About Rink Rat Scheifele and the Hart Trophy…Lites out for Dallas Stars…Humpty Harold Ballard’s harrumphing…Fergy hurling B. Hull under the bus…firing the coach mid-game…dumb Canadians and dumber Americans…and wrinkles in the broadcast booth

The final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year…and congratulations to all you men out there who began your Christmas shopping at 3 p.m. on Christmas eve and managed to finish before closing time at the mall. You are a credit to your species, such as it is…

Rink Rat Scheifele

It is with more than a smidgen of skepticism that I note the well-meaning boys on the beat have begun to pump Rink Rat Scheifele’s tires.

Ken Wiebe of the Winnipeg Sun describes him as “a bona fide Hart Trophy candidate.”

Jason Bell of the Winnipeg Free Press writes: “If the Jets maintain their altitude in the NHL standings, the 26-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., simply must be in the Hart Trophy conversation as the most valuable player.”

Bell’s accomplice at the Drab Slab, Mike McIntyre, joins the hallelujah chorus by scribbling, “No doubt Scheifele is a contender right now for the most coveted trophy in the sport.”

Connor McDavid

Yes, it’s all rah-rah-rah and sis-boom-bah for the Good Ol’ Hometown hero.

Trouble is, I have yet to hear the “Mark Scheifele for MVP” rallying cry from beyond Manitoba’s boundaries. Mostly, the Winnipeg Jets centre is mentioned in passing while scribes and broadcasters deliver gobsmacking praise for the work of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Ovie, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, John Gibson, Johnny Gaudreau and, of course, Connor McDavid.

I’m not saying the Rink Rat doesn’t belong in the conversation, understand. I’m just saying he isn’t feeling the love hither and yon.

Mmmmmm, fast food.

Frankly, the Hart Trophy ought not be a talking point these days, but I suppose news snoops and opinionists were looking for something to write and gab about during the Christmas lull and before we embark on the dog days of the National Hockey League season. So, okay, let’s have at it. The most valuable player is McDavid. I mean, remove McMagnifique from the Edmonton Oilers lineup and the Oil would disappear faster than a Big Mac and a bucket of KFC on Air Force One. The same can’t be said about any of the other “candidates,” including Scheifele.

Jamie Benn, Jim Lites, Tyler Seguin

That wasn’t just a bus that Jim Lites hurled Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin under the other day. It was the entire Greyhound fleet. If you missed it, here’s what the Dallas Stars CEO had to say about his two top-salaried players (reader advisory: includes harsh language): “They are fucking horse shit, I don’t know how else to put it. We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done. These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager.” That, be advised, was after a win. Good grief, what does the guy do after a loss? Pluck the wings off house flies? Kick small dogs? Force his players to listen to Celine Dion albums?

Humpty Harold

The thing that surprised me about the Lites rant was the reaction from hockey pundits (hello Nick Kypreos) who can’t recall anyone in NHL management/ownership going off on a player.

What, they’ve already forgotten about Humpty Harold Ballard?

Not much pleased Humpty Harold, the cranky and cartoonish crook who once bankrolled the Tranna Maple Leafs. He harbored a particularly strong distaste for female reporters (“If they want to take their clothes off and talk to the players, fine. But I warn them they’ll have a lot more trouble getting out than they did getting in.”), and he had no patience for timid hockey players. He lashed out at his workers as frequently as a priest prays, and Humpty Harold’s harrumphing always was on public record.

Of Inge Hammarstrom, Ballard once said the slick Swedish forward “could go into the corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and not break any of them.” Laurie Boschman, one of the nicest kids you could meet, was “soft” because he had “too much religion.” It didn’t matter to Humpty Harold that young Laurie had been laid low with mononucleosis and blood poisoning. Bosch, he reasoned, was a known Bible thumper, ergo a wimp. Not surprisingly, neither Hammarstrom or Boschman lasted long in the Republic of Tranna.

