Troubles before Triumph: An Ode to the 1978-79 Winnipeg Jets on the 40th anniversary of their final WHA championship

Forty years ago this weekend, the Winnipeg Jets put an exclamation mark on an incredible, unlikely run to the final World Hockey Association championship, their third title during the rebel league’s seven-year history. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride in that winning 1978-79 season—as the main Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg Tribune—and I share the following recollections while thinking of Fergy, Sudsy, the Shoe, my two media traveling companions, Friar Nicolson and Reyn Davis, and that wonderful photog with both the Trib and Winnipeg Free Press, Jon Thordarson, all of whom have left us.

***

It was early March 1979 and the Winnipeg Jets were back in Birmingham, the scene of their most heinous crime.

Only 11 days earlier, the defending World Hockey Association champions had absorbed a shameful and shocking 9-1 paddywhacking at the neophyte hands of Alabama’s Baby Bulls, and the pungent residue of that humiliation remained. The bus carrying the workforce turned into a parking lot and lurched haltingly (much like the Jets’ on-ice product) toward the team hotel, and one of the players observed two Birmingham cop cars parked in front of the main entrance.

“They must have been at our last game here,” muttered a wise-cracking John Gray. “They’ve come to arrest us for impersonating a hockey team.”

I don’t recall if everyone laughed, but I did. Ditto Tom McVie, the freshly minted head coach who could not be implicated in the 9-1, scorched-earth debacle. He had an-air tight alibi for that night—he’d been sitting at home in Washington, waiting for the phone to ring and hoping it would be someone (anyone) in hockey calling to offer him a job behind their bench.

So McVie was off the hook, as were Terry Ruskowski, Kim Clackson and Gary Smith. (A nasty rib owie had limited Roscoe to four shifts that night; Clacker, in head coach Larry Hillman’s doghouse as usual, had been left behind in Winnipeg; recently arrived goaler Suitcase Smitty had yet to unpack his bags.)

The other boys on the bus, however…they wore the stink of 9-1, all complicit in what had been to that point in the Jets final WHA crusade the most damning evidence that this was Team Dysfunction.

***

To truly appreciate what went down that season, you must consider the nuances of a nine-month journey full of barking headlines, baffling sideshows, bitching, firings, hirings, disappearances and scoldings. Or, as I like to call it: Troubles Before Triumph.

Morris Lukowich

This, understand, was not an outfit that fed off the warm-and-fuzzy remains of the previous campaign, a successful frolic that produced a second victory parade down the two main drags of River City. Gone to Gotham were Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, while other prominent performers such as Thommie Bergman and Dan Labraaten also took leave. In their stead skated Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray and Paul Terbenche, all refugees from an abandoned Houston Aeros franchise.

The remnants of the Jets championship outfit and the orphaned Aeros were confirmed enemies. They buddied-up like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich confirmed at the close of business on May 20, 1979, the night les Jets gained permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy with a 7-3 victory over the Edmonton Gretzkys. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski agreed.

There were other fractures, most notably between fan favorite/resident ruffian Kim Clackson and the head coach, Larry Hillman.

Kim Clackson

Clacker was a work in progress, a young guy whose game was more fury and fists than finesse, and his style seldom found favor with bench jockey Hillman, who did not fancy the blueline bully’s perceived lack of puck-moving skills. So, like Lukowich, the frustrated Clacker was anxious to acquire a new postal code.

“I can’t play for that guy anymore,” he barked in early November. “I’m tired of all the bull. I was brought here to play hockey and take care of some of the guys. But it’s never worked out that way. I want to go somewhere else so I can play. I just want to play and be appreciated.”

It didn’t help that foes like Edmonton Oilers smug puppet master Glen Sather took delight in giving that particular pot a vigorous stirring.

“If (Hillman) ever wants to get rid of him, we’ll gladly take him,” Sather snickered rather cheekily one night after his Oilers had taken their measure of the Jets. “He’d fit right in with us.”

Others around the league also saw merit in Clackson’s presence.

“There’s no question that we prefer to play Winnipeg when he’s not in the lineup,” confessed Rick Adduono of the Bulls. “When Clackson’s out there and you come down on a three-on-two, you know you’re going to get a good two-hander when you skate in front of the net.”

“Leaving Clackson at home only helps us,” agreed Bulls coach John Brophy. “Every team needs a policeman, especially on the road.”

Jets team president and co-bankroll Michael Gobuty was unamused by the discordant notes being struck and, two weeks later, he took the extraordinary measure of entering the players’ lair to, among other things, instruct Clackson and any other malcontents to put an end to their pity party and play hockey.

“Michael came in and let us know he was the boss around here,” said Lukowich. “He told us where we stand, kind of put our minds at ease. I think we needed somebody to come in and show some authority. Nobody wants to get smart with Mr. Gobuty.”

That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Hillman.

***

Larry Hillman was a nice man. A very nice man. And he owned a WHA championship ring that provided proof he was no pooch as a coach.

The man some of us called Morley had pushed all the right buttons six months earlier when the Jets secured the World Avco Trophy for a second time, yet Hillman fell prey to the whims of fate as unsteady dominoes began to tumble.

It wasn’t his fault, for example, that Hedberg and Nilsson defected to the New York Rangers.

Larry Hillman

It wasn’t his fault that the Achilles tendon in Lars-Erik Sjoberg’s right heel exploded during a late-September exhibition skirmish vs. the St. Louis Blues, and the captain was lost until the butt end of March.

It wasn’t his fault that Robert Marvin Hull suited up for four games then disappeared to battle his bride, Joanne, in a divorce court.

It wasn’t his fault that Teddy Green followed Hull into retirement.

Nor was he the mastermind behind the stroke of brilliance that brought the Houston cartel to River City.

It was, however, Hillman’s duty to make the Jets-Aeros alliance work. Unfortunately, he wasn’t up to the task of blending this hybrid outfit of fierce foes into a unified force.

“We didn’t please each other at the start and still haven’t come to great harmony,” Hillman allowed during the rough patch of mid-November. “Maybe it’s because I mentioned (the Houston guys) more frequently than others in discussing this team. You know, the owners, the public and even the media expected a lot from the one line (Ruskowski-Lukowich-Preston), and maybe I expected too much, like everybody else. I can’t keep relating the Houston guys to the big line (Hedberg-Nilsson-Hull).

“This isn’t a give-up situation, it’s something that we’ll have to overcome. But if something isn’t done soon, there are two objectives—either the coach has to be fired or some changes have to be made on the playing roster. Hopefully we’re all mature enough to realize we have the same objective.”

Sudsy Sutherland

Hillman survived until Feb. 27, four days and another loss (to the Baby Bulls) after the infamous 9-1 blitz in Birmingham.

“I don’t know how he controls himself,” Hillman’s second-in-command, assistant coach Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, said on the day of the dismissal. “If I was in his position, I would have had some of those guys by the throat. His biggest fault is that he was too good to the guys…he took the blame for everything.”

Only 24 hours earlier, general manager John Ferguson had granted Hillman a stay of execution, saying, “I was seriously considering making a change. But there won’t be any at this time.” A 5-2, home-ice loss to Birmingham, however, sealed the coach’s fate.

“I did not give him a vote of confidence,” Fergy explained of his abrupt about-face. “I said I would leave it up to the players.”

Apparently, the players said it all in that 5-2 defeat, a performance Ferguson described as “horrendous.”

***

There was delicious irony in the hiring of John Bowie Ferguson as GM of the Jets on Nov. 22 of the final season.

Fergy, you see, was the cad who had lured Hedberg and Nilsson away from River City, where they were looked upon by the rabble with deity-like reverence. Turns out the two Swedes were his parting gift to Gotham and the Rangers, because the National Hockey League club relieved him of his GM duties three days before officially introducing the former Jets to Times Square and the masses in the city that never sleeps.

