It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
Okay, it’s official. Patrik Laine has put more noses out of joint than Mike Tyson in his prime.
Everyone from the Golden Boy to Dancing Gabe is PO’d at the gum-flapping Finn, and it’s only a question of exactly how much tar and feathers it will take to coat his 6-feet-5 frame.
But let’s take a deep breath and a step back, shall we?
Puck Finn isn’t going anywhere just because he shot off his gob—again—and some egos might have been bruised during a 24-hour news cycle.
Oh, sure, it might sound like he wants out, and the blah, blah, blah he’s spewed this summer indicates he wouldn’t kick, scream and hold his breath if Kevin Cheveldayoff were to send a text to Switzerland today, informing the fed-up Finn that he’s got a new postal/zip code.
But do you really think the Winnipeg Jets didn’t see this coming?
The local shinny side knew exactly what it was getting when it marked its territory and claimed Laine with the second shoutout at the 2016 grab bag of teen talent known as the National Hockey League entry draft. By then Puck Finn was already filling notebooks and delivering the kind of sound bites that had news snoops fairly swooning at the prospect of jotting down his bon mots for the next 15 years or so.
June 2016, talking about Auston Matthews: “I think we’re quite even and he’s better than me in some stuff and I’m better than him in some of the things. I wouldn’t say that one of us is better than the other. I think we’re quite even right now.”
September 2016: “I know how good I am. I can say that. It’s not a problem for me. If it’s a problem for somebody else, it’s not my problem. I don’t care what people think. I know I’m a good player. I’m going to stick with that.”
Back then, that meant he had swagger. Confidence. A cocksure strut. The gift that keeps giving.
When Puck Finn backed up the bravado with a 36-goal snot-nose season, followed by 44 snipes as a super soph, he could have scaled the Legislative building on Broadway Avenue and piddled on the Golden Boy and none among the rabble would have batted an eye. Except to say “Betcha Auston Matthews can’t do that.”
Yet here we are today and the faithful want Laine’s mom to wash his mouth out with soap or, at the least, get out the needle and thread and stitch her son’s loose lips together. Even some news snoops want him to zip it.
But why? What has Laine said that’s a get-out-of-Dodge offence?
True, when Chris Johnston of Sportsnet traveled to Lahti for a chin-wag with Puck Finn in mid-August, Mrs. Laine’s boy provided some sound bites that were less than rah, rah, rah for the home side.
“You never know. It’s still a business, you’ve got to be prepared for anything,” he told Johnston. “But, ya, you never know where you’re going to play next year, so I’m just prepared for anything. I’ve got nothing bad to say about Winnipeg, you know? It’s been good so far.”
That ignited a bit of a brush fire and now, almost a month later to the day, he’s skipping more stones across the ocean and an inferno rages.
Puck Finn thinks head coach Paul Maurice is a bit of a tool. The guys he’s forced to skate alongside are beer-league slugs. If only he had someone special to feed him the biscuit, instead of being saddled with Bryan Little, he’d pot 50 goals for sure.
And he’s supposed to say what? I don’t want more ice time? I don’t want to skate with the best guys?
First of all, Puck Finn remains an unsigned restricted free agent. An offer sheet from a predatory outfit is a possibility. What if Chevy and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman choose not to match (highly, highly unlikely)? So Laine is “prepared for anything.” Makes sense to me.
Is Laine insulting Little and others by saying he’d prefer different playmates? Well, maybe we should let Chevy answer that. After all, the GM has insulted Little the last two springs by surrendering first-round draft picks to bring in rent-a-centres for the playoff push. Apparently Chevy doesn’t believe Little is up to the task, either.
Is Laine insulting Maurice? Hardly. Who among us hasn’t done some serious head scratching over Coach Potty Mouth’s deployment of personnel? The guy juggles more than a street busker. He’s blind to his favorites (hello Chris Thorburn, Mark Stuart) and he allows young talent to rot on the vine (hello Nic Petan).
But that’s for us to say and not Laine, right? As if.
Let me remind you of something else Puck Finn said last November: “You always have to think about what you’re going to say, but you have to be yourself. That’s the most important thing; just be yourself, and say what you think.”
So Laine is saying what he thinks and that’s no longer cool because he had the bad manners to score only 30 goals last winter?
Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. In early June 2016, I wrote this: “Is the Flamboyant Finn and his loose lips a fit for the Winnipeg Jets or will he give them fits?”
Looks like Puck Finn’s gift of the gab might actually be the Curse of the Gob, but I’m guessing that 110 snipes in three NHL seasons means the Jets will learn to live with it.
As for news snoops who want Laine to zip it? As tennis great John McEnroe once said to a chair umpire: “You CANNOT be serious!”
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and now that spring has sprung let them play ball…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but let’s waitto 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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.)
