kicker. Weren’t Bob Cameron and Lui Passaglia still thumping footballs well into the sixties?

Mike Benevides and his ill-fitting suit returned to the TSN squawk box panel this weekend and had this to say about the Bytown RedBlacks: “If they can find a way to get something done, they’ve got a lot to do.” What the hell does that even mean?

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu. Canadian. Grand Slam tennis champion. Well I never. Seriously. I began covering and writing about tennis in 1971 and, over the years, I often wondered why smaller countries Sweden and Switzerland could crank out elite players like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, Martina Hingis, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, while the best we could do was turncoat Greg Rusedski and Darling Carling Bassett. Then along came the close-but-no-cigar careers of Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard. But now we have the marvel that is Bianca Andreescu, women’s singles champion of the U.S. Open after her victory over the neighborhood bully, Serena Williams, on Saturday in Queens, NYC. I’m not sure where Bianca’s achievement ranks in Canadian sports folklore, because that takes in a lot of territory, but I started watching sports when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn and it’s surely in my personal top five.

This just in: Auston Matthews has a mustache. Stayed tuned while media in the Republic of Tranna discuss Boy Wonder’s facial foliage with Drake.

Got a kick out of this post on the TSN Twitter account: “Raiders officially release disgruntled receiver Antonio Brown.” Disgruntled? That’s like saying WWII was a pillow fight.

Clayton Keller

I believe it’s safe to say Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka won’t be receiving a thank-you note from his counterpart with the Winnipeg Jets anytime soon. Chayka, you see, did Kevin Cheveldayoff a total dirty by agreeing to pay Clayton Keller an average wage of $7.15 million over eight years, and if I’m the mouthpiece for Patrick Laine or Kyle Connor there’s no chance I’m settling for a dime less than Keller coin. I mean, Keller scored 14 goals last winter. Four-freaking-teen! Puck Finn had more than that in one month. He more than doubled it (30) in an “off” season. Connor lit it up 34 times. So, short of getting them and their agents high on whacky tabacky, how can Chevy possibly convince his two blue-chip restricted free agents that reupping for less than Keller is the right thing to do? I’m not sure there’s enough quality Mary Jane in all of Manitoba to pull that off.

According to CapFriendly, Chevy has $15 million and David Thomson’s couch change to play with in trying to satisfy Puck Finn/Connor and fill out his NHL roster, which now numbers 20 players (maximum 23). Do the math. Unless his bean counters are David Copperfield, Penn, Teller and Criss Angel, Chevy is royally pooched.

We all have our ways of getting kicks, and for Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders it appears seeing unsigned NHL restricted free agents squirm is his thing. “I think it’s kind of fun,” he told Sportsnet’s 31 Thoughts podcast. “It gives the league a little bit of excitement.” We’ll see how much fun and how exciting it is next year when it’s young Matt’s turn to take a spin on the unsigned RFA squirm-mobile.

Coach Potty Mo

So, Murat Ates had a chin-wag with Paul Maurice that was so staggering in length that he felt obliged to run it as a two-parter in The Athletic and, after digesting 90 per cent of the marathon blah-blah-blah, here’s my main takeaway: Coach Potty Mouth has given captain Blake Wheeler—or any of les Jets, for that matter—permission to be a total dink to news snoops.

“He lathers himself for the lack of a better word,” the Winnipeg HC head coach told Ates. “He gets himself wired to the point that, when you ask a question 10 minutes after a game, you’re going to get some edge on your question. And that’s true. That’s the confrontation he’s just been through for an hour so he gives you a bit of that. Let him breathe for 10 seconds and he’s going to answer your question. Most players—most people—will do one or the other. It’s either all emotional and they don’t have the capacity or the grace to give you a nuanced answer or, what I’m sure bothers you guys sometimes, is that there’s no emotion—it’s all out of the book. Blake’s unusual in that he’ll show you both sides to him and that’s what makes him great.”

Blake Wheeler aka Captain F-Bomb

In other words, belligerent Blake might tell you to “fuck off,” as he did to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun last spring, but that’s okay because he’ll still answer your question. That’s his “greatness as a leader.”

Spare me. Sure, Wheeler is wired after a game. So are 700 other guys in the NHL.

You think Sidney Crosby isn’t wired after a tough day at the office? Like after a playoff ouster? Damn straight, he is. But I don’t recall him telling anyone to “fuck off.” Mark Messier was wired tighter than the strings on a banjo. Gordie Howe. Wired. Stan Mikita. Wired. Bobby Orr. Wired. John Ferguson. Wired. I have yet to hear audio evidence, or see video evidence, of them telling a news snoop to “fuck off.”

Coach PottyMo believes Wheeler being a vulgar, condescending boor then turning all nicey-face is his “greatness as a leader.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. It’s his most notable failing.

Overall, the Ates-Maurice gum-flapper is good stuff, even if they sometimes drag us into the dreary nuances of systems play. And there’s some syrupy, groupie-like gushing from Ates (“How great is it that Byfuglien is in his mid-30s and still playing like he is?”) that made me cringe, but it’s definitely worth your time.

Ken Wiebe

Now that Ken Wiebe has defected to The Athletic, I dare say the former Sun scribe and Ates might form the best one-two punch on the Jets beat, especially since they plan to shadow Winnipeg HC hither and yon. I just hope they won’t be covering the team old-school style, which is to say with yawn-inducing recaps of the previous night’s game and breathless quotes about “moving our feet.” If the local dailies choose to remain stuck in the 20th century, let ’em. (Seriously, a detailed game story from the rookie camp in Saturday’s Drab Slab? That is so 1970s.). Give me news, but give me off-beat, give me quirkiness, give me features, give me analysis and, by all means, give me opinion that doesn’t read like something fresh from the Xerox machine in the Jets propaganda department. Oh, one more thing: Go easy on the pie charts.

