The River City Renegade


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About a “hockey play”…NHL conspiracy theories…good Canadian boys aren’t fakers…hosing the hosers…and long pee breaks for the ladies in Edmonton

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

The National Hockey League doesn’t need a Player Safety Committee. It needs a parole board.

Let’s face it, playoff hockey is street crime moved indoors. Muggings are as commonplace in springtime shinny as unruly chin whiskers. If there’s a rule book, it has all the bite of a butterfly. I mean, using Sidney Crosby’s head for a butcher’s block is a “hockey play” like a home invasion is a pajama party.

Barry Trotz knows that. Ditto Brian Burke.

Paul Bunyan

But because Crosby wasn’t their ox being gored when Alexander Ovechkin and Matt Niskanen went all Paul Bunyan on the Pittsburgh Penguins captain last Monday night, both Trotz and Burke quoted chapter and verse from every good, ol’ boy’s favorite reading material—the Conn Smythe Beat ‘Em In The Alley Hockey Bible.

I thought it was really a hockey play,” observed Trotz, head coach of the Washington Capitals.

I think it was a hockey play. This is what happens in our game,” echoed Burke, president in charge of truculence for the Calgary Flames.

Burke is correct. Stick happens. Ovechkin and Niskanen aren’t the first players in NHL history to use their shillelaghs to deliver violent blows to the head of a foe, nor will they be the last. It’s just that you’re supposed to be punished for such distasteful trespasses.

In this case, Ovechkin didn’t receive so much as a tsk-tsking for his Bunyanesque-like assault on Crosby in Game 3 of the Washington-Pitt playoff series. A two-hander to the arm, followed by a not-so-gentle whack to the back of the head? Nothing to see here, folks. Stick happens. Let’s move along. Except Ovechkin’s lumberjacking led directly to his accomplice moving in for sloppy seconds and cross-checking Crosby to the face.

Yes, I realize Niskanen was flagged and banished from the fray, but were additional punitive measures applied? Like a suspension? Hell no. This is the NHL postseason, don’t you know. Once the Stanley Cup tournament commences, the safety police hand out Get Out of Jail Free cards like condoms at a safe-sex convention. And it doesn’t matter if the unlawful battering renders a player like Crosby concussed and sends him to the repair shop. It’s a “hockey play.”

Well it isn’t. It’s a mugging. And the real crime is the NHL ignoring it.

I didn’t realize so many neurologists followed hockey. I mean, Crosby is concussed and suddenly everybody is an expert on brain trauma. Crosby should retire. No he shouldn’t. Yes he should. No he shouldn’t. Oh, just zip it. It’s his head, his career, his life. And for those who are astonished that he returned to the fray just four days after his mugging, be advised that concussions are like snowflakes—no two are the same. I ought to know: I’ve had my bell rung more often than Quasimodo.

Ryan Kesler

As a rule, I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories, the exceptions being the JFK assassination and anything involving Ryan Kesler, who is the NHL’s version of a human rights violation. But after witnessing the unraveling of the Edmonton McDavids against Kesler and the Disney Ducks on Friday night, I’m thinking there might be something to this ‘Gary Bettman/anti-Canada’ notion. Maybe it’s true what the conspiracists say about the NHL’s pointy-nosed, bobble-headed commissioner: He’ll go to extreme lengths to prevent the Stanley Cup from returning to the True North. Seriously. If what Kesler did to Edmonton’s Cam Talbot wasn’t goaltender interference, then I’m Patsy Cline and Bettman is Johnny Cash. Sure, the Ducks’ resident villain was shoved, rudely, onto the blue ice, but he wasn’t obliged to stay there and make like an octopus, wrapping his left tentacle around Talbot’s right pad. Not surprisingly, officials ignored damning video evidence that supported Kesler’s guilt and they allowed a Rickard Rakell goal to stand, thus sending Game 5 into extra time. If the Ducks’ 4-3 OT victory wasn’t part of a grand, anti-hoser conspiracy, it was enough to make me go “hmmmmmmm.”

For the record, I don’t have a dog in the Edmonton-Anaheim fight. I like Ducks coach Randy Carlyle because he’s one of the old Winnipeg Jets, and Connor McDavid is a joy to watch. Basically, I’m Switzerland on this one. Having said that, I think the McDavids have been hosed by the officials in the past two games.