Fergy

Gobuty tossed Fergy a lifeline six months later, and it was goodbye Broadway and hello boondocks.

“We are, in effect, handing Ferguson the key to the club,” said Gobuty. “My partners and I plan to take a much less active role in the running of the club. It’ll take time, but we’re confident that he’ll mold the people he wants into the organization.”

Fergy accepted the job sight unseen, and he joined the lads in Quebec City for a first-hand look and a speech from the throne four days later.

“I don’t know how I should put this,” defenceman Scott Campbell said after a 2-2 stalemate with les Nordiques. “Let’s just say it’s nice to know who the boss is around here. Now we know who we have to answer to.”

***

It’s not like Fergy came in, waved a magic wand and—poof!—the Jets were rid of the toxins that had tainted the water through the first two months of the grind.

More to the point, Winnipeg HC continued to sputter like an old jalopy and, along the way, they were forced to do without Teddy Green, the legendary, tough-as-a-tire iron defenceman who stepped away from the game on Jan. 22 after 19 1/2 seasons and a near-fatal head injury.

I often wondered how Teddy repeatedly returned to the fray. I would watch him hobble onto the team bus or airplane, then observe him sitting in a stony, seemingly catatonic silence, paralyzed from the pain in his knees and, more significantly, his head. He had been on the losing end of a vicious stick-swinging duel with Wayne Maki in 1969, a confrontation that put him in a hospital bed and near death. After the passage of much time, he still had “never fully recovered” from that blow to the head.

“I’ve got no feeling at all in my left hand,” he said at his farewell presser. “Some nights I couldn’t even get my glove on before the game. I’d be putting four fingers in the same hole.”

I marveled at, and admired, Teddy’s courage, but he pooh-poohed any pity hurled his way.

“I remember a guy who used to play on the Million Dollar Line before he came to Boston,” he said. “He went out and busted his butt every game and then would sit at the end of the bench spitting out blood. Murray Balfour was dying of cancer. I’d like to think I fashioned some of my courage from Murray Balfour.”

***

There are differing stories on what brought these Jets together as a true team, but I favor the one about Gary Smith, known to some as Suitcase and to others as Axe.

Suitcase Smitty

By any name, he was not a goaltender of gaudy credentials upon his arrival in River City in mid-February. He had begun the season guarding the Indianapolis Racers goal, but that franchise went belly up 10 days before Christmas, leaving Smitty and his 0-10-1 record and his 5.51 goals-against average wanting for work.

He called Fergy asking for employment, and here’s how Ruskowski remembers the Axe’s introduction to the lads.

“He came walking into the locker room,” Roscoe told Hockey Digest in 2001. “He was pretty much overweight. He sat down and he said, ‘Half you guys don’t know me, but my name is Gary The Axe Smith because I’ve been around 15 teams in the past two years. My goals against is about 5.33 and I won one game and lost 13. But don’t let that fool you: I’m not that good.’ Everyone just cracked up. But you could see we were coming together as a team.”

Not yet, they weren’t. Not until Tom McVie came aboard.

***

Tommy and Fergy had been childhood chums in Vancouver and, hockey being very much a buddy network, it was reasonable for the latter to reach out to his out-of-work pal to fill the Jets’ coaching vacancy.

We knew little about Tommy, except that he’d been deep-sixed by the worst outfit in NHL history, the Washington Capitals. His reputation as a hard-ass taskmaster preceded him, and he said/did everything to confirm he was a bit off his nut, even telling a vomiting Scott Campbell at practice to “get sick on your own time.”

Tom McVie

Although fitness-freak Tommy’s preachings and rigid, nutbar demands failed to translate into Ws at the get-go, we saw evidence that they soon would deliver favorable results. There was renewed vigor. More purpose in their play. Superior conditioning began to take grip, most noticeably in the third period of games.

Better yet—at least for us news snoops—Tommy was a quote machine. A funny quote machine.

Examples…

On teams in a slump: “You know what happens when you get into a rut like that? People start talking behind your back. When I was with Washington, I remember standing in the Los Angeles airport and I could see a couple of guys talking. As soon as I walked near them, they stopped. I’d walk up to a couple more and they’d stop talking too. Hell, it got so bad in Washington, that one night I was at a football game and the Redskins went into their huddle…I thought THEY were talking about me too.”

Upon arrival in Quebec City, he heard players whinging about their tiny rooms in Le Chateau Frontenac: “I don’t know what you guys are bitching about. The last time I was here, my room was so small that when I put my key in the door I broke a window.”

After the Jets had swept les Nordiques in their first-round playoff series, Gobuty gave Tommy a huge thank-you hug: “The last guy who did that to me was Abe Pollin (chairman of the board for the Washington Capitals). He hugged me and told me he should give me a 20-year contract…then he fired me 19 years too soon.”

Tom McVie in the champions’ changing room.

More than anything, though, McVie proved to be the right man at the right time for that team.

The Jets had somehow maneuvered their way into top spot on Feb. 15, but they finished the month in third place, five points in arrears of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and every other outfit in the league had at least three games in hand. They lost six of eight, then eight of 10.

Gradually, however, whatever flavor of Kool-Aid McVie was selling kicked in. It was balls to the wind. The Jets came down the stretch like Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes, winning 11 of 17 and four of their final five matches, and only once after March 6 did they absorb back-to-back losses.

“It took them a while before they started winning,” observed Jacques Demers, head coach of the Quebec Nordiques. “Now every one of those guys is proud to wear a Jets sweater…you can see that Winnipeg has togetherness, that pride just by looking at their bench. I think now the Jets may be a better team than they’ve ever been. They’ve got so many leaders.”

***

It was convenient and a blessing that one of those leaders, captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, returned from the repair shop for the finishing strokes of the regular season.

Squat like a fire hydrant, the Shoe was equal parts wizard and hockey Einstein, a smooth, puck-moving rearguard who always saw what others failed to see. Everything he did was accomplished with the calm of a Buddhist monk and the subtle skill of a heart surgeon.

The Shoe

The Jets were unsuccessful in his comeback game, dropping a 2-nada decision to les Nordiques, but the Shoe was magnificent in his understated manner.

“I told Fergy after the game that he should cut Shoe’s wages,” McVie joked. “He makes the game look so easy. Any guy having that good a time out there shouldn’t get paid.”

“Now I know why I always had to chop him in Houston,” added Lukowich, the feisty 65-goal winger. “The only way to stop him is to put the lumber to him.”

“I’m still waiting for somebody, anybody, to beat him one-on-one, and I’ve been in the league five years,” Edmonton Oilers centre Ron Chipperfield said of the Shoe.

Let the record show that the Jets went 13-6 with Sjoberg orchestrating the show from the back end and, although his point total was modest, it’s unlikely they would have gone on their successful 8-2 playoff run without him.

***

This was a WHA title that almost never happened.

The Jets had finished in third place, a whopping 14 points in back of Edmonton and three behind Quebec, and when they departed River City to open a best-of-seven skirmish vs. Quebec there were no assurances that les Nordiques would be waiting for them at the other end.

There was a money dispute, you see.

The WHA’s agreement with the WHA Players Association called for a payout of no less than $10,000 to each member of the championship side. The league was offering between $6,000 and $7,000 and the players insisted they receive no less than $8,000. Les Nordiques and Cincinnati Stingers voted to cancel the playoffs, while the Oilers and New England Whalers were in favor of proceeding as scheduled.

So was there a possibility of the WHA collapsing before its final act?

“Sure there is,” said Peter Sullivan, the silky-smooth centre who served as the Jets player rep. “Even if we vote in favor, Quebec and Cincinnati still might not come over and agree with the other three clubs. I just hope for the league’s sake it doesn’t happen.”

The Jets never took a formal vote, but at least one player, Clackson, was against a work stoppage.

“Don’t write me down as one of the malcontents,” he said. “I’ll take $7,000 anytime. We shouldn’t be concerned about anything right now except winning this series of ours.”

