There are good guys in hockey, there are great guys in hockey, then there are the absolute best guys in hockey.
Alvin Brian McDonald, known to family, friends and on-ice foes as Ab, was among the latter.
If there was a nicer man in the game than Ab, I never met him, and that takes in 30 years worth of time and people on frozen ponds and in puck palaces across our vast nation.
From scrubs on skates to National Hockey League players, Ab had time for everyone, including news snoops who’d call him at home to pick his brain about anything from playing alongside Jean Beliveau to getting the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association off the ground in October 1972.
The return phone call was among the measuring sticks we would use in the rag trade. If they called you back, they were good guys. Ab unfailingly returned calls. Didn’t matter what time of day or night, he’d get back to you. In time for you to make deadline.
Frank McKinnon and Don Baizley were like that. The old goalie, Joe Daley, is too.
Frank and Baiz are gone, and now Abbie is, too. The Jets original captain died at age 82 on Tuesday night, and you know a pall has spread across the hockey community, most notably in Good Ol’ Hometown.
Ab was, in many ways, like the aforementioned Beliveau—a kind, gentle, engaging and obliging man. Respected and admired, he was a proud Winnipegger who left home to play hockey hither and yon but returned to River City each summer. There was a regalness about him, yet, at the same time, he had the carriage and touch of an aw shucks common man.
You’ll find that’s what folks will talk about today when they learn of Ab’s passing.
Oh, sure, they’ll also mention the Stanley Cup rings with the Montreal Canadiens (three) and Chicago Blackhawks (one), the Cup-winning tally against the Detroit Red Wings in 1961, his playing alongside Stan Mikita and Kenny Wharram to form one version of the Blackhawks fabled Scooter Line, and scoring the first goal in Jets history in New York (on the same night the youngest of his five children, Kristina, was born). They might also mention that the past two years have not been kind to the Scooters—Wharram passed away in 2017, while Mikita and Ab left us this year.
But there will be one common theme in all reflections—Ab the man.
Daley, in conversation with The Canadian Press, remembered his former teammate as “just a super nice guy who mentored a lot of the young guys, including me.” Ab was “very humble.”
“I’ve had a weepy day today,” Daley added.
Most likely, he wasn’t alone. In fact, I know he wasn’t alone. Abbie was a dear, dear man.
In a perfect world, all athletes would be like Vic Peters—respectful, kind, obliging, generous with time and words, thoughtful, witty, humorous, appreciative, wise and devoted.
But we know this isn’t a perfect world because Vic Peters is dead, less than a month shy of his 61st birthday.
If you have read, or heard, the large volume of tributes paid to Peters in the few hours since he lost the ultimate argument with cancer on Sunday night, you’ll recognize a theme: Great curler, better person.
That is why Peters’ death must be filed under L, for Life Isn’t Fair.
It certainly isn’t fair to Vic’s bride, Deb, or the children, Kassie, Daley and Elisabeth, who had to say goodbye to their husband and father far too soon. And, although he had battled cancer for the past five years, Peters’ passing seemed so sudden. I mean, there he was in Grande Prairie, Alta., only last month, nervously observing daughter Liz Fyfe throw second stones for Kerri Einarson’s Buffalo girls at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
And now the three-time Manitoba and one-time Canadian men’s curling champion is gone, which saddens me and so many others.
Vic Peters and his family have occupied a special place in my heart since March of 1997 when, scant days after I had returned home from covering the Brier in Calgary, an envelope addressed to me arrived at the Winnipeg Sun newsroom. Inside was a card with two hand-written messages, one from Vic and the other from Deb and the kids.
Vic wrote: “Thanks for the support and sense of humour Brier week. I enjoyed chatting with you all week and appreciate that you seem to understand the game and the emotions of the players.”