Bobby Hull and John Ferguson

Closer to home, John Bowie Ferguson hurled Bobby Hull under the Greyhound early in the 1979-80 season, the Jets first in the NHL.

Hull, then 40, had come in from the cattle farm to end his retirement, and he struggled mightily due to rust and a wonky left shoulder. His personal numbers were modest (four goals, six assists in 18 starts) and the club functioned better without the Golden Jet in the lineup (6-7-1) than with him (5-10-3). So I called Fergy at home one night to get his take on Hull. Turns out it was a hot take.

“No, I don’t think Bobby has helped our hockey club at all,” the Jets general manager said with the bluntness of a sledge hammer. “Something is missing. He really is a very undisciplined hockey player and I don’t know if he can adapt. That freewheeling style would be fine if it was getting results. But it’s not.”

Hull never pulled on Jets linen again.

I recall one other public flogging, in the Western Canada Hockey League. Gerry Brisson, president and general manager of the Winnipeg Clubs, removed head coach George Dorman from behind the bench during the middle of a game! True story. It was November 1975. The Flin Flon Bombers were laying a licking on the Clubs, leading 4-1 through 40 minutes, and Brisson had seen enough. He therefore instructed Dorman to observe the final period from the pews in the old barn on Maroons Road, replacing him with the team trainer, Adam Tarnowski, who knew as much about coaching hockey as a cow knows about climbing trees. “I did it for shock value,” Brisson said after the fact. Didn’t work. His Clubs lost 5-2. More shocking than Dorman getting yanked in-game? He kept his job. That is correct. Brisson embarrassed the hell out of Dorman by forcing him to sit among the rabble, but he didn’t fire his coach. Go figure.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

I believe we have arrived at the end of the annual, year-end trinket giveaway for Jocks and Jills in the True North Strong and Free, and the best of our best during the past 12 months—as decreed by news snoops from the left to right flank of the land—are golfer Brooke Henderson, fancy skaters Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir and moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury. Any arguments? You bet. The girls and boys at The Canadian Press got it right by naming Henderson and Kingsbury the top female and male athletes and Virtue/Moir the best team, but those who voted for the Lou Marsh Trophy coughed up a hair ball. Henderson, not Kingsbury, should have won.

Brooke Henderson

Here’s why we shouldn’t take the Lou Marsh Trophy seriously: It’s a total clown act. I mean, consider Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail. He stumped for tennis player Daniel Nestor, who went 0-for-2018 and quit. Kelly’s boss, sports editor Shawna Richer, had a hissy fit when she couldn’t vote for a team (Virtue/Moir) as the winner of an individual award, so she left her ballot blank.

Then there’s Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. He squawked in support of Connor McDavid, Kingsbury and Marc-Andre Fleury (really?), and pooh-poohed any notion that Henderson should be declared our top athlete. Why? Because lady golfers just don’t rate.

“The LPGA Tour is primarily a one-country pursuit,” he said on TSN radio. “You look at the leaderboards every single week and it’s the same country and it’s the same golfers and it’s the same five or six women. It is so Korean dominated there’s not even any other country that competes, compares.”

This is a guy who clearly does not have a clue, yet he has a vote. Here are some numbers from the LPGA Tour in 2018:

Wins by country: U.S.A., 9; South Korea 9; Thailand, 5; Canada, Japan 2 each; Australia, New Zealand, U.K., Sweden, Mexico 1 each.

Winners: 26 different champions in 32 events.

Multiple winners: 4 (Canadian, Japanese, Thai, South Korean).

Money leaders: Top 20—7 Americans, 5 South Koreans, 2 Thai, 2 Australian, 1 Canadian, Japanese, Spanish, English; Top 50—19 Americans, 10 Koreans; Top 100—34 Americans, 18 Koreans.

Clearly Henderson competes in a sport that is far more global than moguls skiing, and it is dominated by Americans moreso than South Koreans. These facts aren’t difficult to dig up, but Simmons has never been one to let facts get in the way of a misguided rant.