Speaking of which, newby Scott Billeck has brought pie charts and graphs with colored, squiggly swirls to the sports pages of the Sun, whether we like it or not. Oh, joy. Can’t get enough of gizmo jock journalism. As if. You’ll have to excuse me, but I prefer my sports writing without do-dads that make my eyes bleed.

Rink Rat and Wheeler

Let’s be clear: I don’t believe the earth is flat, and I don’t believe fancy stats are useless like ear muffs in Arizona. But I lean toward Rink Rat Scheifele’s way of thinking when he talks about a special something that exists between teammates, like himself and Wheeler: “I think chemistry’s the biggest thing in this game,” the Jets centre says. “You want to play with guys you click with and play well with. I think chemistry is a thing that is kind of put away on people. Especially nowadays with analytics and all that extra junk. Chemistry is something you can’t quantify, there’s no statistic that says chemistry, and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at.”

Pierre and Kendall

Seems Pierre McGuire has lost his perch between the benches on NBC’s No. 1 NHL broadcasting team, and that must be such troubling news for Kendall Coyne Schofield. I mean, how will the poor dear possibly find her way around the rink without Pierre to point the way and mansplain the game to her?

Kendall, of course, made her debut with NBC last winter, joining Pierre at ice level for a Lightning-Penguins skirmish. “Tampa’s gonna be on your left, Pittsburgh’s gonna be on your right,” he informed the U.S. Olympic champion, adopting the tone and manner of a school marm advising a six-year-old girl where she could find the washroom and lunch room. Well, it turns out Kendall knows the way to San Jose (yes, without Pierre’s hand signals), because she’s signed on as a member of the Sharks TV broadcast team. No word on whether or not her contract includes directions to the biffy, though.

And, finally, good thoughts for Dale Hawerchuk, who’s stepped away from his coaching chores with Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. All they’re telling us about Ducky is that he’s wrestling with health issues, and I’d say that’s all we really need to know.

About $6 million worth of beans and wieners for the Winnipeg Jets…blame Ray Charles for Jimmy Mann…the Shoe fits…hockey teams and their value…hot-buttered takes from The ROT…the missing Munster son…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and don’t think for a minute that I’ve given much thought to any of this…

Fergy

It was mid-June 1979 and John Bowie Ferguson had just examined the list of players available to him in the National Hockey League expansion draft.

He winced. Then scowled.

Fergy rose to his feet and trudged across the main room of his 13th-floor suite in the fabulous Queen Elizabeth Hotel. He stopped in front of a large window, stared at the splendor that is Montreal, and noted that Mary Queen of the World Cathedral was directly across the street.

“Well,” I said, “I guess you have two choices, Fergy: You can go across the street and do some serious praying, or you can jump.”

The Winnipeg Jets general manager did neither. He just grunted.

Tom McVie

Head coach Tom McVie, sitting in a nearby chair, smiled and cracked wise: “You know,” he said, “there’s enough talent available for us to win the Allan Cup. It might be seven games, but if we get home ice in the seventh game, we could win.”

He was joking, but not far from accurate.

I don’t know what $650 million will buy the Seattle Whatsits two years hence when the new kids on the block piece together their expansion roster of rejects, but I do know what $6 million bought Fergy and the Jets in mid-June 1979—sweet petite.

The NHL’s existing 17 outfits, be advised, did not lean toward benevolence when they grudgingly agreed to accept les Jets, the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers into their shinny cartel. The plan was to first plunder the rosters of the World Hockey Association survivors—Winnipeg HC suffered the worst body count—then allow them to go on a dumpster dive for dregs.

Bobby Orr

Some interesting names were there for the choosing. Like Bobby Orr. Except the great No. 4 was crippled and retired. The Big M, Frank Mahovlich, was available, except he was 41 and, like Orr, finished. Fergy could have had former Jets head coach Larry Hillman, except Morley was 42 and hadn’t played in three years. Yvan Cournoyer? The Roadrunner was out of gas. I seem to recall there also being a dead guy on the list.

It was so bad that Fergy didn’t even bother to call out names on his final shout on draft day.

“Okay,” he muttered in a tone that suggested both protest and resignation, like a kid being force-fed one more mouthful of Brussels sprouts before dessert, “Winnipeg Jets take the last two players.”

Gene Carr and Hilliard Graves thus were added to a collection of misfits, mostly guys with marginal or diminished skills. Also some undesirable contracts. In sum, Fergy plucked 17 players that day: Peter Marsh, Lindsay Middlebrook, Bobby Hull, Al Cameron, Dave Hoyda, Jim Roberts, Lorne Stamler, Mark Heaslip, Pierre Hamel, Gord McTavish, Gord Smith, Clark Hamilton, Jim Cunningham, Dennis Abgrall, Bill Riley, Carr and Graves.

Still, combined with holdovers from the Jets 1979 WHA championship roster, that bunch easily could have won senior hockey’s Allan Cup, but they failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. They won 20 of 80 games, and just nine in their sophomore season.

We know the NHL has no plan to be similarly punitive with Seattle, because a $650 million sticker price demands that they get some sizzle with their steak. For the Jets, though, it was $6 million worth of beans and wieners.