Deb wrote: “Just a note of thanks for the wonderful job you did at the Brier. You were an endless support to our family and the friendship you extended to us will be remembered always. Sincerely, Deb, Kassie, Daley & Elisabeth Peters.”
What athlete and what athlete’s family does that? Only two in my experience of 30 years in jock journalism—Vic Peters and family, and Wayne Gretzky.
Sportswriters don’t get into the newspaper business for thanks. It truly is a thankless gig in which you are often viewed with contempt and considered a reptilian-like creature with all the charm of a skunk with raised tail. So, to receive that card from the Peters family was…let’s put it this way: I have just three cherished keepsakes from my journalism career—a thank-you letter from Gretzky, and letter of commendation from former Toronto Sun publisher Doug Creighton, and that card from Vic and Deb.
Upon reflection, Vic Peters is among my personal top four, all-time favorite sports people, in lockstep with hockey boss Frank McKinnon, football coach Brian Dobie and player agent Don Baizley. Dobie is the only member of that quartet still taking in oxygen.
There was so much to admire in Vic. I never once conducted an interview with him…we had conversations. They were always enjoyable, thought-provoking, laugh-filled and, in terms of curling know-how, instructional and educational. He was a great quote. One of the best. Ever.
But that which I liked most about Vic was his “realness.” He was as earthy as garden soil and as genuine as a mother’s smile. With Vic, the needle on the BS metre never moved past zero, and after spending time with him you always felt better about yourself. Not many people can pull that off.
As a curler, you’ll often find the name Vic Peters included in the same sentence as Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk, which tells you all you need to know about his game. He stood among the tallest of timber during the 1990s. Oddly enough, it was his loss in the ’97 Brier final that stands foremost in my recollections of Peters on the pebble.
It was an epic, riveting to-and-fro for the Canadian men’s crown between two of the game’s heavyweights, Peters and Kevin Martin of Alberta, with more than 17,000 raucous and curling-rabid eye witnesses in the Saddledome at Calgary. Martin ruled the day, but the result might have been different had our Manitoba champion not come perilously close to exhausting his time allotment, releasing his final stone a mere dozen seconds before the clock ticked down to 00:00 in a 10-8 loss.
That Brier final stands as the most entertaining, most exhilarating and most exhausting sporting event I ever covered. At the end, I was emotionally spent because, yes, I had wished for Vic and teammates (and their families) to win. I wanted this nice guy to finish first.
That would have been perfect, though. And we know life isn’t perfect, because in a perfect world we’d still have Vic Peters.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 45 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.
There is no city in the Great White North with as superb a stable of scribes detailing all things three-down football than River City.
Start with Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press. Best beat writer in the whole land. His accomplice at the Freep, Paul Wiecek, and Kirk Penton over at the Winnipeg Sun complete a menage-a-terrific that keeps readers fully informed of the goings-on of not only the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but the entirety of the Canadian Football League.
I also like Herb Zurkowsky in Montreal and the tandem of Rob Vanstone and Murray McCormick in Regina, but the quality and quantity that Messrs. Tait, Wiecek and Penton churn out is unmatched.
* There were fewer, if any, finer people on the Winnipeg/Manitoba sports scene than Frank McKinnon.
Frank, who passed away at age 80 last week, was the first person I interviewed and quoted in a byline story as a rookie reporter for the Winnipeg Tribune. It was at a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association annual meeting, and he was gracious, obliging and generous with his time. We spoke often over the ensuing 30 years and the former head of hockey in the province never changed. He always was a delight.
When I reflect on all the truly wonderful people I met during my time in mainstream jock journalism, Frank’s name is at the top of the good-guy list, alongside former player agent Don Baizley and University of Manitoba Bisons football coach Brian Dobie.
* I’m wounded. Crestfallen. And it’s all Gary (La La) Lawless’s doing.