I’ve been watching hockey since the 1950s and, until this particular version of springtime shinny, I thought I had a good handle on things like icing and offside and goaltender interference and stick infractions. Now, all bets are off. I confess that I don’t know a foul from a fool. Well, okay, Don Cherry still plays the fool, but all the phantom fouls, faux fouls and no fouls leave me scratching my noggin. The officiating is tragically poor.

Don Cherry: We’re Canadian and this is how we dress.

Speaking of Grapes (sour or otherwise), Cherry was in ripe form after Nick Bonino of the Penguins hoodwinked a visually challenged referee into believing he had been clipped in the face by a careless T.J. Oshie, whose stick had actually glanced off Bonino’s left shoulder. “Kids, never, ever…we’re Canadians…we don’t do that, we don’t fake injuries,” the Lord of Loud barked from his Bully Pit on Coachless Corner. “We’re Canadians, we don’t do it. We wear shirts and ties.” So let that be your lesson, kids: Don’t be a Bonino, but if you have to fake an injury make sure you’re wearing a shirt and tie. Clean underwear is optional.

Bob Cole still has the great pipes, but, my goodness, the man has lost it when it comes to identifying players. His play-by-play on Hockey Night in Canada is now done in general terms, and it’s kind of sad. His work reminds me of the great Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield in his final days with the New York Mets.

Well, hello Dolly Parton.

Big beef about biffies at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where the gender bending of the loo is a common practice and a ladies’ lament at Oilers matches. It seems that the ladies have been forced to surrender two of their washrooms to men during the Edmonton-Anaheim series, an inconvenience that has resulted in 30-minute waits for the girls. Geez, Louise, there are 320 public toilets and/or urinals on the main and upper concourses at Rogers Place. And the men need two of the women’s washrooms? How much beer are those boys drinking? Just remember to put the seats back down, boys. The girls will need them when Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks come to town.

Dumb headline of the week was delivered by the Globe and Mail: “The Toronto Raptors are losing and we’re all sad.” We are? Interesting. Where I live, I’m not sure anyone actually knows the Raptors exist.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About the return of the Prodigal Pun…keeping Patrick Kane out of trouble…draft day busts…Sin City…and stocking an expansion team

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

George Stromboy

George Stromboy

So, tight and shiny, ill-fitting suits are no longer in vogue on Hockey Night in Canada, and horrible, cringe-inducing cornballism is back. The hip host is out and the old, greybeard is in.

Well, okay, Rogers Media hasn’t made it official yet, but all indicators point to the ouster of George Stroumboloupouloupouloupoulous as host of HNIC and the return of the Prodigal Pun, Ron MacLean. Which is sort of like replacing Drake with Bing Crosby.

No doubt this development shall be received with a rousing chorus of rah-rahs from the rabble on Planet Puckhead who care about such matters, but I’m not so sure Stromboy is/was the problem.

You want culprits for HNIC’s nosedive in ratings? Start with the game itself. Most National Hockey League regular-season skirmishes are exciting like Don Cherry is bashful. And it doesn’t help that the majority of matches Rogers delivers to our living rooms feature bottom-feeding outfits from our home and native land. Really, who beyond the borders of British Columbia would want to watch the Vancouver Canucks? Does anyone outside of the nation’s capital know the Ottawa Senators exist?

Then there’s Stromboy’s supporting cast. Seriously, P.J. Stock? A career minor-leaguer, he suited up for a grand total of eight NHL playoff games and does commercials for adult diapers. Ya, that’s real star power. Nick Kypreos? He owns a Stanley Cup ring, but was a spare part who played just three of 23 games in the New York Rangers’ 1994 title run. Glenn Healy? The most annoying man on TV since the original Canadian Tire Guy. A career backup goaltender. Notable for playing the bagpipes. Insider Damien Cox? Oy vey.

fox

The Fox NFL Sunday gang.

By way of comparison, consider the lineup that Fox NFL Sunday trots out: Terry Bradshaw, Hall of Fame quarterback and multiple Super Bowl champion; Howie Long, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Michael Strahan, Hall of Fame defensive lineman and Super Bowl champion; Jimmy Johnson, two-time Super Bowl champion coach and College Hall of Fame coach. The insider is Jay Glazer, who actually appears to have a personality, unlike Cox, who stares creepily into the camera and no doubt sends little children scurrying to the cover of their bedrooms.

I can’t say that I’m a fan of Stromboy’s—and I have little doubt he shall find another TV studio with red chairs to call home—but if he’s the fall guy he should be only the first domino to tumble.

