About no fear…the “experts” being wrong…Winnipeg Jets go from Team Bicker to Team Good Ship Lollipop?…getting paid to be wrong…and other Stanley Cup things on my mind

A mid-week smorgas-bored…and I might wear white tonight but I won’t be anywhere near downtown Pegtown…

So, how do you like the Winnipeg Jets now, kids?

More to the point, do you see an outfit still standing in the Stanley Cup tournament that the local hockey heroes should fear? I don’t either.

Oh, sure, the Vegas Golden Knights are an imposing group. Big, strong, swift, superb in goal. Washington? No, you wouldn’t want to wager a large wad of paper money against the Capitals successfully defending their championship and spending another summer engaged in liquor-fueled hijinks. Boston? Tranna? Calgary? Columbus? Colorado? The Islanders? Nashville? Meh.

Naturally, the St. Louis Blues still have something to say about les Jets’ shelf life in the National Hockey League annual spring runoff, and we wouldn’t want to get ahead of ourselves. However, after what we witnessed in two skirmishes in the Show Me State, it should be apparent that the lads from St. Loo can match Winnipeg HC’s work ethic but not its skill.

Connor Hellebuyck

And that includes the boys in the blue paint, now that Connor Hellebuyck is turning away pucks as adeptly as he rejects objectionable questions and any suggestion that his stuff stinks.

In leveling their best-of-seven playoff series with a 2-1 W—on the strength of Kyle Connor’s OT tally and Hellebuyck’s gaffe-free goaltending on Tuesday night at the Enterprise Center—les Jets absorbed the best of the Blues and didn’t flinch. They just kind of shrugged and went about their business. And they now return to the Little Hockey House On The Prairie for tonight’s Game 5, confident that they’ve found their stride and convinced that Jordan Binnington is no longer the boogyman everyone made him out to be.

But, yes, it’s fair to wonder where these guys have been all year, and to ask if the phantom turn-off, turn-on switch that we keep hearing about really does exist.

I mean, going into this fray, les Jets had more skeptics than Christ in his heyday and, after dropping the first two jousts vs. the Blues, the bandwagon was emptying faster than a classroom on the last day of school.

Gord Stellick

Craig Button of TSN, for example, described Winnipeg HC as “the weakest team going into the playoffs.”

Over at Sportsnet, 10 of 16 “experts” in a preseason poll predicted a Western Conference crown for les Jets, but that number was reduced to just one—Gord Stellick—when 22 “experts” sifted through the tea leaves in a playoff poll.

Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab, meanwhile, cited “multiple sources” to inform us that les Jets were “rotten to the core,” with discontent spreading through the changing room like a flesh-eating malignancy.

Yet here we are today with this “rotten” and “weakest” and “dysfunctional” team coming home with swagger after imposing its will on the Blues in St. Loo.

Shows you what the “experts” know.

Exactly what do the “experts” really know? No more than you and I or most lumps on bar stools. In the Sportsnet playoff poll, here’s how 22 “experts” saw the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament:

Tampa Bay vs. Columbus: 22-0 for TB. D’oh!
Pittsburgh vs. Islanders: 16-6 for Pitt. D’oh!
Boston vs. Tranna: 16-6 for the Bs.
Washington vs. Carolina: 21-1 for the Caps.
Calgary vs. Colorado: 22-0 for Cowtown.
Vegas vs. San Jose: 16-6 for Glitter Gulch.
Nashville vs. Dallas: 13-9 for Twang Town.
St. Loo vs. Winnipeg: 14-8 for the U.S. gateway.

Meanwhile, 21 of 22 had Tampa Bay winning the Eastern Conference and 18 of 22 predicted the Stanley Cup being paraded through the streets of Tampa in June. Only Kristina Rutherford (Boston), Stellick (Winnipeg), David Amber (Calgary) and Nick Kypreos (St. Louis) chose other outfits.

In short, they know squat.

Interesting that Drab Slab “expert” McIntyre is singing from a different songbook today, suggesting les Jets now are one big happy family.