The plundering of rosters and a player pool of ragged retreads weren’t the only indiginities inflicted upon the Jets and their WHA brethren. In a penalizing departure from established practice, the NHL ruled that the four expansion teams would choose last, rather than first, in the amateur draft. By the time Fergy used the No. 19 shout-out to pluck Jimmy Mann (talk about cruel and unusual punishment), guys like Ray Bourque, Rob Ramage, Mike Gartner, Craig Hartsburg, Paul Reinhart and Mike Foligno had already been snatched up. Ahead of the draft, Fergy had said, “Let’s face it, Ray Charles could pick the first-round drafts. We all know who they’re going to be.” So let’s all blame Ray Charles for Jimmy Mann.

Being bad had its benefits for Fergy and les Jets. Their names were Dave Babych and Dale Hawerchuk, plucked in the 1980 and ’81 entry drafts, respectively. With Babs and Ducky on board, les Jets soared from a nine-wins, 32-points season to 33 Ws and 80 points.

The Shoe

Nice to see Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Ab McDonald get the nod as the next inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. Sadly, both have left us, but I’m sure there’ll be a celebratory mood when some of the old boys gather to salute the two former captains on Feb. 26 at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie.

According to Forbes magazine, the Winnipeg HC franchise is now valued at $415 million, 27th among NHL clubs. Considering that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and co-bankroll David Thomson paid $170 million for their play thing, that’s a handsome hike. Mind you, it’s expected they’ll also be required to fork over $170M to Patrik Laine by the time he’s finished.

If you missed it, here’s how Forbes lists the value of each Canadian franchise: Tranna Maple Leafs $1.35 billion, Montreal Canadiens $1.3B, Vancouver Canucks $735 million, Edmonton Oilers $540M, Calgary Flames $450M, Ottawa Senators $435M, Winnipeg HC $415M. And, yes, now that you mention it, I don’t see how in the name of Cyclone Taylor the Jets can be worth less than the dysfunctional Senators. That’s like saying a pack of smokes is a better buy than gym membership.

This from Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star: “Not to overreact, but Auston Matthews is probably the best goal-scorer in the world. This isn’t a hot take; it’s maybe a take that you left in the microwave for like 15 seconds, long enough to soften butter but not melt it.” Sorry, Bruce, but that’s a totally hot-buttered Tranna take.

John Torotorella

Interesting to see loose cannon head coach John Tortorella adorned in a hoodie rather than a suit and tie behind the Columbus Blue Jackets bench last week. Apparently he was fit to be tied after the game, though.

When did women’s curling become more interesting and more entertaining that the men’s side? And does the curling season really begin before Vic, Cheryl and Russ are in the booth? No knock against Sportsnet’s coverage of Grand Slam events, but it just sounds right when Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard and Russ Howard are making the calls on TSN.

Robin Munster

Is it just me, or does anyone else find TSN’s UFC gab guy Robin Black kind of creepy? I think he might be related to the Munsters. Maybe a distant cousin to Herman or Lily. Or separated from Eddie Munster at birth. Black might know his stuff (although anyone who picked Conor McGregor to whup Floyd Mayweather is suspect), but do we really need to see him rolling around inside the octagon? I know I don’t.

Paul LaPolice

Interesting that Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice took his name from the Tranna Argonauts head-coaching hunt. Not surprising, though. I mean, working in The Republic of Tranna is the Canadian Football League equivalent of a witness protection program. The 50/50 draw is larger at a backyard barbeque in Fort Garry than at BMO Field in The ROT. I could see Coach LaPo defecting to B.C., but Tranna? Only on a dare.

And, finally, forestry and lands people have discovered a hole the size of a CFL field in a remote B.C. park. It’s believed to be the biggest opening in North America now that Ondrej Pavelec has taken his five-hole back to the Czech Republic.

About Coach PoMo’s “complete faith”…Finn Almighty’s ice time…a pastor’s $1.1 million smackers…say buddy, can you spare the Puck Pontiff a dime?…a writer without a clue…Sportsnet is really LeafsNet…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, remember, I’m not responsible if you share my opinions with others and they slap you upside the head…

Okay, to review, Jamie Oleksiak and Dustin Byfuglien collide. The earth shakes. And Big Buff becomes 265 pounds of wobbly.

He staggers to the Winnipeg Jets bench like a guy who’s just sucked back an entire two-four of Budweiser. He’s directed to the changing room, whereupon a medic presumably asks him what day it is and how many fingers he’s holding up. Buff sees four digits but correctly guesses two. Yup, he’s good to go. So, with the two tree trunks that are his legs no longer a pair of noodles, he’s back on the bench, then rejoins the fray vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Apparently, his brain, which clearly had been scrambled, is no longer scrambled.

But wait. One day later, Big Buff experiences a “symptom.” His brain is, in fact, scrambled. He’s concussed. Better tell him to stay home. Actually, let’s put him on injury reserve. Keep him in the repair shop for a week, or however long it takes for his grey matter to settle.

Clearly, then, the National Hockey League’s in-game finger-count protocol has failed.

Yet there was Paul Maurice on Thursday, expressing “complete faith” in a system that is obviously flawed and places concussed players in peril.

“I’m a hundred per cent fine with it, I really am,” les Jets head coach said two days after Byfuglien had lost his entire bag of marbles. “I think the most important thing is it’s not subjective where you say clearly he’s got a concussion so he shouldn’t come back in the game. That has absolutely no value to what we do here. Put him through the system, trust it.”

“Does it not say those tests aren’t enough?” a probing Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun asked.

“Were you asking for perfection? That happens at the hospital every day, right?” came Coach PoMo’s rather flippant, if not smarmy reply. “It’s the best tests that we have and it’s the best system that we have. I’ve got complete faith in it.”