Will Arnett, I am informed, is an accomplished actor, nominated for several Emmy Awards. Okay, I’ll take your word for it. He’s a good actor. What he isn’t, is a good comedian. I’m sorry if you’re a fan, but he was a very unfunny host of the NHL Awards show on Wednesday night. His Mr. Genius skit with Gary Bettman and Brendan Shanahan was as wince-inducing as Ron MacLean’s puns.

How will Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate his MVP-winning season, by punching out a cab driver or molesting a woman? Apparently, the Blackhawks have asked Kane to stay in the Toddlin’ Town this summer rather than have him return to his favorite haunts in Buffalo. Ya, as if that’s going to keep him out of trouble. I mean, I have it on good authority that there are plenty of cab drivers and women in Chicago.

Alexandre Daigle

Alexandre Daigle

Interesting headline in the Winnipeg Sun this morning: “Jets can’t go wrong in Friday’s draft.” Really? Can you say Alexandre Daigle, kids? Can you say Patrik Stefan? Or Rick DiPietro? There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NHL entry draft until they become a sure thing. The Winnipeg Jets will pluck Finnish forward Patrik Laine from the pool of freshly scrubbed teenagers on Friday night, then hope they haven’t gone wrong.

If you were Lou Lamoriello, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, would you trade the first overall pick in the NHL entry draft for the negotiation rights to Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round choice, which falls at No. 27? I would. Then open the vault for homeboy Stamkos.

What an interesting country we live in. I mean, upon his death, hockey great Gordie Howe was glorified and deified for six decades of using his elbows to bust jaws and send people to the dentist. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau throws one errant elbow and he’s crucified. Go figure.

vegasDon’t count me among the skeptics suggesting an NHL franchise in Las Vegas won’t work. It will work because Gary Bettman, the pointy-nosed and bobble-head commish, will make it work come hell or high odds. If he hasn’t bailed on Arizona by now, he’ll never bail on Sin City.

Got a kick out of a Paul Wiecek piece in the Winnipeg Free Press re next year’s expansion draft to stock the Las Vegas Rat Pack roster. The Jets, like all 30 current NHL outfits, will lose one player, a reality that “some think is going to hit the Jets as hard—or even harder—than any team in the league.” The way Wiecek has it reasoned, one of the following will have to get out of Dodge: Chris Thorburn, Anthony Peluso, Andrew Copp, Joel Armia, Marko Dano, Alexander Burmistrov. Oh, how will the Jets possibly survive?

I went to the Winnipeg Sun website last Sunday morning and the Calgary Sun popped up. Seriously, five stories on the Calgary Flames on the sports front and zero on the Winnipeg Jets. This is what happens when one media giant owns 99 per cent of the newspapers in Canada.

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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Winnipeg Jets: WTF, Dustin Byfuglien sounds like a broken record

Top o’ the morning to you, Dustin Byfuglien.

Feel like talking today? Didn’t think so. I mean, after your insightful chin-wag with news scavengers on Tuesday, you probably need to give your gums a rest. Besides, what’s left to say after you’ve already said, “We’re a team and if we stick together everything will be okie dokie” eight times? Or was it nine times? Do I hear 10?

You sounded like one of those old vinyl records when the needle gets stuck. “We’re a team and if we stick together…we’re a team and if we stick together…we’re a team and if we stick together…”

I really hate it when that happens. You’ve got to get up off the couch, lift the needle ever so gently, move it ever so slightly, lower it ever so gently so as not to inflict any further damage, then retreat to your comfy couch. A real pain, that’s what it is. You probably don’t know much about vinyl records, though, do you Buff? Too young.

Me, I still play vinyl. Not into iPads and iPods and phones that are smarter than me. Yes siree, give me an LP, a turntable, a good set of headphones and when I hear that needle touch that black slab of vinyl…well, that’s the ephiphanical moment, isn’t it?

But I digress.

This isn’t about broken records, Buff (can I call you Buff?). It’s about you and your Winnipeg Jets, who, I must emphasize, will be okie dokie if you all stick together…all stick together…all stick together. Trouble is, one more misstep in your best-of-seven Stanley Cup scuffle with the Disney Ducks and you’ll all be sticking together on the first tee at St. Charles Golf Club rather than at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie.