The Jets touched down in Quebec City on a Friday (first game was scheduled for Monday), and the club withheld the players’ per diem ($24), with a further caution: If there was a cancellation of the post-season, the players would be returning home on their own dime.

As it happened, the WHA and WHAPA agreed to put the dispute on hold until after the playoffs, so it was game on.

***

Much was made of the impact the threatened boycott had on les Nordiques, who became a house divided over the issue.

Reports of fights involving Curt Brackenbury, Serge Bernier and Marc Tardiff came out of the Quebec camp, although defenceman Paul Baxter insisted it was nothing more than mountains-out-of-molehills nattering from news snoops.

Jacques Demers

“We haven’t played for a week now,” Baxter said with a dismissive shrug, “that sort of thing happens.”

Brackenbury chirped in, saying, “I can’t remember anything about them.”

Whatever the case, the Jets took out les Nordiques in a romp, sweeping the series with 6-3, 9-2, 9-5 and 6-2 wins and outshooting Quebec 50-14 in Game 4.

“There are players on this team who will never wear a Quebec Nordiques uniform again,” vowed the vanquished Quebec coach Demers. “They were unprofessional. They didn’t try at all…all of this because of money. The Jets went through the same thing as my players, but they still wanted to play hockey. What hurts most is when you stand behind the bench and see your players laughing.”

That’s what the semifinal series was…a laugher.

***

Like many others, I often wondered how the Jets would function without Terry Ruskowski.

If Clackson provided the team with its spine (in the figurative realm), Roscoe was its heartbeat, and that’s not to discredit the Shoe and Barry Long, who wore the ‘C’ while Sjoberg was in the repair shop. It’s just that Ruskowski had that special ingredient you couldn’t reach out and touch. Call it the ‘it’ factor.

“He’s a very talented hockey player, but it’s more than that,” winger Lyle Moffat suggested during the final vs. the Oilers. “I don’t know what it is that the man has, but he has to have something magic about him. He’s just a great leader.”

Roscoe and Clacker

After 3-1 and 3-2 victories on Edmonton ice to open the championship series, the Jets lost Roscoe to a serious shoulder owie in Game 3, and they were promptly outscored 4-zip in the third period of an 8-3 loss. They gutted out a 3-2 victory in Game 4, then received a royal rag-dolling by the Oilers, 10-2. So, let’s do the math: In seven periods sans Roscoe, the Jets were outscored 16-5. Ouch.

Chances are there wouldn’t have been a happily-ever-after ending to this story except for trainer Billy Bozak. The nicest of men, Boz used his magic fingers and perhaps some voodoo on Roscoe’s shoulder, and he was good to go for Game 6, even though the hard-boiled centre couldn’t raise his left arm and truthfully had no business being on the ice. All he did was set up four goals in a 7-3 victory that brought the curtain down on the WHA, on May 20, 1979.

“I just love the man,” gushed McVie. “I’ve never met a man in my life like Terry Rukowski (Tommy often dropped the first ‘s’ when he spoke Ruskowski’s name).”

***

I was happiest for the Houston players, who hadn’t been warmly embraced initially and were handed a very tough act to follow.

Bill (Magic Fingers) Bozak and four of the boys—Scotty Campbell, the Shoe, Luke and Roland Eriksson.

Thus I wandered down to the Jets changing room in the bowels of a decaying Winnipeg Arena and sought to engage in chin-wags with four of them—Roscoe, Luke, Rich Preston (the playoff MVP) and Scotty Campbell. I don’t recall ever seeing four happier, more contented men. They wore that victory well.

They all did, of course, from Suitcase Smitty to shutdown forwards Lyle Moffat-Bill (Tractor) Lesuk-Roland Eriksson-Bobby Guindon, to fancy-schmancy offensive wizards Silky Sullivan and Magic Man Kent Nilsson, to gut-check guys like Clackson and Long, to greenhorns Glenn Hicks and Paul MacKinnon, to the guy who scored the final goal in Jets WHA history 40 years ago tomorrow—Willy Lindstrom.

“I had a bad season, so I had to have a good playoff,” said Willy, who contributed 10 goals and five assists in the 10 games that mattered most. “I wanted to show that I was a better player than Larry Hillman thought I was. When he was coach, I used to get only five or six shifts a game. I was thinking this would be my last season in North America, and I was thinking of playing over in Germany or Switzerland next year. But now things are different. Tom McVie gave me chance to play and I wanted to make good on that chance.”

No one in that changing room was happier than McVie.

“Three months ago I didn’t have a job in hockey and now they’re measuring me for a championship ring,” Tommy gushed. “This is better than sex…well, maybe.”

***

Michael Gobuty

Often I have taken pause for ponder on that 1978-79 season and how the events unfolded. Was there one decision that served as the catalyst? Actually, yes. Here’s how I rate the five most-significant developments in that championship crusade:

  1. Michael Gobuty and his 8 Hockey Ventures Inc. partners purchased the contracts of a dozen Houston Aeros, bringing Ruskowski, Preston, Lukowich, Campbell, West, Gray and Terbenche to Winnipeg.

  2. The Gobuty Group hired John Ferguson and handed him the keys to the shop.

  3. Fergy hired Tom McVie.

  4. The return of Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

  5. Suitcase Smitty put in a phone call to Fergy and asked for a job.

The 1978-79 Jets, playoff team: Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Scott Campbell, Steve West, John Gray, Paul Terbenche, Peter Sullivan, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Bill Lesuk, Lyle Moffat, Bobby Guindon, Roland Eriksson, Paul MacKinnon, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Glenn Hicks, Kim Clackson, Gary Smith, Joe Daley, Barry Long. Coaches Tom McVie, Bill Sutherland. General manager John Ferguson.

Also playing during the regular season: Markus Mattsson, Rich Gosselin, John Gibson, Ted Green, Bobby Hull, Bill Davis, Mike Amodeo, Dale Yakiwchuk. Coach Larry Hillman. Executive Director of Hockey Operations/assistant GM Rudy Pilous.

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Let’s talk about Josh Morrissey and Winnipeg Jets goats…the Toronto Star spending NHL money…second jobs…Red Sox air traffic control…the Kentuky (sic) Derby in Kentucky…Stamps or Raps?…and Felix gets the King of Clay in Madrid

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, yes, it’s still morning where I live…

Okay, here’s what I want to know: What did Josh Morrissey do to tick off anyone? Hike gas prices? Steal nickels and dimes from panhandlers in Osborne Village? Say women’s hockey sucks?

Whatever the misdeed, there are folks who want young Josh on the next stagecoach out of Dodge.

Josh Morrissey

And, for me, that’s what jumped out as I scanned the results of the Winnipeg Sun You Be the Boss survey, in which the rabble were invited to play Puck Pontiff and suggest who among the Winnipeg Jets should stay or go.

The rest of it, I get.

The faithful, for example, have seen and heard enough of Jacob Trouba. Ditto Charlie Huddy. Well duh. Those two are to Jets loyalists what Trudeau II is to Saudi Alberta, and it doesn’t matter that Trouba just completed the most-productive crusade of his National Hockey League career.

Fact is, the young defender once requested a one-way ticket out of town and, when asked, Trouba refuses to express warm and fuzzy feelings for River City, a dismissive attitude that never plays well in a burg that leads the league in inferiority complex (ask old friend Evander Kane about that).

Paul Maurice and Charlie Huddy.

Huddy, meanwhile, holds the defence coaching portfolio and, since les Jets so often come across as Keystone Kopish behind the blueline, he takes the rap. Mind you, some longtime devotees never have warmed to Huddy simply because they can’t get past his alliance with the 1980s Edmonton Gretzkys. If you’re too young to recall those dark days, be advised that the Gretzkys made annual spring sport of les Jets, bullying them as if part of a college hazing ritual.

