About the Winnipeg Wade Bombers…Turtle Man…Kelly McCrimmon…the Rat Pack…and record freefalls

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

Wade Miller
Wade Miller

So, Wade Miller gives Paul Wiecek the brush off—not once but twice—and you probably don’t care.

Not your issue, right? I mean, if Miller makes it more difficult for Wiecek—or anyone in the Fourth Estate—to perform his job it’s no skin off your hiney, right? You’re inclined to say “tough titty, Paul; here’s a quarter…call someone who cares.”

Well, okay. It’s agreed: Let there be no sympathy for the devil or the media, who, in the minds of many, were separated at birth but remain close kin.

Except we should care, if we care about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

It matters not if you are a fan of Wiecek’s work in the sports section of the Winnipeg Free Press, or if you consider his scribblings to be alphabet excrement. Wiecek’s worth as a wordsmith is not at issue. The reality that he twice requested an audience with the chief executive officer of the Bombers in recent days and twice was told to get lost is the issue.

Wiecek—again, appreciate his journalistic contributions or not—is an agent of Josephine and Joe Phan. He has access you don’t enjoy. When things go south for the Bombers, which had been the case until the blind squirrel found an acorn in Edmonton on Thursday night, he’ll want to tell you why. Sometimes he’s inclined to believe that requires a word or two from on high and, with the Bombers, you don’t get any higher than Miller. Oh, sure, the CEO supposedly answers to a board of directors, but, since the BOD answers to no one, no one actually answers to anyone.

This, of course, is a peculiarity of the Winnipeg Football Club. No person owns the Canadian Football League franchise. No entity owns it. There are no shareholders. It just is.

Yes, we like to think of the Bombers as community owned. A team of the people, by the people and for the people. Well, that’s a romantic notion with a side order of naivete. The club is community owned like Miller is Mr. Rogers. Thus, if he chooses to establish himself as feudal lord of his own personal fiefdom, so be it. He can be as prickly, standoffish, dismissive and as unreachable as suits him. Miller is bottom line, not bosom buddy.

The CEO doesn’t feel the need to cozy up to Wiecek or any other news scavenger, because that’s the way of the sports world today. Professional franchises have in-house emissaries who spread the word, using the club’s language. No muss, no fuss and no touchy questions on touchy subject matter. Like a head coach’s best-before date.

I doubt very much that Wiecek sought to satisfy some deep, personal need when inquiring about Mike O’Shea’s shelf life or if the head coach had accomplices in the decision to replace starting quarterback Drew (One Hop) Willy with Matt Nichols. He was doing his job so that he might inform and enlighten the rabble. So, in turning heel and walking away, Miller, the official mouthpiece of a supposedly community-owned team, was telling the Freep sports columnist that Blue Bombers’ business is none of his business.

By extension, he was telling everyone in Bombers Nation the same thing.

That’s interesting because, last time I looked, the football club was still called the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, not the Winnipeg Wade Bombers.

Look, no one expects Miller to be at the media’s beck and call 24/7. He isn’t required to answer every question about the football club’s soft underbelly, either. It’s his choice. But being a jerk is also a choice.

Milt Stegall
Milt Stegall

Good on Milt Stegall, the next inductee into the Bombers Ring of Honour. Never mind that Milt, unlike his fellow ROH members Chris Walby, Ken Ploen and Gerry James, never brought the Grey Cup home in his 14 seasons with the Blue and Gold. Nobody ever looked as good losing as the Turtle Man. Just ask him.

We’re told that longtime Wheat Kings’ Mr. Everything, Kelly McCrimmon, is prepared to trade Brandon for a team to be named later. That, of course, would be the National Hockey League expansion entry in Las Vegas, where Kelly Mac would sit at the right hand of general manager George McPhee. If those reports are accurate, Manitoba is losing a genuine hockey icon. Remember one thing, Kelly: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, so if you rub elbows with Wayne Newton or Celine Dion we really don’t want to hear about it.

The Rat Pack's big three—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra.
The Rat Pack’s big three—Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra.

Rumors persist that the Las Vegas team will be named Knights or Black Knights, although in a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll readers chose Outlaws as the preferred handle. I’d still go with Rat Pack. You can’t go wrong saluting Sinatra, Dino, Sammy and the boys.

I don’t know about you, but I got a rush out of watching chuteless skydiver Luke Aikins jump from an airplane and plummet 25,000 feet into a net on Saturday. That was the most spectacular fall I’ve seen since Tiger Woods.

Just for the record, Aikins’ two-minute freefall was not the longest in history. The Toronto Maple Leafs have been in freefall since 1967 and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers since 1990.

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 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.

 

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Media Watch: Ondrej Pavelec gets a pass for brushing off news hounds—that’s a good thing

Let’s not sugar coat this. Ondrej Pavelec cost the Winnipeg Jets a precious point. Perhaps two points.