Oh, let’s not forget that the Postmedia chain of bare-bones sports departments anointed Henderson and soccer player Alphonso Davies as the top jocks in the land. Please give Postmedia CEO and noted skinflint Paul Godfrey a quarter and tell him to call someone who cares.

Serena Williams

Staying with the dumb and dumber theme, The Associated Press voters totally lost the plot in selecting Serena Williams and LeBron James as 2018 top jocks in Trumpland. Seriously. Exactly what did Williams do in 2018? Well, she put on a catsuit at the French Open and, a few months later, staged one of the most demonstrative, appalling, pathetic pity party’s in the history of professional sports. When not busy putting a horrible damper on Naomi Osaka’s U.S. Open victory, Williams won zero tournaments and was 18-6 overall. Meanwhile, gymnast Simone Biles won gold (four), silver (1) and bronze (1) medals at the world championships. Like Williams, King James won zip, yet still got the nod over Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. The Mookster was the American League batting champion, the AL most valuable player, a Gold Glove winner, a Silver Slugger winner, and a World Series champion. That’s the baseball version of a royal flush. But, sorry Mookie, that just doesn’t cut it. And I thought our jock journos had dumbed down.

Doris Burke

And, finally, I’ll end the final Sunday smorgas-bored of the year with a quote from ESPN hoops broadcaster Doris Burke: “I promise you I’m not having plastic surgery. I’m 52. I’ve earned every wrinkle on my face. I actually like my wrinkles. And guess what? There are a lotta 60-year-old men who have wrinkles, no hair, glasses, and nobody gives a damn. It’s about time that woman my age or above, if she chooses to go into her 60s as an announcer, she should be allowed to do just that.”

About Bobby Hull pooping on his own party…fallen heroes…the CFL not on TSN…and Rod Black losing the plot

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

Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull

True North Sports & Entertainment put itself in a non-winable position with Bobby Hull.

Once the decision had been made to create a Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame and salute players as far back as the World Hockey Association, TNSE had no choice but to include the legendary left winger and every piece of soiled laundry and excess baggage that he drags along with him.

That, in turn, meant howls of protest would arise, because not everyone can separate the fabulous hockey player from the flawed man who sometimes roughed up women.

So Hull will poop on his own party.

Nobody in officialdom is saying exactly why Hull has advised True North that there shall be no need to set a place for him at the table when the National Hockey League club honours the Golden Jet and his two Hot Line accomplices from the WHA—Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson—as the initial inductees to the team Hall of Fame on Oct. 19. We’re told it’s for “personal reasons.”

At first blush, I thought perhaps Hull was ill. There is, after all, considerable age around his eyes and he’s done some hard living and hard drinking in his 77-plus years. If it’s a health issue preventing Hull from traveling to River City, I suppose his desire might be to keep it on the QT, but we wouldn’t need to know the gory details. The Secret Society that is TNSE need only tell us that he’s not in fine fettle and leave it at that. So strike illness off the list of possibilities for Hull pulling the chute on an appearance.

What then?

Domestic violence. That has to be the elephant in the room.

I doubt Hull wishes to arrive in River City and open a newspaper, or tune in to talk radio, and read/hear another story about splitting his second ex-wife Joanne’s head open with the stiletto heel of one of her shoes. Or threatening to hurl her off a balcony. Or threatening her with a shotgun. Or the family’s former nanny telling tales about him ripping a telephone off the wall with one hand while yanking on Joanne’s hair with the other. He doesn’t need to hear another recital of some off-handed remarks he might or might not have made to a Moscow newspaper about Adolph Hitler’s swell ideas.

True North wouldn’t have any appetite for any of that either.

Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull on a happy day in Winnipeg.
Jets original owner Benny Hatskin and Bobby Hull the day the legendary left winger signed his WHA contract at Portage and Main.