No surprise, therefore, that 78 per cent of 4,598 respondents want Trouba kicked to the curb, while 51 per cent would prefer that Huddy clear out his desk. (Note: He’s the only member of head coach Paul Maurice’s staff they want removed.)

Jacob Trouba: No warm and fuzzies.

But this Morrissey thing baffles me. The guy is boy-next-door likable. I bet he shoveled the neighbor’s sidewalk as a kid. Gratis. Likely mowed the lawn, too. You could create a sitcom based on him: Everybody Loves Josh. Except everyone doesn’t.

The question was simple: Should he stay or should he go? A whopping 98 per cent say Trouba’s top-pair defence partner is a keeper. Works for me. So who is the 2 per cent? And how did Morrissey possibly rub those 92 people the wrong way?

The survey results don’t provide those kind of answers, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff aren’t among the 92, Morrissey isn’t going anywhere.

Kyle Connor

Noteworthy was the Kyle Connor-Patrik Laine finding. That is, given a choice of one or the other restricted free agent, the rabble would prefer to keep Connor by a 61-31 percentage. That’s not surprising. It’s all about expectations, of course, and Puck Finn’s are sky high. Connor’s not so much. He scores 34 goals and the hosannahs ring out from hither and yon. Puck Finn, meanwhile, scores 30 and the sky is falling. It doesn’t help, mind you, that Laine basically dogged it for 2-3 months during the recently concluded crusade.

Also noteworthy is the number of respondents to the Sun survey. The 4,598 is dwarfed by a similar You Be the Boss study undertaken by its sister paper in Edmonton, where 9,250 angry Oilers fans had their say. That could mean a few things: a) the folks in E-Town are more PO’d that the rabble in River City; b) the E-Sun circulation is considerably larger than the W-Sun; c) they care more in E-Town; d) Winnipeggers have better things to do than fill out survey forms once the grass is riz.

Well, another newspaper editorial board is telling the 32 NHL owners how to spend their money. This time it’s the Toronto Star, where the Lords and Ladies of One Yonge Street have weighed in on the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a player boycott: “The players who built the league—and kept it afloat with plenty of their own money, earned through the second jobs they all had to have, just to play professional women’s hockey in this country—deserve so much better than this. A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path. It really is time for a $5-billion enterprise that claims “Hockey is for Everyone” to do something to make that sound a little less hollow for half the population.” Hmmm. I hardly think a private business that laid off 52 employees in summer 2018 and another 21 in June of last year is positioned to lecture another private business. And if the Star is so keen on resurrecting the CWHL, perhaps it can pony up $100,000 to put the Tranna Furies back in business.

Ken Ploen

Too much is being made of women’s hockey players needing to hold down second jobs to pay the bills. That’s as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock strap, and it’s never been limited to shinny. Ken Ploen had a day job throughout his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ditto teammate Cec Luining, known as the Selkirk Milkman because he really was a milkman with the family dairy operation in Selkirk. New York Giants linebacker great Sam Huff bagged groceries. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan worked at a gas station and installed air conditioning. Another hurler, Harvey Haddix, delivered heating oil. Jon Cornish, while leading the Canadian Football League in rushing, worked two six-hour shifts per week as a bank teller. Many CFL players still have second jobs. So it shouldn’t be included in the women’s hat-in-hand argument.

The Boston Red Sox wrap up a road trip on Wednesday in Baltimore, then break ranks to board two charter flights—one taking manager Alex Cora and seven players home to Beantown, the other carrying the remaining World Series champions to the capital for a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Trump at the White House. Final score at the D.C. airport: Red Sox 18, Air Force One.

Donald Trump

Got a kick out of the Trumpster tweeting about Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which he pooh-poohed for its controversial ending. He spelled the state “Kentuky” and “Kentucky” in his original tweet, then someone made a correction on the first “Kentuky.” But, hey, don’t call it a spelling mistake. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway insists the Command-in-Chief was simply providing “alternative facts.”

What would a week be without some asinine scribblings from the Republic of Tranna? Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet on the Toronto Raptors: “You can make the case that they’ve been the most successful Canadian sports franchise for the last several seasons.”

Deep sigh.

Here’s what the Raptors have won in the past five seasons:
National Basketball Association titles: 0.
NBA final appearances: 0.
NBA Eastern Conference titles: 0.
Atlantic Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.

Here’s what the Calgary Stampeders have won in the past five seasons:
Canadian Football League titles: 2.
Grey Cup game appearances: 4.
West Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.

I’d say two league titles and four championship game appearances trumps zero every time. But, then, the CFL is like curling to news snoops in The ROT—it doesn’t exist.

And, finally, the good news is that our terrific tennis teen Felix Auger-Aliassime has advanced to the round of 32 at the Madrid Open. The bad news is he has a date with the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, on Wednesday.

About the Winnipeg Jets group no-show…questions going forward…pie charts and Twig Ehlers’ fancy skating…Jacob Trouba had plenty of bad company…the Auston Matthews shrine…blind video replay judges…E-Town still likes the Looch…and scapegoats for the Jets fallen crusade

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and that Jets loss really knocked the frills off my Easter bonnet…

Well, there is no joy in Mudville today. The mighty Winnipeg Jets have struck out. Without really taking a final swing.

I mean, six shots through 40 minutes? One in the second period?

That’s the best you can do when it’s win or go to the beach? Talk about throwing a handful of confetti in a knife fight.

Oh, sure, you can say the St. Louis Blues had something to do with that. You know, suffocating defensive scheme and all. But, c’mon man. No team, not even the Montreal Canadiens circa 1970s, should be able to limit les Jets to one measly shot on goal. There’s too much talent.

Connor Hellebuyck

I’d accuse les Jets of mailing it in, except I’ve mellowed over the years. I can’t be that cruel. So let’s just say I believe some of them tried in their 3-2 loss Saturday night in St. Loo. They just didn’t try hard enough, goaler Connor Hellebuyck being the notable exception, and the local hockey heroes’ premature ouster from the Stanley Cup tournament isn’t how a whole lot of folks, myself included, had Beard Season scripted. I was confident that there would be boisterous Whiteout parties in and outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie well into May, if not June.

Alas, the Blues’ series-concluding cakewalk at the Enterprise Center put an end to all the fun, and there’s little point in wondering what might have been for les Jets had their playoff push advanced beyond the sixth game of this best-of-seven skirmish.

Certainly the window of opportunity had been pushed wide open, with top seeds falling like April rain, and I liked their chances in this Stanley Cup crap shoot. Based on their disgraceful group no-show in St. Loo, though, it’s apparent that les Jets had less belief in themselves than much of the rabble. Again, including myself.

The inclination, of course, is to play the Blame Game for this wasted opportunity, but I’m not prepared to go there this morning. I’ll leave that to the “experts.”

I’m more interested in what this face plant does for les Jets moving forward and, as the local lads went through the final throes of another National Hockey League crusade gone wrong, I found myself asking these question:

  • Blake Wheeler

    Does Blake Wheeler have any more 91-point seasons in him? No.

They’ll be paying their 33-year-old captain $8.25 million next autumn, and the only guarantee is that his production will begin to drop faster than Justin Trudeau’s approval ratings.

  • Is Dustin Byfuglien going to get any younger or any smarter? No.

Big Buff has always marched to his own drummer, and that old dog isn’t about to learn new tricks at age 34. As much as he can hold sway in a game, he’s prone to massive brain farts and, frankly, he’s 260 pounds worth of liability.

  • Paul Maurice

    Is Paul Maurice going to become a better coach? No.

I’ve said it before: Coach Potty Mouth is not the right man to take this young outfit to the next level. He’s reached his level of (in)competence, and it’s time for him to do what he does best—talk. That is, a career in either the TSN or Sportsnet studio awaits him.

  • Does Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman have the coconuts or desire to punt Coach Potty Mouth? No.

Many among the rabble are crying out for Maurice’s ouster, but they can save their breath. Both the Puck Pontiff and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff are on record as saying Maurice is here “for the long haul,” so you can bitch about him all you like. He isn’t going anywhere.