Speaking of the Little Hockey House, that was some kind of magic we witnessed on Monday night, wasn’t it? Welcome to the Winnipeg Whiteout, indeed. Those fans, what can I say? They really gave Ryan Kesler the gears. Talk about an ugly Duckling. That crowd was louder than Don Cherry’s suit. And it was extra special to have ol’ Grapes and Ron MacLean bring Curmudgeon’s Corner to Pegtown for Game 3 of your best-of-seven skirmish, don’t you think? And Gary Bettman, the National Hockey League commish, was in the house, too. Said there was no place he’d rather be (as if).

But, again, I digress.

Here’s the deal, Buff: Enquiring minds wanted to get your take on the goings-on of yourself and your mates who are sticking together…sticking together…sticking together in their quest to secure the first NHL playoff victory in franchise history, dating back to the days in Atlanta. I’m pretty certain that’s what the boys and girls on the beat sought when they came calling on Tuesday. Rather than enlighten them, though, you repeated your “stick together” mantra ad nauseum. That’s lame, man.

Don’t get me wrong, Buff. You don’t answer to the media (obviously). It isn’t your job to make their job any easier than most people already mistakenly think it is. They want boffo sound bites? Send ’em over to Blake Wheeler’s locker. I’m told he’s full of brilliant bons mots, although they also say he can be a tad testy.

The thing is, doing it your way made you come across as a doofus. A XXXXXL doofus.

Oh, I’m sure there are those who thought it was cute how you put the jackals of journalism in their place by serving up your dumb answer to their questions. “Atta boy, Buff,” they’ll say. “You sure Phil Kesseled the media.”

But no. All you did was look and sound dumb.

Not surprisingly, your head coach, Paul Maurice, launched an enthusiastic and, at times, snarky defence on your behalf. He assured one and all that you are a “kind and civil and giving” man. And that must be true, because, according to coach PoMo, you dug down deep and summoned up the strength to fight off the urge to drop about a thousand F-bombs on the assembled news scavengers. How large of you. You really are kind and civil, if not giving of your thoughts.

After all, we all know that nothing spells c-i-v-i-l-i-t-y like being able to control a tongue that very much wants to tell the media to “eff off,” right?

Such piffle.

Look, Buff, you don’t have to like news scavengers. You don’t have to enjoy the to-and-fro with them. You don’t have to like their questions. A lot of them are stupid (the questions, not the scribes/broadcasters). But, just like you, they have jobs to do, and right now they’re a whole lot better at their jobs than you’ve been at yours.

Your play vs. the Ducks has been…dismal. The penalty you took with that cheap shot on Corey Perry in Game 3 was a particularly galling, boneheaded bit of business. Why, if I weren’t such a kind and civil person, I’d really tell you what I think.

Actually, I will tell you what I think, Buff: You’ve been F-bombing brutal…you’ve been F-bombing brutal…you’ve been F-bombing brutal…you’ve been F-bombing brutal…

Sorry if I sound like a broken effing record.

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.


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NHL cancels Heritage Classic in Winnipeg: Here’s why

The top 10 “real reasons” why the National Hockey League has postponed the Heritage Classic game at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg:

10. NHL commish Gary Bettman drank Winnipeg tap water during meetings with Jets and Bombers, got nasty case of the runs, refused to negotiate with Jets governor Mark Chipman or Blue Bombers CEO Wade Miller from inside toilet stall.

9. Can’t find 40,000 people who will stop curling long enough to watch an outdoor hockey game.

8. Bombers refuse to change name of Ken Ploen Way to Teemu Trail, Ducky Drive or Jimmy Mann Motorway for the weekend.

7. Dancing Gabe doesn’t do outdoor hockey.

6. Bombers demand the Jets pay territorial penalty for Mick E. Moose invading Buzz and Boomer’s turf.

5. First official mosquito fogging of year in Fort Garry scheduled for same day.

6. Bombers refuse to replace statue of legendary coach Bud Grant with statue of Alpo Suhonen.

3. If held in March, entire city too busy sand-bagging for annual spring flooding.

2. Slurpees freeze at 30-below.

And the No. 1 reason why the Heritage Classic has been postponed: If the Bombers are involved, everybody knows it’s all Joe Mack’s fault.

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.


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Heritage Classic: Are those big, bad Bombers pooping on Jets’ party?

My, my, my…don’t we have our knickers in a knot. Or, to put it in more seasonal and appropriate terms, our frozen noses are out of joint.

