B-b-b-Benny and the Jets started with Ben Hatskin, and don’t you forget it, Winnipeg

I thought we were perfectly clear on this, but apparently some people still believe Bobby Hull is the reason professional hockey came to River City in 1972 and exists today.

So, as much as I dislike repeating myself, let me say this for the 8,151st time: Robert Marvin Hull is not—repeat NOT (and, yes, I’m shouting)—the reason pro shinny arrived in Winnipeg. Ben Hatskin IS (yes, shouting again) the reason. Always was, always will be. Benny is the godfather, grandfather and father of pay-for-play hockey as we know it in good, ol’ Hometown.

Ben Hatskin
Ben Hatskin

Again, this is not a chicken-and-egg thing. We know who and what came first.

Benny and the original Jets arrived in 1967 as a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League. But Benny and a few of the boys had bigger fish to fry. They thought it would be a swell idea to form a rebel league and yank the National Hockey League’s chain. You know, poach some of its players and minor league properties. Pay them big bucks, much more than they would earn in the NHL. Thus, the World Hockey Association was born.

So, here’s your overall lineage to that point: Ben Hatskin, Junior Jets, World Hockey Association.

The next trick was to get NHL players whose contracts had expired and the paying public to take the rebel league seriously. No better way to do that than take the NHL’s glam guy hostage. Thus, Benny set his sights on Hull, who wasn’t feeling the love from Chicago Blackhawks ownership. Benny tossed some large numbers, like $250,000 per annum, at the Golden Jet. Hull basically scoffed. He could pry that out of tightwad Bill Wirtz in the Windy City.

Tell ’em to give me a million dollars and they’ve got themselves a hockey player,” Hull advised his agent, Harvey Weinberg.

Benny alerted his accomplices at the WHA ownership level that the sticker price for Hull’s good looks, charisma and 110-m.p.h. slapshot was $1 million. They might have winced at that figure, but Benny somehow convinced each of them to kick in to the B. Hull kitty. The deal was done.

Make no mistake, though. There would have been professional hockey in Winnipeg in ’72 with or without Hull. Hatskin was all in before signing the Golden Jet. What Hull’s presence did, however, was provide the Jets and the WHA with star power and staying power. Without him, the league’s shelf life would have been shorter than a Winnipeg summer. With him, they survived seven seasons and moved into the NHL.

I point all this out not to minimize or trivialize Hull’s contribution to shinny in good, ol’ Hometown. His role was immense, although I believe some people err when they romanticize his signing. Don’t think for a minute that Hull agreed to come to River City for altruistic reasons, like giving legs to a fledgling operation. He wasn’t sitting at home in the Toddlin’ Town saying, “You know, I think I’d like to spend the next 10 years of my life playing hockey in the middle of nowhere. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see how my skills stack up against Frankie Beaton and Bad News Bilodeau.”

Bobby Hull came to town because the WHA member teams and Ben Hatskin showed him the money. Period.

Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull

They kept calling and I kept telling everyone that would listen that I wasn’t going anywhere, least of all to Winnipeg,” is how Hull explained it to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on the occasion of the Jets’ 40 anniversary.

A $1-million signing bonus and a $1.75-million contract changed Hull’s thinking and the professional hockey landscape.

Who would have thought that any cowboy was worth $1 million in 1972?” Hull told Friesen. “Seabiscuit didn’t make that. No four-legged animal made that. No athlete had made a million dollars until then.”

Which is why players from back in the day still thank the Golden Jet for doubling, tripling and quadrupling their salaries. Some team owners, meanwhile, probably still curse his name.

Again, the point of this essay is not to discredit Hull. It’s to reaffirm Ben Hatskin as the starting point and the most significant figure in Winnipeg’s pro hockey lineage as we know it today. It goes like this: Ben Hatskin-Winnipeg Jets/WHA-Bobby Hull-NHL-Mark Chipman-Manitoba Moose/IHL/AHL-David Thomson-NHL/Winnipeg Jets.

It started with Ben Hatskin and there would not be an NHL franchise in River City today except for his vision and bull doggedness in the pursuit, and signing, of Bobby Hull.

(Footnote: There was pro shinny in River City pre-Jets. The Winnipeg Warriors, featuring Billy Mosienko, Ted Green, Gerry James and Fred Shero among other notables, competed in the Western Hockey League from 1955-61.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 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.

 

Winnipeg Jets: It’s the Tao of Freddy that makes Paul Maurice do the things he does

I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.

I mean, Paul Maurice is telling us that Nick Petan cannot play against a big, strong, heavy team like the St. Louis Blues because the game might be too big, strong and heavy for him.

Seriously. When asked to explain the rationale behind making slick Nic a healthy scratch for Sunday’s matinee at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie, that’s exactly what the Winnipeg Jets head coach advised news scavengers scant seconds after his troupe, which included a pair of knuckle-draggers dragging down the fourth line, were found wanting in a 4-2 loss.

“Figured it’d be a style of game like this,” was coach PoMo’s abrupt reply.

He then pursed his lips, jutted out his jaw and scanned the room with cold, blue eyes, very much playing the tough-guy role and daring anyone to pursue this line of questioning.

No one did. There was a lengthy, pregnant pause…then a query about lessons learned.

The Petan predicament, however, must be pursued.

There are, to be certain, much larger lads plying their trade in the National Hockey League. Many of them work for the aforementioned big, strong and heavy Blues, who enjoy leaning on little people. Petan is little by today’s shinny standards, standing just 5-feet-9 and tipping the scales at 179 pounds after a big meal. He is not a physical force on the frozen ponds of the NHL. Unlike the man who skated in his stead as a fourth-line forward on Sunday, Anthony Peluso, he uses his hands for things other than bouncing them off the skulls of foes.

In short, Petan is a skill player. He is everything that Peluso is not.

Yet, Maurice opted for the latter over the former on Sunday afternoon. There was Peluso, mainly leashed to the end of the pine, his skates touching the ice for all of four minutes and 59 seconds. He contributed zero shots, zero points, took the obligatory roughing penalty, and only once did he summon his brawn to bump into someone wearing St. Louis linen. In other words, he did nothing in what amounted to hockey’s version of a street fight. Supposedly his kind of game. Supposedly the kind of game that Petan cannot play.

But wait. Aren’t most outfits in the Central Division configured similar to the Blues? Big, strong and heavy? Nasty? In your face? Push always comes to shove?

“We’re going to get that in our division from every team all year,” defenceman Jacob Trouba confirmed post-match.

So where does Petan fit in? Will coach PoMo lean toward sacrificing skill and inserting sturdier sinew into his lineup whenever he sees the whites of a Central Division foe’s eyes? If so, can he be successful with a starting 12 up front that includes both of his guard dogs, Peluso and Chris Thorburn?

To me, this is not a Ginger-or-Mary Ann debate. One guy, Petan, can play hockey. The other guy, Peluso, cannot. Unless this is 1975 and the Philadelphia Flyers are running amok on a scorched-earth crusade, there is absolutely no circumstance under which Anthony Peluso gives the Jets a better chance to win a hockey game. None. Only a closet Freddy Shero would believe othewise.

Truth be known, I’ve long suspected Maurice of being an adherent of the Tao of Freddy, an outdated coaching philosophy that values brash, abrasive bullies as much as, if not more than, a collection of fancy-Dans who give thought to a soft, saucer pass rather than a slew-foot. It’s a notion I have tried mightily to reject, even in the perpetual presence of the aforementioned Thorburn, but there is no logical explanation for a ruffian like Peluso to play ahead of Petan other than the Tao of Freddy is at work.

Sigh.

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.