  • Is Jacob Trouba prepared to sign long term? Good luck with that.

On a scale of 1-to-10, I’d say there’s less than zero chance the still-young defender keeps a River City postal code beyond next winter. Actually, I suspect he’ll be out of Dodge before they drop the puck again. Chevy might feel obliged to move him this summer.

  • Twig Ehlers

    Is Twig Ehlers capable of doing anything more than skate pretty? No.

Don’t talk to me about Ehlers’ wonderful zone entries. I really don’t care what the pie charts tell you. He’s paid to score. Instead, he’s doing triple salchows and sit spins, like he’s auditioning for Ice Capades. Perhaps he can partner with Tessa Virtue and they can tour with a fancy skating company. Seriously. Zero goals and seven points in 21 playoff assignments? There’s just no game in his game.

  • Is Kevin Hayes worth keeping around? No.

Turns out that the lanky centre was Stastny Lite, with minimal impact after joining les Jets at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. He had his moments. Just not enough of them. Acquiring Hayes was a right thing to do that didn’t work out.

  • Chevy

    Will Chevy put together a package to retrieve the first-round draft pick he surrendered in barter for Hayes? Unlikely.

I doubt the other 30 league GMs have any appetite for helping Chevy.

  • Is Chevy prepared to enter another crusade with Bryan Little in the second centre slot? No choice.

Chevy, by his activity at the last two trade deadlines, has told Little that he’s not a No. 2 centre. Trouble is, the Atlanta holdover has a no-movement clause, so Chevy is stuck with him. The No. 2 centre slot was an issue heading into this season and, unfortunately, Hayes wasn’t the solution. Chevy’s mistake was waiting until the 11th hour to attempt to fix it.

  • If rumors of infighting among the players are true, will the toxic elements be discarded? Hard to say.

We only have Mike McIntyre’s word for it that les Jets changing room was a pit full of bickering sourpusses with self-serving interests, so unless the Drab Slab beat guy is prepared to give us the skinny we won’t know the true story.

Jacob Trouba

Let’s make something quite clear: Jacob Trouba wasn’t solely responsible for the goal that did in les Jets in their stunning Game 5 loss to the Blues last Thursday. Yes, he made a poor decision to attempt to freeze the puck on the end boards. A real D’oh! Boy move with about 25 ticks left on the clock. But what of his defensive partner, Josh Morrissey? He was working in concert with Trouba, trying to free the puck vs. Alex Steen and Jaden Schwartz of St. Loo. When it came loose, Rink Rat Scheifele promptly handed it to the Blues Tyler Bozak. Kyle Connor then made a pathetic one-handed poke check attempt, but refused to engage Bozak. Both Trouba and Wheeler then ignored Schwartz, standing unmarked in front of the net to redirect a Bozak feed past Hellebuyck. It was, in short, a 10-second, total team collapse.

If the Tranna Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins in their Game 7 showdown on Tuesday to advance along the Stanley Cup trail, I sure hope Sportsnet and TSN will clear some air time and web space to finally give some coverage to the Buds.

Auston Matthews

Let’s put the shrine to Auston Matthews on hold, shall we? I mean, if not for some replay goomer who failed to see what the rest of us saw, Matthews’ goal in les Leafs’ 2-1 victory over the Bruins on Friday night in Beantown would have been waved off for goaltender interference and, for all we know, they’d still be playing.

That’s twice in less than a week that a hockey outfit has been royally ripped off by a video replay judge. First the Finnish women were denied the world title they had earned, and now the Bruins. What are the requirements for that job? A white cane? I think we all knew this replay business would be iffy, but, c’mon man, no amount of official bafflegab from the IIHF or NHL can justify this level of stooge-ism.

Milan Lucic

Postmedia Edmonton allowed readers to have their say on their favorite hockey team, and this was among the many questions asked: “Assuming no team would trade for him given his salary and term remaining on his contract, what should the Oilers do with Milan Lucic?” Shockingly, 3,857 (42 per cent) people who apparently had their eyes shut when the Looch was on the ice answered “Keep him.” Each of those 3,857 Sad Sacks is now qualified to work as an IIHF and NHL video replay judge.

I assume the Winnipeg Sun will run a similar You Be The Boss survey now that garbage bag day has arrived for les Jets, because it’s a tabloid kind of thing to do. Who will the rabble in Good Ol’ Hometown fit for the biggest pair of goat horns? I predict there’ll be three main fall guys: Head coach Paul Maurice, assistant coach Charlie Huddy, and head-strong defender Jacob Trouba, although not necessarily in that order.

And, finally, I don’t know about you, but I feel no obligation to root, root, root for the Maple Leafs simply because they’re the only Canadian outfit still standing in Beard Season.

About deja vu all over again for Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets…tell us what’s “rotten” Mike…Kevin’s not making Hayes…a Finn for a Twig?…wrong about the refs…Canada’s colors…writing rubbish about women’s hockey…the Freep spending the NHL’s money…bravo to the delightful Kaitlyn Lawes…and a stubby bottle for Grapes

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and it’s a couch potato day to watch the Masters then les Jets…

Two games into Beard Season, I’d say Connor Hellebuyck and news snoops are even—he doesn’t like their questions and they don’t like his goaltending.

Connor Hellebuyck

The thing is, the questions aren’t going to get any easier or tamer, not as long as Hellebuyck has his head up his butt and refuses to accept the reality that the Stanley Cup playoff skirmish between his Winnipeg Jets and the St. Loo Blues is being determined in the blue paint, and he’s running a distant second in a two-man race.

Rather than suck it up and concede that he let the side down in a 4-3 Game 2 loss on Friday night at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, Hellebuyck went all snot-nose when confronted post-joust by those pesky newsies.

He harrumphed that one query was “loaded” and he fielded another with this gem: “I really don’t like that question.”

Boo freaking hoo. You want jock journos to lob softballs? Try stopping the damn puck.

Jordan Binnington

Look, Hellebuyck didn’t play poorly in the first act of this best-of-seven National Hockey League playoff series. He was solid. Can’t lay the blame for the 2-1 loss on him, not after Kevin Hayes, Mathieu Perreault and Dmitry Kulikov made out like the Three Stooges on Tyler Bozak’s decisive score. And, of course, the guy in the blue paint at the other end of the freeze, Jordan Binnington, was better. Lights out better.

As for what went down on Friday, though, that’s totally on Hellebuyck. He was atrocious. Someone should be ripping him a new one.

What I find disturbing—other than Hellebuyck waving at the puck like a guy trying to flag down a cab—is his my-stuff-don’t-stink attitude, which is a haunting echo from last spring. A year ago, I remind you, he was out-tended by Marc-André Fleury in the Western Conference final vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, but he refused to accept that he had to step up his game.

Fleury and Hellebuyck

After Game 3: “(Fleury’s) obviously a big part of that team and playing very well, but I like my game, I like it a lot more. I like my details and I’m gonna keep chugging away.”

After Game 4: “I see a lot of posts at the other end. I don’t know if I want to call it luck, but things have gotta switch, it’s gonna come our way, I know that. I think it’s bad luck. Their goal is just the product of the puck bouncing the wrong way. The stars are aligning for them.”

After the series: “Maybe it was just the luck. I look back and I can honestly say I was playing the best hockey of my career in that series. I was very in tuned to the game. I felt the game a lot better than I have, and they got some lucky bounces on me. And that’s the truth.”

Right. The Golden Knights took les Jets out in five games because of four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet taped to the goal posts. It had nothing to do with Fleury outplaying Hellebuyck by a considerable margin. As if.

So what we have now, kids, is deja vu all over again.

Binnington, a rookie, is outplaying Hellebuyck, but les Jets goaltender doesn’t see it that way. He only hears objectionable questions.

“Our details are right,” he insists. “We’re right there. It’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later it’s gonna go our way.”