I’m quite uncertain if the citizenry of any other burg in the Great White North would react so angrily to the postponement of a gimmicky game of pond hockey, but the fine folk of Winnipeg have adopted a mob mentality and appear prepared, also poised, to arm themselves with pitch forks and torches and advance on Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

There, the menacing marauders will find Wade Miller, villain. The Grinch who has stolen their Heritage Classic.

Miller, of course, is Grand Poobah of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a forlorn Canadian Football League outfit that has made an art form of never failing to fail since the last Grey Cup parade on the downtown streets of River City. That was in 1990. In each of the ensuing seasons, they’ve popped the top on a fresh crusade, only to conclude it by either watching the Grey Cup game from the comfort of their man caves or falling short in the championship match.

It is, however, one thing for Miller to oversee Cirque du Bombers. It is quite another to impose the whims of his Sad Sack outfit on the Winnipeg Jets and National Hockey League. Apparently, he has some kind of nerve.

Why would anyone think it's too cold for an outdoor NHL game in Winnipeg during the winter?

Why would anyone think it’s too cold for an outdoor NHL game in Winnipeg during the winter?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True North Sports & Entertainment, the do-no-wrong entity that owns and operates the Winnipegs, and the NHL desired to host the outdoor Heritage Classic, a joust featuring the Jets and a yet-to-be-identified foe, in mid-December. Sort of an early Christmas gift for Jets Nation. Miller and the Bombers are fully onside with the concept of an outdoors shinny match in their playground. Just not in mid-December. That’s not distant enough from the 2015 Grey Cup game they shall host, Nov. 29 at Football Follies Field. And it’s too close to Santa’s arrival. They’d prefer February or March 2016.

So, the Bombers, True North and the NHL have agreed to scuttle the whole thing. The Jets won’t be playing hockey on a frozen football field come next winter.

And who do you suppose is wearing the black hat? You guessed it. Miller and the Bombers.

They are seen as self-serving, short-sighted, tinytown thinkers who torpedoed the project for fear that a Heritage Classic scant weeks post-Grey Cup would funnel revenue away from the Bombers’ coffers and into the True North/NHL piggy bank. Joe and Josphine Phan’s entertainment dollar, after all, stretches only so far. They might have to choose one event over the other. Or take out a second mortgage to attend both the Grey Cup game and the Heritage Classic, plus put presents under the tree. Miller doesn’t want to risk it. He figures it’s best he not run with the big dogs. For this, he has been battered fore and aft in comment threads. He didn’t take this much of a beating during his 10 years as a Rudyesque special teams demon for the Bombers.

But, what has actually been lost here? It’s a postponement, not a cancellation. Does it really matter if the Heritage Classic is held in December 2015 or 2016 or ’17 or ’18 or ’19 or ’20?

I could be wrong, but I have a hunch Old Man Winter will make an appearance in Winnipeg, as scheduled, in 2016 and beyond. There will be white stuff on the ground and piled high on street corners and parking lots. There will be sub-zero temperatures. Block heaters will be mandatory. Round tires will go square. Exhaust fumes will fill the air. Ponds will be frozen. And people will be playing outdoor shinny.

The Winnipeg Jets shall be among them. So chill.

In the meantime, my fear is the fallout. That is to say, what price will Miller and the Bombers pay for the delay of the Heritage Classic? People are talking about boycotting the football club. Cancelling season subscriptions. Boycotting the Grey Cup game.

Good grief.

Folks waited 15 years to get an NHL team back in River City, yet they are bent out of shape because they must wait an extra year, minimum, to sit on an outdoor perch that is a telescopic three or four postal codes removed from the ice surface. During winter’s worst bite.

“Damn that Wade Miller,” they yelp! “Who does he think he is to deny Peggers the right to freeze their assets off?”

From where I sit, he’s a guy doing his job.

 

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.


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Don Baizley belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame

“I don’t know if I can put into words what Don (Baizley) meant to the game. I don’t know if there’s any one individual I’ve met in my life who’s had a more meaningful, more profound impact on the modern game of professional hockey.”

—Mark Chipman, co-owner of the Winnipeg Jets

 

Don Baizley is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, nor the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame.

He should be in both. As a builder.

I bring this to your attention today because the HHofF class of 2014 is to be inducted on Monday and none of the select six is named Don Baizley, the Winnipeg-based lawyer whose 71 years of being an honest-to-gosh good guy gave way to non-smoker’s lung cancer in July 2013.