La La, you see, has made an attempt to find a proper place in the pecking order of hockey homebrews for Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks centre who’s three wins away from adding to his collection of Stanley Cup rings. The main mouthpiece in the Freep sports section reckons that legendary goaltender Terry Sawchuk is the pre-eminent Manitoba born-and-bred shinny star. How did he arrive at this conclusion? Well, he claims to have talked to a number of writers and former scribes who cover(ed) the local shinny scene.
Well, I’ve been following hockey in Winnipeg since the 1950s. I’ve been scribbling about it for the past 44 years. Nobody’s been at it longer. Alas, my phone still isn’t ringing, so I assume it still ain’t La La calling. Perhaps I was out or in the shower when his call came. Or maybe he just didn’t call.
This hurts, Gary. You never write or phone anymore. Is it something I wrote?
* If you’re looking for an example of what some sports scribes do when they’re bored with themselves, take a looksee at this Cathal Kelly offering in the Globe and Mail last week.
Kelly piddles on our prairie cousins in Edmonton because…well, because, in the world according to Cathal, Edmonton has the bad manners to not be the Republic of Toronto. Apparently, Edmonton is supposed to behave like the backwater burg Kelly believes it to be and excuse itself from hosting elite sporting events. You know, like the FIFA Women’s World Cup that commenced with Canada’s 1-nil verdict over China on Saturday afternoon at Commonwealth Stadium in The Chuck.
He cites the 2011 WWC as an example of how things ought to be done. That footy extravaganza was showcased in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, a stately, magnificent structure that, again, in the world according to Cathal, makes Commonwealth seem like a shelter for the homeless.
“It’s actively ugly,” Cathal gripes about Commonwealth. “The field is circled by a track—the perfect bush-league touch that says ‘high school.’ “
Ah, yes. Nothing says high school quite like a running track around a football pitch. You know, just like the running track that encircles the football pitch in the BERLIN OLYMPIC STADIUM!
We wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good hissy fit, though, would we, Cathal? You just go right ahead and rant. Stomp your little feet and hold your breath. Perhaps one day your beloved Republic of Toronto will grow up to become a city big enough to host a prestigious event like the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
For now, though, it’s shut out of the soccer circus and I’m afraid you’ll have to settle for the Pan American Games in July. Those would be the same Games that Winnipeg has already hosted. Twice.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.
“I don’t know if I can put into words what Don (Baizley) meant to the game. I don’t know if there’s any one individual I’ve met in my life who’s had a more meaningful, more profound impact on the modern game of professional hockey.”
—Mark Chipman, co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets
Don Baizley is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, nor the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.
He should be in both. As a builder.
I bring this to your attention today because the HHofF class of 2014 is to be inducted on Monday and none of the select six is named Don Baizley, the Winnipeg-based lawyer whose 71 years of being an honest-to-gosh good guy gave way to non-smoker’s lung cancer in July 2013.
As many of you know, Baizley maintained a small stable of clients that represented a who’s who in the National Hockey League and on shinny ponds on the other side of the ocean—Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Peter Forsberg, Kent Nilsson, Paul Kariya, Theo Fleury, among others. But to brand him as merely a player agent to the stars is insufficient. Baizley was a trail blazer. He helped redefine the game in the mid-1970s, prior to which both the NHL and World Hockey Association were parochial in scope. That is to say, if you weren’t Canadian or American by birth you need not apply.
Oh, sure, there were a handful of Europeans pre-1974. Pentti Lund, born in Finland but raised in Canada from the age of six, was NHL rookie-of-the-year in 1949. Slovak-born Stanislav Guoth, better known as Stan Mikita, was a much-decorated centre with the Chicago Blackhawks. Ulf Sterner played four games with the New York Rangers in 1965. Thommie Bergman was in the employ of the Detroit Red Wings in the early ’70s. Borje Salming was wearing Toronto Maple Leafs linen. Ditto Inge Hammarstrom.