Sure it will. Just like it did last spring vs. Vegas.

I’m not suggesting les Jets are a writeoff, down 2-nada as they move the series to St. Loo, but it doesn’t take a Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk or Marty Brodeur to understand that their only hope is better play between the iron. They were outgoalied in Game 1 (hey, that’s going to happen) and Binnington only had to be meh in Game 2 because Hellebuyck was waving at whiffle balls.

If les Jets goaler doesn’t show us his A-game in the Show Me State, I’d say Paul Maurice would be wise to call on Laurent Brossoit at the first hint of trouble. Is Coach Potty Mouth ballsy enough to turn to his backup? I doubt it, but he might have no choice.

Wonder how Hellebuyck will like the questions then.

I thought by now that Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab would have filled us in on what’s “rotten” about les Jets. But no. He just tosses out lines like Winnipeg HC is “rotten to the core” and he cites “multiple sources” then leaves us to guess what his “multiple sources” are telling him about the undoing of the local hockey heroes. “Myself and fellow Free Press hockey writer Jason Bell have heard from multiple sources that things are anything but rosy with this group,” he wrote slightly more than a week ago. He later added that les Jets were “appearing to come apart at the seams.” There can be just two reasons why Mike Mac refuses to give us the poop on any in-house bickering: 1) It’s fiction; 2) he’s afraid to rattle cages. In either case, that reporting is as shabby as Hellebuyck’s Game 2 goaltending.

Kevin Hayes

Interesting that McIntyre also has chosen his scapegoat if les Jets don’t fix what’s wrong vs. St. Loo—Kevin Hayes. He tells us that Hayes isn’t contributing enough offensively, with points in just seven of 20 matches to close the season and zero in the playoffs. That’s a fair critique. It’s evident that he’s no Paul Stastny. But the Jets aren’t down 2-nada because of Hayes’ failings. It’s about goaltending. If anybody needs to be fitted for a pair of goat’s horns, it’s Hellebuyck.

Jim Matheson of Postmedia Edmonton proposes that the Oilers send their first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2019 NHL entry draft and forward Jesse Puljujarvi to the Jets in barter for Twig Ehlers. Sorry, Matty. Never going to happen. The Jets don’t need another under-performing Finn and I don’t need another player whose name I can’t spell.

Craig Button

This from Craig Button of TSN: “I believe the NHL officials are the best on the planet, I think they rarely make mistakes.” Earth to Craig! Earth to Craig! You might want to watch film from Game 2 of the Boston-Tranna playoff series. You might also want to check out the replay of Micheal Ferland’s hit on Nic Dowd in the Carolina-Washington skirmish. A bum to the body got Ferland booted. Sorry, man, but the skunk shirts are making more mistakes than your local meteorologist.

At least the zebras did the right thing and sent Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs to his room for a crosscheck to Jake DeBrusk’s melon. Brian Burke called Kadri’s hatchet job a “selfish, senseless act.” Yup. Now we’ll see if Sheriff George of the player safety department will do the right thing and ground the Leafs centre for the remainder of the series.

Pet Peeve: Whose idea is it to drape our international shinny sides in black unis with red trim? That’s just wrong. Planet Puckhead is red and white. Those are the colors on our flag, and that’s what our women should have been wearing in their World Hockey Championship semifinal skirmish vs. Finland on Saturday. The regrettable color scheme wasn’t the reason for our ladies losing 4-2 (Suomi goaltender Noora Raty gets credit for that), but they looked unCanadian. Donate those threads to a thrift shop and get back to red and white.

Perhaps we should have seen the Canadian ouster at the worlds coming. I mean, the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League had to prey on our players’ minds, and how do you keep your focus fully on the task at hand when you don’t know what you’ll be coming home to once the final buzzer sounds? Hey, I’m just spitballing here, but the fall of the CWHL had to be a weighty distraction in the Canadian camp over there in Finland.

Well now, look who’s suddenly passing himself off as a friend of women’s hockey—Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. Suggesting that the Finnish victory over Canada is a positive development for the distaff game (I agree, it is), he wrote: “For far too long, we’ve wanted to see the game and the sport expand.” What a complete phony. This is the same dude who once delivered this commentary: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this charade of imbalance.” That’s right, Simmons has wanted women’s hockey to be abolished, not expanded. So I say Postmedia has let him write his rubbish “for far too long.”

Got a giggle out of a Winnipeg Free Press editorial under the headline “Women’s hockey deserves NHL support” last week. Among other things, the opinionist submits that the “cash-rich NHL has a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues from its ravenous fan base. It has a vested interest in growing the game, regardless of the gender of its players. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion. When our best female hockey players return home from Finland, the NHL should be waiting to greet them with news of a brighter future rising from the ashes of a troubled past.” I don’t know about you, but I find it laughable that a for-profit business like the Drab Slab advocates government subsidies for media outlets and, indeed, hopes to feed at the welfare trough, yet it’s telling another business, the NHL, how to spend its profits. That’s rich.

Kaitlyn Lawes

The mooks who do the voting for Canada’s athlete of the year will never anoint a curler as our top jock, because too many news snoops see Pebble People as a bunch of hubbies, brides and kids getting together for a family frolic at the local club on a Wednesday night. But they do things right in my home province. The very likable Kaitlyn Lawes has been named the best female athlete in Manitoba, and it had to be your basic no-brainer. Kaitlyn copped Olympic and world titles in 2018, and she did it while being an absolute delight.

And, finally, I think perhaps Donald S. Cherry was sampling a bit too much of the sponsor’s product prior to his Curmudgeon’s Corner segment on Hockey Night In Canada last week. After a promo for Budweiser’s new Copper Lager, Grapes had this to say“I’m tellin’ ya, I went out and bought some, and it is terrific. I love the horses, I love the bar we drink in…the color I’m not too crazy, but…I’ll tell ya one thing, it sure goes down PRETTY GOOD. Aaaaaand, don’t forget the stubby bottles. Stubby bottles. Canadian. Cana…that’s us. Canadians. Stubby bottles.”

About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…

Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.

They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.

It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.

And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.

So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.

That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Double M fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.

Let’s accept that he’s accurate, though, and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.

It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.

The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.

Tom McVie

It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski confirmed.

So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.

Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.

Coach Potty Mouth

You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, but my only issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.

Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”

Blake Wheeler

After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.

If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.

Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?

Sam Pollock

I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.

Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.

So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.

And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.

About Humpty Harold, a blowhard in Bytown, a CE-D’oh! in Edmonton, a Puck Pontiff in Pegtown…Kevin Hayes a keeper?…the undressing of P.K….TSN Sportscentre gets leggy…a cat fight on court…Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture…our Pebble People lose…best-selling books…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now that spring has sprung let them play ball…

Humpty Harold Ballard

Time was when Humpty Harold Ballard provided the National Hockey League with its soundtrack for stupid. Now we get it in surround sound.

I mean, talk about clowns to the left and jokers to the right. Meet Bob Nicholson and Eugene Melnyk.

I’m not sure if Nicholson and Melnyk were trying to one-up each other last week, but the sound bites they delivered were definitely Ballardian in bluster, crass in content and, basically, outrageous.

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with Melnyk.

The Ottawa Senators bankroll did the gasbag thing on both 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna and CFRA 580 in the nation’s capital, and he told the mayor of Bytown, Jim Watson, to shut the hell up, he labeled one news snoop “bush league,” and this owner of the 31st-place team in a 31-team league felt the need to counsel the architects of the fifth-place team in the proper construction of a championship roster.

Eugene Melnyk

He stopped short of instructing his head coach, Marc Crawford, to wear a paper bag over his head while behind the bench, but it could be that it simply slipped his mind.

“I better not say what I was going to say,” Melnyk said before saying what he was going to say about the Toronto Maple Leafs, “but they’re going to have a very hard time winning a Stanley Cup without defence. Because they are hitting the cap. They can’t bring anybody new in. They’re stuck. And that’s where you have to be extremely careful…mistakes were made. Somebody forgot about defence.”