It doesn’t matter that Michael Hutchinson soiled the sheets, getting in the way of just three of seven shots before head coach Paul Maurice told him to take rest of the night off and called on Pavelec to mop up the mess. History records that the Winnipeg Jets overcame their starter’s grim goaltending on Tuesday night, erasing a 1-4 deficit and positioning themselves to secure at least a point and possibly two if Dame Fortune were to have smiled on them in overtime or a shootout.

Then it happened. With 63 ticks left on the clock. Pavelec whiffed on a Barret Jackman flutter-puck from a different zip code and the Jets’ good deeds, as well as those of their backup goaltender who blocked the first 19 shots that came his way, went unrewarded.

So, yes, although the victim of just one of five tallies, that 5-4 setback to the Blues in St. Louis is on Pavelec. No one else. You cough up that huge a hair ball on a flip shot from outside the blueline, the buck stops at your goal crease, even if the puck doesn’t. You wear the loss. You wear the blame. And you have nowhere to hide.

Except that’s what Pavelec did, didn’t he? He hid.

The much-maligned man who began this National Hockey League crusade as the Jets overpaid No. 1 backstop but has since been relegated to the role of overpaid caddy for the freshman Hutchinson, chose not to share his thoughts on surrending such an unlikely score that, should the Winnipegs fail to qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament, shall be revisted as a pivotal point in their retreat in the standings. News scavengers were at the ready, no doubt salivating at the prospect of Pavelec saying something stupid or damning in a post-match chin-wag that surely would have been charged with emotion.

Pavelec didn’t oblige them, though. Not on Tuesday night. He remained sequestered in an area of the Jets changing room that is off limits to scribes and talking heads, no doubt licking a wound that was still open, fresh and untreated.

I can’t say that I blame him.

I mean, sure, players and coaches are expected to be available to answer for their actions and behavior. It’s part of the gig. There are times, however, when it’s best to keep one’s lips zipped when people with notebooks, microphones and agendas are lurking. This, Pavelec decided, was one of those times.

Be honest,” he said when breaking his silence the day after the fact, “you are not in the mood to talk to the media after that happens. I didn’t see it as a big deal.”

Was he wrong to give news scavengers the brushoff? Not at all.

Pavelec certainly didn’t owe the Fourth Estate an explanation for his faux pas. Anything he might have said wasn’t going to alter the reality that Barret Jackman beat him with a weak shot that passed through three time zones before finding the back of the net. The writers saw what happened. So write it. The broadcasters saw what happened. So speak it.

What surprised me was that the two local scribes on site in St. Loo, Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun and Gary Lawless of the Winnipeg Free Press, gave Pavelec a pass on his silence. I had expected either, perhaps both, to deliver a tsk-tsking. Had this, by way of comparison, been Phil Kessel and the Toronto media, they would have sliced him, diced him and run him through a blender.

But both Wiebe and Lawless dutifully described the situation and reported that Pavelec declined comment. There has been no fallout. Nothing else to see here, folks.

Does this mean the Winnipeg media isn’t as gritty and hard-edged as their brethren in T-dot? Nope.

While much of the coverage has been lap-doggish since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011—most notably in the “official” newspaper of the Jets—to scold Pavelec for his Marcel Marceau routine in St. Loo would have been to hatch a tempest out of nothingness. You know, like they do in the Republic of Tranna whenever Kessel speaks or doesn’t speak. Or like the Winnipeg media did whenever Evander Kane clipped his toe nails.

The reporter-athlete relationship is often fragile, if not adversarial. Fabrication seldom, if ever, helps.

In this case, the scribes stuck to the story. Pavelec coughed of a hair ball the size of Don Cherry’s ego. That’s what they wrote. He didn’t have to confirm it for them. Everyone moved on.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.

Paul Maurice: Does the Winnipeg Jets coach enjoy his parry-and-thrust with the media?

A little bit of this, a little bit of that and a whole lot of opinion in a weekend wrap…

I’m not quite sure what to make of Paul Maurice vis-a-vis news scavengers.

I watch him work the Fourth Estate during his press gatherings and he is serious, sometimes sharp, snappy and abrupt. Coach PoMo often answers a question before it has been completely framed, which is to say he interrupts, hinting at a pinch of impatience. It seems to be his way of saying, “I’ve got things to do, let’s get to the point.” I sometimes see a smug man, with gusts approaching snarky.

Even on those occasions when he slips into light-hearted mode and kibitzes with his interrogators, his jabs at jocularity seem tempered.

At the same time, this Winnipeg Jets head coach is obliging, thoughtful, articulate, respectful and he’s media savvy, in a much different way than his predecessor, the joy-seeking Claude Noel, who was forever feeding scribes and talking heads with bons mots that made for brilliant, knee-slapping sound bites but offered little substance.