The inaugural Hall of Fame function, which is part of the Heritage Classic festivities next month, is meant to be a celebration of hockey and the glory days, when the Jets were rulers of all they surveyed in the WHA. And many will tell you that that’s all it ought to be about. I mean, the Chicago Blackhawks made it all about hockey when they erected a statue of Hull outside the United Center and put him on the payroll as an ambassador. Domestic violence be damned. So why shouldn’t TNSE act in kind, right?

If only it were that simple.

It could be that the fine folks in Winnipeg are a bit more sensitive to the notion of men whacking women than those in the Windy City. I don’t know. I’ve never lived in Chicago. Just visited while on assignment. I do know this, though: There is no wrong time for a conversation about the scourge of domestic violence.

If Hull is a no-show, are his non-hockey trespasses less likely to hijack the headlines next month? Perhaps. Then again, his absence might bring spousal abuse into greater focus.

This is a fine mess TNSE has gotten itself into and the owners are named Chipman and Thomson, not Solomon, so this baby is being cut in half.

It’s a most unfortunate circumstance, and the great irony is that the man who crusaded so vigorously against violence in hockey couldn’t keep his hands to himself away from the rink. More’s the pity, Bobby Hull.

I recall making my way down to the Jets changing room after a game one night at the old barn on Maroons Road when a young fellow stopped me to say how much he admired Bobby Hull. More than anything, he wanted to meet his hockey hero. “Kid,” I told him, “sometimes our heroes aren’t who we think they are.” I left it at that. I heard from that “kid” last year. He advised me that he went home and asked his dad what I might have meant. What ensued was a father-son, fireside chat about domestic violence and he said it had a “positive impact” on his life. Like I said, there’s never a wrong time for that discussion, even if it brings one of our heroes down from the pedestal.

In a perfect world, Hull would show up for his party and address the elephant in the room by telling younger people “don’t make the same mistakes that I made,” then get on with swapping lies and tall tales with the boys.

Mark Chipman
Mark Chipman

If Mark Chipman hadn’t caved in to the demands of the rabble and named his NHL franchise something other than Jets in 2011, would we even be having this conversation about Hull? Not likely. Had Chipman called the current outfit Falcons or Monarchs or Polar Bears, there’d be no compulsion to link to the past. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Okay, enough of B. Hull. I’d like to know the name of the genius who decided to show beach volleyball and fast car racing on the main TSN channel Saturday afternoon instead of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers-Toronto Argonauts skirmish. Seriously. Some of us live in poverty and can’t afford to subscribe to all five of TSN’s channels. It’s sad when you live in Canada but have to turn to an American streaming website to watch a Canadian Football League game. Put the CFL on the main channel, for gawd’s sake.

At times during the Bombers-Argos joust, I wondered if TSN play-by-play voice Rod Black was watching with his eyes shut. Like after Quincy McDuffie of the Bombers returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Old friend Blackie prattled on about a “punt return.” He really lost the plot later when suggesting that the Bombers inserting of Matt Nichols at quarterback was “a stroke of genius.” Oh, pu-leeze. It was nothing of the sort. It was an act of desperation to save the season and head coach Mike O’Shea’s job. Those geniuses knew Nichols was the best bet at QB coming out of training camp, but it took them four losses in five games to correct their blunder.

The Winnipeg Free Press has dispatched columnist Paul Wiecek to the Republic of Tranna for the cash grab known as the World Cup of Hockey, and I’ve been enjoying his stuff. I particularly got a kick out of his take on the media: “The tournament will be played at the Air Canada Centre and all the teams are staying at a nearby hotel within walking distance. It quickly becomes apparent from a walk through the hotel bar that the biggest egos at this event won’t be the players but rather the insufferable national media that covers hockey in this country. There is an unavoidable reflected glory that comes with covering hockey in a rabid country like Canada—and way too many media people who think that means it’s about them.” That won’t win Wiecek many friends on press row, but he’s spot-on.

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.