That from a man who held a garage sale and peddled off most of his shiny playing pieces, including Erik Karlsson who is—oh, that’s right—a defenceman. One of the very best, in fact.

Bob Nicholson

Meanwhile, Nicholson also summoned his inner Humpty Harold.

Once upon a time the head of Hockey Canada and now CE-D’oh! of the Edmonton McDavids, Nicholson stood before a live audience of disgruntled, if not hostile, devotees and laid the blame for another playoff-free spring in E-Town on a spare part named Toby Rieder. That’s right. Toby Rieder.

“If Toby Rieder had scored 10 or 12 goals, we’d probably be in the playoffs,” said Nicholson.

Cripes, man, I didn’t even know Toby Rieder existed until Nicholson went off on him, but now I know where we can find him—under a bus. It might even be the same bus that Humpty Harold hurled Inge Hammarstrom and his pocketful of eggshells under back in the day.

At any rate, the squawkings of the two Ballard wannabes—you can call them Harold Lite and Harold Lite Jr.—made me think of our own Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman.

Mark Chipman

Will we ever hear a similar level of bombast emanate from the ivory tower at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie? Not bloody likely. You’re more apt to see a UFO land at Portage and Main first. I mean, Chipman is chatty like a Zamboni is a dinky toy. Compared to the Winnipeg Jets co-bankroll, a street mime is a blowhard. The Puck Pontiff is seen and heard from so infrequently that I’m convinced he’s actually Howard Hughes, tucked away in some dark room, watching old hockey film, walking around with Kleenex boxes on his feet, peeing in pop bottles, and munching on candy bars and pecans. That’s not really Chipman you see in the owner’s suite at les Jets home games. It’s a stunt double, probably some bit player on loan from the Prairie Theatre Exchange across the street.

Should we be thankful that the Puck Pontiff is a recluse? That he doesn’t go off his nut like the clown to the left and the joker to the right?

Well, it’s a lot less entertaining but, ya, we can do without the racket. Serenity now! Serenity now!

Apparently Rieder was disturbed by CE-D’oh! Nicholson’s unflattering remarks. “I’m offended,” the E-Town forward said when news snoops tracked down what was left of him under the bus. Offended? Ya think?

Leave it to Brian Burke of Sportsnet to deliver a blunt take on Melnyk’s runaway mouth: “He is aiming at both of his feet. He’s not just shooting himself in the foot, he is aiming at his feet. This guy’s gotta stop doing interviews. He needs to take a nap. He needs to get out of the media.”

Kevin Hayes

I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but let’s wait to see how Beard Season shakes down before we talk about les Jets signing Kevin Hayes long term. Based on the early returns, yes, it appears that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has knocked it out of the park with the addition of Hayes, the long, tall drink of water Chevy scooped up at the NHL shop-and-swap deadline. Hayes contributed a goal and three helpers in Winnipeg HC’s most significant victory of the current crusade, a 5-nada paddywhacking of the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, but let’s not lose sight of the fact it’s all about the Stanley Cup runoff for les Jets. If Hayes delivers at the Paul Stastny rate (15 points in 17 games) when the skirmishes matter most, I’ll agree that Chevy should make the Little Hockey House On The Prairie the lanky centre’s permanent address.

Just wondering: Were the Preds lying in the fetal position and sucking their thumbs when they left Good Ol’ Hometown? Seriously. If les Jets weren’t in the Preds’ heads prior to the Saturday rag-dolling, they are now. And what kind of unspeakable nightmares must Pekka Rinne be having?

The Golden Boy

Yo! P.K. Subban! You can collect your laundry—lock, stock and jock—at Kyle Connor’s locker. An undressing? What Jets sophomore Connor did to the Preds veteran defender should be illegal in 10 provinces and three territories. He left P.K. as naked as the Golden Boy.

I don’t get it. Why do people keep throwing down on Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins? I mean, what part of “Ouch, his fists really freaking hurt!” do they not understand?

So, how’s your March Madness bracket doing? I’d like to report that mine is doing just fine, but I don’t have a bracket. Never have had a bracket. More to the point, I don’t know what a March Madness bracket is. I just wish it would end so we can go back to regularly scheduled highlights on TSN and Sportsnet.

Kara Wagland

Is it my imagination, or are the heels and hemlines getting higher on TSN Sportscentre? It’s either that or Lindsay Hamilton and Kara Wagland have grown longer legs. Notably, no one at TSN has attempted to sexify the male talking heads, unless you consider Jeff O’Dog’s butt cleavage sexy. It’s a blatant sexist double standard that the women must look and dress the way they look and dress while a male talking head can have a face like and old catcher’s mitt and clothes right off the rack at Couture de Riff Raff. That isn’t a complaint. Just an observation.

Just wondering: Why does Kara Wagland think it’s “funny” when a man gets drilled in the nuts with a tennis ball? When did injuries to such a delicate area of the bod become “funny?”

Apparently Angelique Kerber doesn’t like Bianca Andreescu. After losing to our girl in the third round of the Miami Open tennis tournament on Saturday, Kerber bared her fangs and showed her claws at the post-match handshake, calling Bianca the “biggest drama queen ever.” Guess Kerber has never seen Ru Paul. Or Serena Williams at the U.S. Open. Whatever, I can’t say that I blame Kerber. I mean, I wouldn’t like someone who kept stealing my lunch money either.

Adrienne Clarkson and her cup.

Nice of our national media—print division—to notice women’s hockey. Both Scott Stinson of the National Post and Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail genuflected in the direction of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title tilt today in the Republic of Tranna, but they had very different takes. Stinson scribbled something about the participants—it’s the Calgary Inferno vs. Les Canadiennes de Montreal—while Kelly wrote about Adrienne Clarkson’s furniture and sipping tea with the former Governor General. WTF? It’s nice to know that Lady Adrienne is of considerable refinement and that her home furnishings didn’t come from the Sally Ann’s, but can’t we make it about the women who’ll actually compete for the trophy she donated to the CWHL?

Connor McDavid: Better than Auston Matthews.

Must be difficult days for news snoops in The ROT. They spent much of the winter prattling on and scribbling about the unparalleled, other-wordly wonders of Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly of les Leafs, making one out to be a latter-day Wayne Gretzky and the other a born-again Bobby Orr. Now along come more than 500 NHL players to tell them they’re full of phooey. Best forward in the world? The players’ poll says it’s Connor McDavid. Matthews wasn’t even a blip on the radar. Best defenceman? Victor Hedman. Rielly didn’t register. Most difficult to play against? McDavid. The guy you’d want to start a franchise with? McDavid. But, hey, what do the guys on the ice know compared to a bunch of balding, overweight, out-of-shape, middle-age men with food stains on their shirts?

Chelsea Carey

Oh drat. Chelsea Carey’s crew crashed and burned at the World Women’s Curling Championship in Denmark, failing to qualify for the playoffs, and that leaves me to wonder what it is about Alberta-based outfits that they can’t get the job done on global pebble. The women from Wild Rose Country remain 0-for-life when wearing the Maple Leaf, and that’s at both the worlds (0-5) and Olympics (0-2). Are they not drinking the same water as the men?

Hard to believe, but Alberta remains the only western province that has yet to produce a women’s world champion. B.C. and Saskatchewan have four each and Manitoba three.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “Sometimes I wonder about this country I adore: Cathal Kelly and David Shoalts have written fine books but are not found on the bestsellers list for non-fiction but last time I looked Steve Dangle had a book on the list.” So, if we aren’t buying his friends’ books, there’s something wrong with the country? What freaking ever. (Quick aside: One of his copy editor’s might want to introduce Simmons to the comma. Punctuation is useful, also advisable, in a 32-word sentence.)