I really can’t determine if Maurice enjoys this part of his job or if he’d rather be elsewhere. My guess would be it’s the latter, but he surely understands that it is part of his job and he is better at it than most National Hockey League bench bosses.

HITHER & YAWN: I have added a new item to my Bucket List—appearing on TSN’s Off the Record with Michael Landsberg. I figure it’s the Canadian sports TV equivalent to being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. It’d be a cool gig, especially the Next Question segment……So, how do you spell desperate? Evander Kane spells it: B-u-f-f-a-l-o. I say that because Kane is “very excited” about shuffling off to Buffalo, which tells us how desperate he was to get out of River City. I mean, if you’ve ever been to the upstate New York burg (I have), you know that it isn’t Shangri-la. But good luck to Kane and the Buffalo McDavids next hockey season…If the Winnipeg Blue Bombers make big noise in Canadian Football League free agency and no one hears it because the Winnipeg Jets trade Evander Kane a day later, did it really happen? I mean, poor Kyle Walters. The Bombers general manager went about the task of upgrading his last-place product by signing five bodies, and it was greeted with a yawn…We all know there are many differences between the CFL and National Football League. Here’s the latest: The NFL stages its neutral-site games in London in the U.K. The CFL goes to Fort McMurray, Alta., where a team from Toronto is the home side and a team from Alberta is the visitor…Has Kirk Penton of the Winnipeg Sun become the best football beat writer in Canada? If it isn’t Penton, it’s either Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press or Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette.

fish wrapTHE WRITE STUFF: Very disappointed to see a scribe from the Republic of Tranna, Mike Koreen, in Moose Jaw to cover the Scotties Tournament of Hearts for Sun Media. Nothing against Koreen as a scribe, but readers of the Winnipeg Sun would be much better served if one of their own was on site. To date, we’ve read about Richard Hart coaching Team Canada (Rachel Homan from Ottawa), a piece on Kerry Galusha and Tracy Horgan discussing the new pre-qualifying portion of the Canadian women’s curling championship, and a feature on Lori Olson-Johns of Val Sweeting’s Alberta foursome. The only item on Jennifer Jones and her Buffalo Girls was a pre-event advancer for their Monday night skirmish with defending champ Homan. The Winnipeg Free Press, meanwhile, has staffer Melissa Martin in Moose Jaw to deliver daily dispatches about Jones and Co. Score one for the Freep…The most complete coverage of the Scotties can be found in the Heart Chart, the daily sheet produced in Moose Jaw by former Winnipeg Sun sports editor and longtime curling journalist Dave Komosky. He has ex-Saskatoon Star Phoenix sports scribe Cam Hutchinson riding shotgun, and the two of them are putting out a boffo product…So, Doug Brown scribbles a column for the Winnipeg Free Press about the horrors of pro sports dressing rooms. Good idea. Except the former Blue Bombers defensive lineman provides zero anecdotal evidence from his 20 years in football to support the notion that they can be raunchy, nasty, bad-news bunkers that foster bullying. Thus, he didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. He used a lot of really big words, though, which often seems to be the purpose of the exercise…This penetrating analysis from Gary (La La) Lawless of the Freep on the Jets post-season push: “The key for the Jets as they hope to secure a playoff berth for the first time since returning to Winnipeg will be to collect points on as many nights as possible over the remaining 24 games.” Well, duh. What was your first clue, Sherlock?

bow wow bungalowBOW WOW BUNGALOW: Little Stevie Blunder Simmons of the Toronto Sun has stepped in it again (he never fails to fail). This was his take on the Jets large trade featuring Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian going to the Buffalo McDavids…

“I seem to be in the minority on this, but I don’t think the Winnipeg Jets won the Evander Kane trade handily. I break it down this way: Tyler Myers for Zack (sic) Bogosian is one developing defenceman for another. Slight edge to Winnipeg. Now Buffalo gets Kane, a proven commodity with mounds of baggage in exchange for a late first-round pick, Claude Lemieux’s son and a minor leaguer. They may get something for Kane or they may end up with nothing. Late first-round picks are no sure thing. Buffalo gets a sure-thing NHL player in Kane to play alongside whichever centre they draft first in June.”

So, let’s see: He spelled Zach Bogosian’s first name incorrectly. He didn’t bother to identify Claude Lemieux’s son as Brendan Lemieux and, worst of all, he ignored the fact that the Jets also received Drew Stafford in barter from Buffalo. That would be the same Drew Stafford who’s already paid dividends, scoring one goal in regulation time and the shootout winner in the Jets 5-4 verdict over the Red Wings in Detroit on Saturday night.

Enjoy your stay in the Bow Wow Bungalow, Stevie.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.