Basically, however, Euros were as rare as buck teeth on a super model. The prevailing logic insisted Euros weren’t equipped with adequate-sized gonads to be successful in the NHL, where ruffians often ruled the day (see: Big Bad Bruins, Broad Street Bullies).
Then along came the 1974 Winnipeg Jets. And Dr. Gerry Wilson. And Billy Robinson. And Don Baizley.
Dr. Wilson, a surgeon whose specialty was sports-related owies, was doing a post-grad gig in Sweden in 1973 when a fleet right winger caught his attention. The name was Anders Hedberg. The good doctor also liked what he saw in a kid named Ulf Nilsson. And, hey, this guy Lars-Erik Sjoberg was none too shabby on defence. So Doc Wilson put in a call to the Jets, then the flagship franchise in the WHA, and they, in turn, dispatched bird dog Billy Robinson to Tre Kroner country for a look-see at these hot-shot Swedes. The rest, as they say, is history.
Hedberg, Nilsson, Sjoberg and goaltender Curt Larsson represented the first wave of Europeans to arrive on North American shores and, in due course, they proved beyond all reasonable doubt that their junk was plenty big enough to not only succeed, but to excel on the frozen ponds of North America.
Hedberg and Nilsson, in particular, were ceaselessly assailed by extremely disagreeable sorts such as Bad News Bilodeau and Frankie Beaton of the Birmingham Bulls, plus a boatload of barbarians employed by other WHA outfits. These “chicken Swedes,” after all, were taking jobs away from good Canadian boys. The nerve. So they were whacked, hacked and brow beaten to unparalleled levels. Their bodies were bruised as blue as the Jets jerseys they wore. Talk about culture shock. But they endured, in large part due to the guidance of Don Baizley.
Baiz’s influence on the game cannot be under-valued. He didn’t just get big bucks for his clients. He took them under his wing. He was their confidante. Their mentor. He provided them a comfort zone, a place where they could grow as hockey players and, more important, people.
His handling of the fabulous Swedes did not escape the notice of other Scandinavians. Soon Veli-Pekka Ketola was with the Jets. Heikki Riihiranta, the aforementioned Bergman, Willy Lindstrom, Mats Lindh, Dan Labraaten, Kent Nilsson were to follow. Those Euro-flavored WHA Jets played a dazzling, free-wheeling brand of hockey. Brute force gave way to beauty, which translated into titles and provided Glen Sather a blueprint in constructing his remarkable Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s.
So, you see, Baizley was at the forefront in the reshaping of the professional hockey landscape. He was there for close to 40 years, yet this man who helped change the face of shinny preferred to operate in the background. It was never about him. He was, if you will, the anti-Eagle.
I refer, of course, to Alan Eagleson, the notorious player agent who landed in lockup after playing fast and loose with his clients’ money. The Eagle was self-aggrandizing and self-promoting. If the Eagle was involved, everything else was background noise.
That wasn’t how Don Baizley rolled.
Baiz wanted to talk about himself like Gary Bettman wants to live in the north end of Winnipeg. He was more interested in others. He placed value on who you were and what you did. He always made you feel better about yourself and your work.
During my 30 years in sports journalism, I never met a better person than Don Baizley. Not one. So when the giants of the game gathered in July 2013 to salute another giant of the game, you had to believe them when they told you that Baiz was an honest, humble, trustworthy, humorous, generous, loving man. It’s all true.
The guy was an honest-to-gosh hall of fame person.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.
It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.
Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.
Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.
I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.
I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.
I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.
I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.
So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.
(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)
These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)
Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.
Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.
Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.
Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.
Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”
Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.
Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!
My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.
Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.
Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.
Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.
Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.
Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.
Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.
Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.
Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.
Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.
Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.
Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.
Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.
Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
Best player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.
Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.
Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.
Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.
Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners in booing the singing of O Canada en francais, a man called my home later that day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.
Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.
Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.
Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.
Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.
Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.
Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.
Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.
Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.
Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.
“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”
“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”
“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”
Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.
Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.