Hmmm. This might explain some of Maurice’s coaching strategy over the years. I mean, he had unwavering faith in Chris Thorburn and Ondrej Pavelec, too. Where did that get him?

Paul Maurice

Let’s be clear. Maurice doesn’t take the rap for sending Big Buff back into the skirmish last Tuesday. If the medics tell him his worker is good to go, he’s good to go. It doesn’t matter how many fingers Byfuglien sees or how loudly the bells between his ears are ringing. Have at it. But for Coach PoMo to unblushingly endorse a system that is as flawed as Connor Hellebuyck’s goaltending…well, that tells me he’d have us believe the dish really did run away with the spoon. The guy’s either totally lost the plot or he’s playing news snoops and the rabble for fools.

Quiz me this, kids: Among the top 50 point-collectors in the NHL, who averages the least amount of ice time and is also the only player given fewer than 20 shifts per game? If you answered Patrik Laine, move to the head of the class. So is Coach PoMo under-using Puck Finn by limiting the league’s leading goal-scorer to 17:09 on the freeze and sending him over the boards just 19 times per game? Not if you’ve seen him play without the puck.

Johnny Depp and Tonto’s bird

Laine’s scoring line for the month of November: 18-1-19. That one assist looks more out of place than anything I’ve seen since Michael Jordan gave pro baseball a try. Or at least since Hollywood put a bird on Johnny Depp’s head and told him he was Tonto.

So, Puck Finn lights the lamp five times vs. the St. Loo Blues and Chris Haley scores a $1.1 million windfall in a grocery store Score & Win contest. What’s his reaction? “I’d like to thank God for this,” said Haley, a part-time pastor in River City. “I believe this is a gift from God.” So that’s what we’re calling Laine now? God? Sorry, but that name’s already taken. I prefer Finn Almighty.

David Thomson

You’ll have to excuse Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman if he calls up his shaggy-haired, billionaire co-bankroll with les Jets, David Thomson, and says, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”

I mean, if Willy Boy Nylander is worth $10.3 million in signing bonuses and $45 million over six years to the Tranna Maple Leafs, what’s the sticker price for Finn Almighty? Consider: Willie Boy has never scored more than 22 goals in an entire NHL season. Laine has 21 in just two months. By your basic, unfancified numbers, Willie Boy isn’t in the same league as Laine.

Laine:       180 games 101 goals   158 points
Nylander: 185 games   48 goals   135 points

Then there’s Kyle Connor. He’s already delivered a 30-plus goal year to Winnipeg HC, and he’s on his way to another. He’s played 64 fewer games than Willie Boy but has lit the lamp just five fewer times.

Certainly Laine is destined to become the highest-paid worker with les Jets and, depending on the final goal tally this crusade, we might be talking about an eight-figure wage. Let’s ballpark it at $10 million. Meanwhile, if Connor produces a second 30-goal year, surely the bankroll buddies can’t pay him less than Willy Boy. So we’re talking about $17 million for two players. Ouch.

Patrick Roy

Oddball comment of the week was delivered by Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic. Noting that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux each had scored 11 goals in a four-game run during their hall-of-fame careers, he wrote: “That was at a time when goalies either had zero clue what they were doing or very little idea.” Excuse me? The Great Gretzky and Super Mario played in the 1980s and ’90s. Dominik Hasek didn’t have a clue? Martin Brodeur didn’t have a clue? Patrick Roy didn’t have a clue? Ed Belfour? Well, someone doesn’t have a clue, and it isn’t any of those ‘tenders.

Really strange headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after les Jets lost to Pittsburgh last week: “Penguins ground high-flying Jets.” High-flying? Winnipeg HC had lost two of three games leading to the skirmish vs. Sid and Co.

Those third Jets jerseys really have to go. Someone at True North needs to suck it up and admit those logo-less threads are the biggest miss since Sergei Bautin. And for those of you not familiar with comrade Sergei, be advised he was GM Mikhail Smith’s idea or Bobby Orr, only he turned out to be more like SpongeBob.

Auston Matthews

Apparently, Auston Matthews rejoined the Maple Leafs this past week. You never would have known it by the Sportsnet website. I mean, there were only 14 Leafs-centric stories/videos about Matthews and his playmates the morning after his triumphant return from the repair shop. Yes, 14. My goodness, had prodigal winger Willy Boy Nylander come crawling back the same night, I’m sure Sportsnet would have blown up the internet. Seriously. Why don’t they just change the website name to LeafsNet and get on with it?

After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Bytown RedBlacks slip and slide all over the Commonwealth Stadium skating rink last Sunday, I’m fully on board with the Canadian Football League bumping up its schedule by three weeks. The Grey Cup game should be played no later than the first weekend in November. And make it a Saturday skirmish.

The football operations salary cap coming to the CFL is totally dumb. It won’t do anything to level the playing field. It just puts good people out of work.

Paul LaPolice

So, the Argonauts have invited Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to the Republic of Tranna for a chit-chat about their head-coaching vacancy. And they’ve already done the chin-wag thing with DeVone Claybrooks, defensive guru with the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders. Sorry, but I fail to see how either of these career assistants is an improvement over the guy the Boatment just booted, Marc Trestman. But, then, a lot of what the Argos do makes little sense. Not that anyone in The ROT notices.

Was running back Kareem Hunt fired by the Kansas City Chiefs because he shoved and kicked a woman, or because he lied about shoving and kicking a woman? Either way, he’s out of the National Football League for the remainder of this season, and perhaps forever. Not to worry. I’m sure there’s room for him in commish Randy Ambrosie’s CFL. Hey, here’s a thought: Hunt can join noted woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the Montreal Alouettes backfield. They can compare TMZ videos.