As many of you know, Baizley maintained a small stable of clients that represented a who’s who in the National Hockey League and on shinny ponds on the other side of the ocean—Joe Sakic, Teemu Selanne, Jari Kurri, Peter Forsberg, Kent Nilsson, Paul Kariya, Theo Fleury, among others. But to brand him as merely a player agent to the stars is insufficient. Baizley was a trail blazer. He helped redefine the game in the mid-1970s, prior to which both the NHL and World Hockey Association were parochial in scope. That is to say, if you weren’t Canadian or American by birth you need not apply.

Oh, sure, there were a handful of Europeans pre-1974. Pentti Lund, born in Finland but raised in Canada from the age of six, was NHL rookie-of-the-year in 1949. Slovak-born Stanislav Guoth, better known as Stan Mikita, was a much-decorated centre with the Chicago Blackhawks. Ulf Sterner played four games with the New York Rangers in 1965. Thommie Bergman was in the employ of the Detroit Red Wings in the early ’70s. Borje Salming was wearing Toronto Maple Leafs linen. Ditto Inge Hammarstrom.

Basically, however, Euros were as rare as buck teeth on a super model. The prevailing logic insisted Euros weren’t equipped with adequate-sized gonads to be successful in the NHL, where ruffians often ruled the day (see: Big Bad Bruins, Broad Street Bullies).

Then along came the 1974 Winnipeg Jets. And Dr. Gerry Wilson. And Billy Robinson. And Don Baizley.

Dr. Wilson, a surgeon whose specialty was sports-related owies, was doing a post-grad gig in Sweden in 1973 when a fleet right winger caught his attention. The name was Anders Hedberg. The good doctor also liked what he saw in a kid named Ulf Nilsson. And, hey, this guy Lars-Erik Sjoberg was none too shabby on defence. So Doc Wilson put in a call to the Jets, then the flagship franchise in the WHA, and they, in turn, dispatched bird dog Billy Robinson to Tre Kroner country for a look-see at these hot-shot Swedes. The rest, as they say, is history.

Hedberg, Nilsson, Sjoberg and goaltender Curt Larsson represented the first wave of Europeans to arrive on North American shores and, in due course, they proved beyond all reasonable doubt that their junk was plenty big enough to not only succeed, but to excel on the frozen ponds of North America.

Hedberg and Nilsson, in particular, were ceaselessly assailed by extremely disagreeable sorts such as Bad News Bilodeau and Frankie Beaton of the Birmingham Bulls, plus a boatload of barbarians employed by other WHA outfits. These “chicken Swedes,” after all, were taking jobs away from good Canadian boys. The nerve. So they were whacked, hacked and brow beaten to unparalleled levels. Their bodies were bruised as blue as the Jets jerseys they wore. Talk about culture shock. But they endured, in large part due to the guidance of Don Baizley.

Baiz’s influence on the game cannot be under-valued. He didn’t just get big bucks for his clients. He took them under his wing. He was their confidante. Their mentor. He provided them a comfort zone, a place where they could grow as hockey players and, more important, people.

His handling of the fabulous Swedes did not escape the notice of other Scandinavians. Soon Veli-Pekka Ketola was with the Jets. Heikki Riihiranta, the aforementioned Bergman, Willy Lindstrom, Mats Lindh, Dan Labraaten, Kent Nilsson were to follow. Those Euro-flavored WHA Jets played a dazzling, free-wheeling brand of hockey. Brute force gave way to beauty, which translated into titles and provided Glen Sather a blueprint in constructing his remarkable Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s.

So, you see, Baizley was at the forefront in the reshaping of the professional hockey landscape. He was there for close to 40 years, yet this man who helped change the face of shinny preferred to operate in the background. It was never about him. He was, if you will, the anti-Eagle.

I refer, of course, to Alan Eagleson, the notorious player agent who landed in lockup after playing fast and loose with his clients’ money. The Eagle was self-aggrandizing and self-promoting. If the Eagle was involved, everything else was background noise.

That wasn’t how Don Baizley rolled.

Baiz wanted to talk about himself like Gary Bettman wants to live in the north end of Winnipeg. He was more interested in others. He placed value on who you were and what you did. He always made you feel better about yourself and your work.

During my 30 years in sports journalism, I never met a better person than Don Baizley. Not one. So when the giants of the game gathered in July 2013 to salute another giant of the game, you had to believe them when they told you that Baiz was an honest, humble, trustworthy, humorous, generous, loving man. It’s all true.

The guy was an honest-to-gosh hall of fame person.

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, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.