About the Curling Capital of the World…B.J. brings home the Brier bacon with Kevin Koe…a top 10 without Jeff Stoughton????…how much did those voters have to drink?…and happy birthday to CJOB

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no forests were harmed in the production of this essay

So, I’m reading a piece on women’s curling the other day and I learned that Edmonton is (apparently) the “Curling Capital of the World.”

This was quite a startling revelation for me.

Don Duguid

I mean, my first sports editor, Jack Matheson, informed me at the front end of the 1970s that Good Ol’ Hometown was the curling capital of Canada, if not the entire planet. I believed him because…well, Matty said it, so it had to be true. And, sure enough, a number of years later the Digit, Don Duguid, doubled down and confirmed that River City is the very heartbeat of all things pebble.

It’s the centre of it all,” the two-time world champeen assured me during a chin-wag at his main hangout, the Mother Club (The Granite), which sits on the banks of the murky Assiniboine River, a splish and a splash across the way from Osborne Village in Winnipeg.

Yet, now, along comes Terry Jones to tell us that both Matty and the legendary Dugie were full of phooey.

Moosie Turnbull

Jones writes that recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts winners Sarah Wilkes, Dana Ferguson and Rachel Brown of Edmonton are the “latest champions from the Curling Capital of the World.” He’s even writing a book about Northern Alberta supremacy: World Capital of Curling, an ode to E-Town’s most celebrated Pebble People.

Well, doesn’t that just put my knickers in a twist.

Being one of the Buffalo People, you see, I subscribe to the Gospel According to Matty, Dugie and Moosie Turnbull, which states, without equivocation, that Manitoba is curling’s Mecca.

Thus I feel obliged to inform Jones that he is as wrong as Milan Lucic skating beside Connor McDavid.

Large

Before we go any further, I suppose I should introduce you to Jonesy. He’s a big-fun sports scribe of large girth and an equally large presence in E-Town. Hence the nickname Large. A good guy who began documenting the trials and tribulations of Edmonton jocks and jockettes before PM Justin’s poppa Pierre was the resident at 24 Sussex Drive in Bytown, Jonesy has heard and seen some things during his 50-plus years on the beat for both Edmonton rags, the Journal and Sun. Enough, in fact, to earn him membership in a handful of hallowed jock halls, including the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame. The lad’s got cred. Large cred (pun intended).

What he doesn’t have, however, is evidence to support his notion.

While it’s true that E-Town’s male Pebble People have been doing boffo business this century, the cold, hard fact is that they’ve been playing catchup to the Buffalo Boys for longer than Jonesy has been scribbling sports. And they still have some catching up to do. As for E-Town vs. our Buffalo Girls, ditto. It’s all catch us if you can. Check it out:

Brier champions: Winnipeg 25, Edmonton 18.
Scotties champions: Winnipeg 12, Edmonton 4.
World champions: (men) Winnipeg 6, Edmonton 7; (women) Winnipeg 3, Alberta 0.
Olympic champions: Winnipeg 2, Edmonton 1.
Totals: Buffalo People 48, Edmonton 30.

So here’s the deal: Scotland is the cradle of curling, but Good Ol’ Hometown is the Curling Capital of the World.

The notion that it’s Edmonton—sorry, Jonesy, that’s nothing but a (large) bunch of buffalo chips.

The self-proclaimed title “Curling Capital of the World” rings rather hollow when one considers that Edmonton and Northern Alberta have yet to produce a world women’s champion. The best they’ve managed is bronze, by Heather Nedohin and Cathy King.

I suppose it’s only fair to point out that the folks in E-Town turn out to watch curling in unparalleled numbers. They hold the record for highest head count at the Brier, the men’s world championship and the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials. I’d be impressed, except that just tells me they got tired of watching the Oilers lose and decided to give curling a try.

2019 Brier champs: Kevin Koe, B.J. Neufeld, Colton Flasch, Ben Hebert.

Congrats to one of the Buffalo Boys, B.J. Neufeld, who slid third stones for Kevin Koe’s winning Alberta outfit at the Canadian men’s curling championship in Brandon. B.J. spent 11 years butting his head against a wall with Mike McEwen and pals playing out of the Fort Rouge Club in Good Ol’ Hometown, so it was boffo to see him get the job done. B.J.’s pop, Chris, was a member of Vic Peters’ Brier-winning team in 1992.

It’s interesting to note that none of the lads who won the Tankard on Sunday honed his craft on Alberta pebble. Koe is from Yellowknife, Neufeld from Winnipeg, Colton Flasch from Biggar, Sask., and Hebert from Regina. They all eventually found their way to the Glencoe Club in Calgary.

Jeff Stoughton

This just in: The 31 TSN “experts” who chose the 10 greatest male curlers of all time have lost their freaking marbles.

Either that or they just spent an entire week in the Brier Patch at Westoba Place in Brandon, doing non-stop elbow pumps.

I mean, good gawd. You’d have to be mind-numbingly pie-eyed to actually believe Dave Nedohin or John Morris were better curlers than Jeff Stoughton. You can include Wayne Middaugh and Marc Kennedy, as well. What will they tell us next? That Mr. Ed the talking horse had better giddyup than Secretariat?

Hey, no knock against Nedohin, a good Buffalo Boy. But no way does he come out of Manitoba 11 times like Stoughton. And he won two of his Brier titles when 18 of the top teams in the country were MIA, boycotting the event to earn a larger slice of the financial pie for curlers. As for Morris, he couldn’t cut it as a skip. Nuff said about him. Middaugh? Don’t even get me started. Kennedy? Good grief.

Fact is, giants of the game like the Howard boys, Russ and Glenn, and Brad Gushue wouldn’t have worn the Buffalo at the Brier 11 times had they been based in Manitoba.

I guess Stoughton and all those other Manitobans won 27 Briers by accident.

Kevin Koe

Just as astonishing as the Stoughton omission, Kevin Koe was absent from the top 10. Yes, I realize the 31 “experts” did their voting prior to his Brier championship run in Brandon on Sunday, but he’d already done enough to get the nod over some of the men I’ve mentioned. (Seriously, John Morris?) Now Koe has four Brier titles, with four different teams. A top-10 list without Koe or Stoughton? They might want to crumple that up, toss it in the trash bin and try again. And stop drinking!

For the record, here’s TSN’s top 10 greatest male curlers: 1. Kevin Martin; 2. Glenn Howard; 3. Randy Ferbey; 4. Russ Howard; 5. John Morris; 6. Ernie Richardson; 7. Wayne Middaugh; 8. Marc Kennedy; 9. Brad Gushue; 10. Dave Nedohin.

And here are the guilty parties, all 31 of the “experts” (they should be easy to pick out in a crowd—they’ll have the red faces):

TSN: Vic Rauter, Cheryl Bernard, Bryan Mudryk, Bob Weeks, Kevin Pratt, Scott Higgins.
B.C.: Elaine Dagg-Jackson.
Alberta: Warren Hansen, Con Griwkowsky, Renee Sonnenberg, Terry Jones.
Saskatchewan: Devin Heroux, Stefanie Lawton.
Manitoba: Jill Thurston, Ted Wyman.
Ontario: Greg Strong, Mike Harris, George Karrys, Kevin Palmer, Mary Chilvers, Lorie Eddy.
Quebec: Guy Hemmings, Marie-France Larouche.
Nova Scotia: Mark Dacey, Mary Mattatall.
New Brunswick: Heidi Hanlon.
Prince Edward Island: Nancy Cameron.
Newfoundland and Labrador: Cathy Cunningham, Geoff Cunningham.
Territories: Kerry Galusha.
Ad Hoc: Al Cameron.

And, finally, happy 73rd birthday to CJOB in Good Ol’ Hometown. They went on air on this day in 1946, just in time to broadcast the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ last Grey Cup victory. Just kidding, of course. Worked at ‘OB for a brief time, with Friar, Knuckles and Kelly Moore. Terrific people.