And, finally, the River City Renegade has reached a high-water mark this year, surpassing 21,700 reads. If you’re among those who’ve stopped by for a visit on Sunday and/or Monday mornings, my thanks. After all, if not for this blog I’d have little else to do and likely would be a hermit-like old lady living with a dozen cats.

About the Winnipeg Jets being built on free agents…the ice fishing is great, right Big Buff?…Richie’s a Hall of a coach this week…pigging out in the (hot) dog days of summer…media friendly Vic Peters…Caroline Cameron gives Tim & Sid a fresh voice and look…those wacky Wimbledon women…don’t diss Ronaldo…and a sports scribe who preaches one thing but writes about another

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Welcome to Winnipeg, armpit of the National Hockey League.

Well, okay, that’s not exactly how shinny scribes Scott Burnside and Sean McIndoe worded it when Paul Stastny chose Glitter Gulch over Good Ol’ Hometown, but that was the sentiment of each pundit’s analysis—River City sucks. Still. Otherwise Stastny wouldn’t have vamoosed from the Winnipeg Jets to the Vegas Golden Knights scant seconds after the NHL opened its grab bag of free agents a week ago this very morning.

Here’s Burnside of The Athletic:

“While he did choose to waive his no-trade clause to go to the Jets at the trade deadline, Stastny’s departure as an unrestricted free agent merely reinforces the idea that, as good as the Jets are—and they are really good—they still aren’t at the stage where they are a destination for free agents. Not yet at least.”

Here’s McIndoe of Sportsnet:

“They were a darn good team before Stastny arrived, and they’ll be a good one with him gone. But seeing a top UFA walk away will reinforce the old idea that the Jets are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top players.”

Paul Stastny

Both scribes stopped short of stereotypical jabs about the dark, the cold, the crappy WiFi, the pothole-to-person ratio, and summer skeeters the size of a Zamboni in River City, but the gist of their analysis is unmistakable, and this Winnipeg-as-NHL armpit narrative is oh so dog-eared. Also wearisome.

I mean, I’d buy it if Stastny had gone on record saying he defected to Sin City because “Winnipeg is a garbage dump with a lousy zoo and an ugly museum.” But no.

“In the end,” the 32-year-old centre-ice man told the Las Vegas Sun, “sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling. Sometimes it’s just one of those things that is the best fit, hockey-wise, family-wise and everything in between.”

Doesn’t sound damning to me.

Yet those of the Burnside/McIndoe ilk trot out the woe-is-Winnipeg refrain every time someone gives Good Ol’ Hometown the cold shoulder, mainly because it’s a convenient and lazy plot line that plays to the ill-informed among the rabble and, at the same time, ignores history. Yes, history.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.

Go ahead, kids. Name the most significant free-agent signing—ever—in professional hockey. That’s right, the name is Hull, Bobby Hull. And where did that game-shaping event take place? At the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street, where a flock of thousands gathered to witness Robert Marvin Hull, fresh off his fifth 50-goal season for the Chicago Blackhawks, scrawl his John Hancock on a Winnipeg Jets contract on June 27, 1972. This was the NHL’s glam guy, choosing Pegtown over Chitown. The sport and salaries were forever altered by one free-agent signing.

More to the point, the very foundation of the Winnipeg Jets was built exclusively on free agents, guys who willingly came to River City to form the World Hockey Association’s flagship franchise.

Ab Mcdonald, Joe Daley, Sudsy Sutherland, Ernie Wakely and others from the ‘hood came home from hither and yon to wear Jets linen. Anders Hedberg chose Winnipeg over Toronto. Kent Nilsson chose Winnipeg over Toronto and Atlanta. Willy Lindstrom could have played anywhere in North America. He chose Winnipeg. Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg chose Winnipeg. Peter Sullivan chose Winnipeg. Etcetera, etcetera and blah, blah, blah.

So enough of the tired, old refrain about Pegtown being a shinny leper colony.

Big Buff

Are there guys who’d rather not play in River City? Absolutely. We’re told Good Ol’ Hometown makes most no-trade lists. Just ask Ilya Bryzgalov. But, hey, John Tavares rejected 30 cities just last week, so it’s not like Winnipeg is unique. Look, players talk about three main things when wrestling with free-agency options: 1) Money; 2) the opportunity to win; 3) location. Well, Ben Hatskin wasn’t paying Hull $2.7 million in Monopoly or Canadian Tire money in 1972, and David Thomson and Mark Chipman aren’t paying Dustin Byfuglien $7.6 million per annum in food stamps with the present-day Jets. Competitively, les Jets were a final four team in this past spring’s Stanley Cup runoff. As for location, the ice fishing is boffo, thank you. Just ask Big Buff. So what’s not to like?

Just wondering: Are we still calling for Richie Hall’s head to roll? Probably not. Hall is the much-maligned man tasked with mapping out strategy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive dozen, whose deficiencies were exposed like a porn star’s privates in two of their first three skirmishes this Canadian Football League crusade. Then along came the B.C. Lions with a benign offence designed to heal whatever ails a wonky defence. So I assume Winnipeg FC’s 41-19 victory over the Leos on Saturday evening at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry means it’s safe for Hall to go grocery shopping and pump his own gas this week. Just to be safe, though, he should have Adam Bighill tag along.

Joey Chestnut

Here’s something to chew on: Joey Chestnut celebrated the dog days of summer by successfully defending his Nathan’s hot dog eating title, scarfing down 74 tube steaks in 10 minutes. It’s believed that no one has ever gone through that many dogs. Except the Edmonton Oilers, of course.