Notes, quotes and totally irreverent observations during Game 2 of the National Hockey League playoff skirmish between the Minnesota Wild and les Jets de Winnipeg on Friday the 13th…
Pregame blah, blah, blah: Is it true that Queen Liz has been observed loitering outside The Pint pub on Garry Street? If so, let’s have a toast to Her Royal Pintness…Locals are Doing the Donald on Whiteout Way outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie again, only this time city officials have added a stretch of pavement and a park to accommodate more revelers to the downtown block party. Should be anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 of the rabble milling about on Whiteout Way (otherwise known as Donald Street) during the joust. I swear, we haven’t seen that many Winnipeggers left out in the cold since—well, since the NHL gave the city the cold shoulder in 1996…Cold is the operative word, because winter refuses to surrender to spring in Good Ol’ Hometown. Minus-18 windchill at 7:30 this morning, minus-15 overnight. Even the Golden Boy is still wearing his longjohns…Apparently, it’s costing the Secret Society Known As True North Sports & Entertainment $20,000 per night for the Whiteout Way bash, which is roughly what Puck Finn Laine and Twig Ehlers were paid (combined) to tie their skate laces each night during the past season. That 20 large might not be pocket change for Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman, but it is for David Thomson…No Matty Perreault for les Jets tonight, but Jack Roslovic is in. The Evander Kane trade three years ago is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Official attendance for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series was 15,321, but veteran scribe Roy MacGregor of the Globe and Mail reports that there were actually 16,345 in the barn. Where were those extra 1,024 folks when Roy did his head count? Stuck in the beer line?
First Period: TheWild are looking to be “a little more assertive” in Game 2 according to centre Eric Staal. They are more assertive in the early skirmishing…Can’t believe the Wild aren’t leaning heavy on Twig Ehlers, like they did Matty Perreault in the opener. Ehlers is more difficult to track down because he bounces around the rink like a pinball on uppers, but he’ll burn them if they don’t slow him down…Hey, what happened to Cassie Campbell-Pascall’s whiteout outfit? Guess she finally got the memo that she’s supposed to be impartial. So she’s wearing a black jacket over a top with every color of the rainbow. Hideous…Dustin Byfuglien makes me nervous. He hasn’t done anything boneheaded. Yet. But he makes me nervous…Breaking news (speaking of boneheads): Nazem Kadri of the Tranna Maple Leafs is gone for three games. Good. Kadri is the kind of pain in the ass every team can use, but he’s a stupid pain in the ass. He’s also a dangerous loose cannon who clearly attempted to hurt Tommy Wingels of the Bruins in Game 1 of the Tranna-Boston series…Paul Romanuk really is an excitable little guy, isn’t he?…Less than three minutes to go and it seems to me that the Jets have stopped “moving their feet.” (One bad cliché allowed per period.)…Best period of the series for Minny. Zip-Zip.
Second Period: Donald S. Cherry is given the night off. Maybe that’s why Cassie Campbell-Pascall is wearing her wacky outfit…Wow, the Jets are definitely “moving their feet” this period. Somebody throw another puck on the ice so the Wild have something to play with. Guaranteed Minny takes a penalty if the Jets keep moving at this pace…There you go. Jonas Brodin yanks down Mark Scheifele and Jets go on the powerplay…Oh. My. Goodness. If Big Buff makes me nervous, how does Mikko Koivu feel about the big man? I mean, Byfuglien totally stapled him to the end boards. How do these guys get back on their feet after something like that? Totally nasty…Bound to happen—Jets score. Tyler Myers makes like a very tall, gangly Bobby Orr and sifts through the Wild defenders, beating Devan Dubnyk to the far side. Jets 1, Wild nil. And look who assisted on the goal. Yup, it was Myers from Roslovic. Did I mention that the Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Yikes. Puck Finn misses the net from 10 feet. Should be 2-zip…Complete domination by the home side. They’re absolutely pounding the wild. Order the full-body ice packs.
Third Period: Jets are too fast, too big, too skilled. This is a rout dressed up as a 1-0 game…Not for long. Paul Stastny scores to make it 2-zip…So Joe Morrow gets the winner in Game 1 and now Stastny lights the lamp. Take a bow, Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff for those two trade deadline deals…Roslovic sets up an Andrew Copp goal for two assists in his baptism in the NHL’s beard season, and Garry Galley is absolutely correct: The Wild are running on empty. They are spent. The Jets are beating the hell out of them…Dubnyk makes a magnificent glove save on a Byfuglien howitzer. “Holy snappin’ eyeballs!” Romanuk squawks. Love it…Have you ever wondered what it would be like if one team wore skates and the other team wore snowshoes? Now you know. It’s 4-zip thanks to Puck Finn, and Myers gets a helper. So, if you’re keeping score at home, Roslovic has two assists and Myers a goal and an assist. One more time: The Evander Kane trade is the gift that simply won’t stop giving…Observation from Galley: The Wild can’t get anything going and “I think the Jets are the reason.” Ya think? What was your first clue, Serpico?…Zach Parise spoils the shutout. Whatever. It took the Wild 15 minutes to get their first shot…Hey, there’s a fight. I thought that only happened in baseball. And now another fight. Stupid…Jets have outshot Minny 83-37 through 120 minutes of ice-tilted shinny, goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been the Wild’s best player in both games—and they’re 0-2…Jets 4, Wild 1. Off to Minny Ha Ha for Game 3 in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.