Richard Deitsch of The Athletic asked this question of jock journos on Twitter: “Who is the most media-friendly athlete you have dealt with?” For me, that’s a no-brainer: The late Vic Peters, with about 100 other curlers tied in second. Vic, in the grand scheme of jockdom, was a smooth-edged gem on a beach full of sharp stones. A most obliging, engaging man, he had time for us all. Always.

Sid Seixeiro and Caroline Cameron

Loved the new look and sound on the Tim & Sid show last week. Unfortunately, it’s only temporary. Caroline Cameron has been sitting in for the vacationing Sid Seixeiro on the Sportsnet gabfest, and they’re as different as a pit bull and a kitten. I mean, Sid’s shtick is to talk tough. He dresses the part, too. He looks like he belongs on the set of a gangster movie, skulking around with Luca Brasi and nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if Eliot Ness is on his tail. He wears his sneer on his sleeve. He’s prone to prop humor and theatrical orations that would earn him a failing grade in a high school drama class, and his rants are usually about as sincere as a Neymar dive-writhe-and-roll. Caroline, on the other hand…we’re talking Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Polished, professional, knowledgeable, smiling, impeccable, pretty, a girl making her way and succeeding in a guy’s world. A lot of viewers (read: guys) pooh-pooh women on sports talk TV as empty heads. Well, Caroline Cameron is compelling evidence that there should be more female voices in the jock gab game. She’s very good.

Yes, now that you mention it, the goings-on in London are very strange, most notably on the women’s side of Wimbledon. They’re spitting out seeds like it’s a baseball dugout. Gone are nine of the top 10 seeds and 25 of 32 overall. Wimbledon has never seen such carnage. Serena Williams will have to break both legs and carry her baby on her back to lose this tournament. Even at that, she could probably win the thing and claim her 24th tennis Grand Slam title on crutches.

Ronaldo and Messi

A lot of British accents on our flatscreens during the World Cup, one of them belonging to Danny Dichio, former forward in the English Premier League. Sportsnet trotted him out as an analyst during the group stage of the event, and he had this exchange with Jesse Fuchs…

Fuchs: “People love to compare Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo…Messi missed a penalty earlier in the tournament, now so has Ronaldo. And it ends up costly, as Portugal are held to a draw. Is it fair at all to criticize CR7?”

Dichio: “No. Not at all fair.”

So, let’s see if I’ve got this straight: The president of the United States, the Pope, Queen Liz, the Beatles, any journalist you care to name, and Jesus Christ himself are fair game for a roasting when they cough up a hairball, but Ronaldo, a guy who’s supposedly god’s gift to soccer, is untouchable when he gags on a shot from the 12-yard spot? As if. Dichio gets a red card for being a nincompoop.

Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones

And, finally, based on his scribblings over the years, it’s apparent that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press does not harbour a healthy fondness for professional athletes. He often writes of them with resentment, contempt and scorn, painting them with one broad brush stroke—they’re all money-grubbing elitists who look down on the rabble from their perch of privilege.

“A tiny cadre of coddled millionaires,” is how he described the Jets players in one of his tamer remarks.

Therefore it wasn’t out of character that he assailed play-for-pay jocks—defrocked Jets goaltender Steve Mason in particular—while making the case that the amateur athletes in our great nation are underfunded by the feds and underappreciated by the unwashed masses.

“Such is the deification that we accord professional hockey players in this country that we think nothing of paying the washouts millions not to play, while at the same time throwing chump change at our amateur athletes and then scolding them if they dare return home without Olympic medals every four years when we remember again that they exist,” he writes.

He calls financial support for our top amateurs “laughable” and “a complete joke.”

Mike O’Shea

Actually, the joke is a sports columnist prattling on about underfunding and underappreciation for amateurs when 95 per cent of his yearly material is devoted to his personal hot-button issues like Jacob Trouba’s attitude, Mike O’Shea’s “goofy” short pants, and Mark Chipman’s past life as a used-car salesman. His own newspaper treats amateur athletes like they have the cooties. Unless, of course, they’re holding a curling rock in one hand and a broom or sliding apparatus in the other. Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones, Mike McEwen, Reid Carruthers and other pebble people get the jock star treatment from the Freep. The rest? Basically bupkus.

Here’s the professional/amateur story scorecard from the past seven editions of the Drab Slab: 140-13. Granted, seven days of sports sections is a small sample size, but just 8.5 per cent of all articles was devoted to amateurs.

In that same seven-paper time frame, Wiecek wrote three columns: his apples-to-oranges argument about amateur funding vs. greedy professional jocks getting too much coin for not enough work; the Blue Bombers lousy defence and firing lousy coaches O’Shea and Hall; and, once again, greedy pro athletes.

What’s that you say? Some sports scribes must be overpaid, underworked and coddled, too? Who knew?

Two Hens in the Hockey House: It’s about humble pie…the plum tuckered out Winnipeg Jets…Connor Hellebuyck’s delusional take on goaltending…backing up the Brinks truck for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey…re-upping Blake Wheeler…and dining on Kentucky Fried Crow

Meaningful hockey in the merry month of May? At the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Who’d have thought? Not many. So, while there were long faces when the Winnipeg Jets’ Stanley Cup crusade ground to a halt on Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, there was also a feel-good vibe among the rabble. My Two Hens in the Hockey House are here to discuss what went wrong in the Western Conference final vs. Vegas, what went right and what lies ahead for les Jets.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, what was on the breakfast menu for you this morning, girlfriend? Humble pie or bowl of crow?

Answer Lady: Neither. I just had two slices of toast.

Question Lady: Toast. How appropriate. The Jets are toast, too. Can’t say I’m surprised, but I know you are. As I recall, you picked them to take out the Golden Knights in six games, then win the Stanley Cup. You said something about the Jets being too fast, too quick, too deep, too tough, too every blah, blah, blah thing. Turns out it was just the opposite. Did you underestimate the Golden Knights or oversell the Jets?

Answer Lady: I don’t think I considered the fatigue factor. The Jets didn’t have the usual zippity-do-da in their stride at the end. They lost their lickety-split. Their oomph. At times they were skating with hunched shoulders against the wind. The Nashville Predators took more out of them in the second round than I thought. They were plum tuckered out.

Question Lady: Really? Fatigue did them in?

Answer Lady: It just seemed to me that their usual split-second sharpness deserted them, both physically and mentally. At this level, even a nanosecond of hesitation means your shot is redirected by a stick, or the puck is in the back of your net. Especially against the Golden Knights. Those boys are cobra quick. They pounce on mistakes faster than CNN can poke holes in a Donald Trump tweet.

Connor Hellebuyck

Question Lady: Speaking of holes, a lot of the pundits are saying this series was decided in the blue paint. Marc-André Fleury did boffo work in goal for Vegas and Connor Hellebuyck was leaking oil at the other end of the rink. Agree?

Answer Lady: To a point. It’s not like Hellebuyck was Ondrej Pavelec bad, but he had too many iffy moments that were extremely damaging. At no time was he gobsmackingly good. Fleury was gobsmackingly good most of the time.

Question Lady: Hellebuyck kept talking about ‘luck’ as if there was nothing more to Fleury’s game than rabbit’s feet, horse shoes and four-leaf clovers. A bit of a sore loser, wouldn’t you say?

Answer Lady: He sounded like a teenage punk who’d light up a smoke at the dinner table. The kind of nogoodnik that no parent wants their daughter dating. Totally disrespectful. Anyone who knows a puck from petunias will tell you Fleury was the superior ‘tender. If Hellebuyck doesn’t want to throw himself under the bus, fine. But sometimes you just have to accept that the other guy was better. Given enough time for sober second thought, Hellebuyck might agree. Probably not, though. He’ll continue to be a doorknob about it.

Question Lady: Kind of harsh, don’t you think?

Answer Lady: Not really. Just kind of the truth. Hey, I like it when athletes speak out of turn, but Hellebuyck is delusional and his disrespect is most objectionable.

Question Lady: Do we agree that the Jets have a legitimate No. 1 goaltender?

Answer Lady: Based on Hellebuyck’s entire body of work this season, for sure. But it would help if they had a backup ‘tender who can go more than two minutes without visiting the repair shop. Steve Mason is as fragile as a sports writer’s ego. Who made his body, Royal Doulton? He’s brittle like the burnt toast I ate this morning. They’re paying him what, $4 million to be an innocent bystander? Nice gig.

Question Lady: Why such emphasis on a capable caddy for Hellebuyck?

Answer Lady: Again, the fatigue factor. Hellebuyck played 67 games in the National Hockey League regular season and another 17 in the Stanley Cup tournament. That’s 84 games. He played 56 games total last year. He’s never carried this demanding a workload. By way of comparison, Fleury was in the blue paint for 46 and 15 games. That’s a whole lot less wear and tear. Which of the two looked the most spry and alert to you by the end of Game 5?

Jacob Trouba

Question Lady: What are the Jets other pressing needs?

Answer Lady: I’ll parrot exactly what I said in April 2017—convincing Jacob Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. That ought to be priority uno. He and Josh Morrissey are cornerstone defencemen.

Question Lady: I wonder if there’s still residue from the Trouba-Jets contract stare-down of two years ago. Remember, he wanted out of Dodge. On the surface, everything’s cool now, but that might be window dressing. What happens if there’s still a bit of bitterness bubbling beneath the surface?

Answer Lady: I guess we’ll find out shortly. Trouba’s a restricted free agent. Either he signs another one of those piddly, two-year deals, or he’s in it for the long haul, which is to say six or more years.

Question Lady: What’s it going to cost the Jets to re-sign him?

Twig Ehlers

Answer Lady: Back up the Brinks truck, girlfriend. The Trouba camp might try to hardball the Jets. He’s been playing at a bargain-basement rate for the past two seasons, so they might be looking for payback. And he’s arbitration eligible. We’re not talking lunch money or the spare change David Thomson finds under the cushions on his sofa. Trouba won’t become the highest-paid Jet, but it’ll be obscene if he’s making a dime less than the $6 million Twig Ehlers is due. Actually, it’s an obscenity that Ehlers will be earning more coin than Blake Wheeler next season. That simply does not compute.

Question Lady: No kidding. Like, what exactly did Ehlers accomplish in these playoffs?

Blake Wheeler

Answer Lady: Squat. He did diddly. He does diddly faster than most players, but it’s still diddly. I’m not really a fan anymore. His flash-and-dash game is built for the regular season. Or Ice Capades. Wheeler, on the other hand…complete pro, except when he’s barking and snarling at news snoops. Seriously, it’s criminal that he’ll be making less money than Twig next season. I think they ought to re-up Wheeler. Add a couple years to the one he has left.

Josh Morrissey

Question Lady: A few of the lads are due raises, no?

Answer Lady: Yup, and Josh Morrissey is among them. He and Trouba became the Jets top defensive pairing, and there probably wasn’t a better blueline bargain in the NHL. Combined they earned less than $4 million. That total is going to more than double. And if the Jets want to lock them in long term, it’ll take some serious gymnastics by the bean counters to keep Trouba-Morrissey under $10 million.

Question Lady: Any chance Paul Stastny will stick around?

Paul Stastny

Answer Lady: Age tells me no if he’s looking long term, and who isn’t? Stastny’s 33 in December. The Jets already have Bryan Little tied up for six years. Unless you’re convinced you can win the Stanley Cup right now, you don’t want two 30something centres clogging up development down the middle for the next five/six years.

Question Lady: It’s going to be an interesting summer for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Think he’ll have anything interesting to say at his exit presser?

Answer Lady: Oh, it’ll all be Chevy-speak, but this time it won’t come across as a phony bill of goods. The Jets were the real deal this season. It was a fun ride.

Question Lady: Okay, gotta go. Let’s stay home tonight. Maybe watch a replay of the royal wedding. Instead of cooking dinner, we can order in. Maybe a bucket of Kentucky Fried Crow for madame?

Answer Lady: Funny girl.

Winnipeg Jets movin’ on up to the second round of Stanley Cup tournament

Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 5 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday night…

Pregame blah, blah, blah: At the outset, I wrote: “No way this series goes past five games if the Jets are going to pour 40 shots on goal every game. It might even be a sweep.” Well, I was wrong about the sweep, but here we are at Game 5 and there’s no Ryan Suter, no Zach Parise and no hope for the Wild…I note that good guy Scott Campbell is also writing off the Wild. “The Wild can make it interesting when they play their best game—when they’re not, you’re just counting down the time until the next Jets goal,” the former Jets defenceman scribbles in his Winnipeg Free Press column. “With their season on the line and a hurting Jets blue line, I expect we’ll see everything they’ve got Friday night. I just don’t think it’s enough.”…Jets, of course, enter the fray sans one defender who was in his work clothing when the best-of-seven skirmish commenced—the suspended Josh Morrissey. Also still unavailable are blueliners Toby Enstrom and Dmitry Kulikov. Tyler Myers returns, though, so it isn’t as bleak as it might have been. Good thing. I was beginning to wonder if perhaps les Jets would have to send out an SOS to Perry Miller. Last time I saw Percy, he was still in game shape. Mind you, that was in the 1990s and the game was mixed slo-pitch…Winnipeg and its indoor/outdoor Whiteouts continue to get considerable play from national media outlets. Wonder if anyone at the Free Press has noticed, or are they still whinging about River City being ignored beyond the borders of the Keystone province?…Breaking News: Twig Ehlers has been lost to les Jets due to a mystery owie. So who’ll skate in pretty circles? Certainly not Matt Hendricks, who replaces Twig in the locals’ lineup. He’s more of a north-south guy…We’ve got Stacey Nattrass to sing the anthems at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, so I’m wondering what country crooners they’ll trot out in Twang Town when the Jets and Nashville Predators hook up in the next round of this Stanley Cup tournament. Mike Fisher’s bride, Carrie Underwood, has her groove back, so perhaps we’ll hear her Star Spangled Bannering.

David Thomson

First Period: I really like seeing those vintage Jets jerseys in the stands. Classic. Wish they were still on the players’ backs, too…Jacob Trouba scores 31 seconds into the joust. Jets 1, Wild 0. Stop this senseless slaughter!…Now Bryan Little scores on a Dustin Byfuglien missile. Jets 2, Wild 0. This is going to be an embarrassment for the Wild…Hey, moneybags David Thomson is in the house. And why not? Without his bankroll, the Little Hockey House On The Prairie wouldn’t exist. Neither would les Jets…Geez, Louise, is it the Minnesota Wild or the Keystone Kops? The Minny players are tripping over each other and they’re almost scoring own goals. Total disarray…Now Brandon Tanev scores on a Minny turnover. Devan Dubnyk whiffed on it. Jets 3, Wild 0…And now Joel Armia gets in the way of a Big Buff shot and it goes past Dubnyk. Once again, the Evander Kane trade pays off for the home side. Jets 4, Wild 0…Head coach Bruce Boudreau is a compassionate man. He gives Dubie, Dubie Dubnyk the rest of the night off.

Second Period: What are the odds of les Jets keeping the pedal to the metal? Zero. It’s going to be a boring 20 minutes…Armia is gone with an upper back owie. No biggie…Yup, this is boring. Les Jets have decided to take the period off, except for the keeper, Connor Hellebuyck…Most exciting discovery is that A&W teenburgers are on sale for $3.50 until April 29. Those are my fave burgers, but only because there’s no Harvey’s in downtown Victoria…Actually, I could go for a Sals cheese nip right about now. Drat. We don’t have the Sals in Victoria either…When did the Wild last score a goal? Seems to me it was sometime in March. Still 4-zip Jets.

The Little Hockey House On The Prairie

Third Period: Rink Rat Scheifele scores on the powerplay, just to rub salt into the wound, I guess. Jets 5, Wild done like dinner…Like I said, no more than five games. Good call…My memory isn’t shot, but there are some significant gaps and, try as I might, I can’t recall the 1987 series when les Jets took out the Calgary Flames. Don’t remember a thing, but the boys in the booth and between the benches assure me that it was the last time les Jets won a playoff series…Here’s the good news for the home side (aside from advancing to the second round): A bunch of guys named Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, Fuhr, Anderson et al aren’t laying in wait…Garry Galley asks, “Do these fans deserve this?” Yup, they do. Have to be happy for Good Ol’ Hometown. When I make my once-a-week visit to my favorite watering hole Saturday, people will talk about les Jets instead of “Winterpeg.” Nice.