Here’s what he told us on April 5: “Things appear to be rotten to the core with this team in a way that goes beyond the often lethargic, uninspired play we’ve seen on the ice far too many nights lately.” Mike M added that “multiple sources” informed him and fellow beat writer Jason Bell that “things are anything but rosy” and “there’s no joy to be found.”

Here’s what he’s telling us now: “Another positive to emerge for the Jets is the increased talk of unity among teammates, both in the room and on the ice. Having been around this team all season, you get a pretty good sense of where the mood is at on a daily basis. Without question, players are as laser focused and locked in as they’ve been all season.”

Imagine that. All that alleged friction (“chaos”), all that alleged animosity (“infighting”), all that alleged rot (“dysfunction”) vanished faster than summer wages. Team Bicker has morphed into Team Good Ship Lollipop. Why, it’s a tap water-into-Molson Canadian miracle. Which one of the guys in that room wears sandals and walks on water? Blake Wheeler? Rink Rat Scheifele? Big Buff? Josh Morrissey?

It’ll make for a boffo story if les Jets pull this thing off. Except former cops-and-robbers reporter McIntyre apparently has the innuendo but not the facts, ma’am.

Puck Finn

Quickie question 1: Does the regular season bore Patrik Laine? I mean, the Puck Finn I’ve been watching in Beard Season isn’t the same Puck Finn I watched from October to April. Maybe the mystery Miracle Worker in les Jets changing room sprinkled him with happy dust. Or threatened to huck his track suit into the ice tub.

Just for the record, I’m not wearing a pair of Hindsight Goggles when I say les Jets will get by the Blues. I remind you of something I scribbled on Feb. 26, one day after the NHL shop-and-swap deadline: “What about the St. Louis Blues, you ask? What about them? Don’t be fooled by their run of good fortune. Once the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington, they’ll be back to run-of-the-mill.” I also mentioned something about a Nashville-Winnipeg skirmish in the second round. And, as recently as last week, I wrote that the local lads were not “a writeoff” even though they were in a 0-2 hole vs. the Blues at the time. But, hey, what do I know? I mean, I’ve never seen the inside of of their changing room to monitor the “mood” and I don’t have “multiple sources” like Mike M at the Drab Slab. I do it the old-fashioned way. I examine the rosters, watch the games, listen to some of the players wag their chins, then call it as I see it. The difference between the “experts” and me? They get paid to be wrong, I don’t.

Nazem Kadri

Quickie question 2: If Nazem Kadri is made available by the Tranna Maple Leafs once this Stanley Cup business is out of the way, should les Jets put in a bid on the loose cannon? No. Too much of a wingnut.

Check out the top three point-producers in the Stanley Cup tournament: Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, all added to the Vegas Golden Knights roster by general manager George McPhee in the past 10 months. Can you say GM of the year, kids?

Mitch Marner

Quickie question 3: When the time comes to talk turkey, how can les Leafs possibly argue that Mitch Marner doesn’t deserve as much coin as Auston Matthews? Unless they pay by the chin whisker, there’s no measure by which Matthews is worth more than Marner.

Headline in the Globe and Mail after Game 3 of Leafs-Bruins series: “Auston Matthews grabs the playoff spotlight for Maple Leafs.” Good grief. Marner and John Tavares were les Leafs best players, not Matthews.

And, finally, rumor has it that there’ll be a gathering in late May to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of les Jets third and final World Hockey Association championship. Will the current Jets still be in business by then? Yes. Absolutely. But remember, I’m no expert.

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About defining ‘Sedin stuff’…the toughest Swedes, Hedberg and Nilsson…two Swedes, one face, but not the face of hockey in Western Canada…cheering in the Winnipeg press box…Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston and a WHA title…Damien Cox scores a boffo Twitter burn on Randy Turner…talking up a Stanley Cup parade in the Republic of Tranna…lesbians on Hometown Hockey…an ace of a moment for grandpa and grandson Nicklaus…and other things on my mind

I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…

Initially, a great many folks didn’t think Daniel and Henrik Sedin could pull it off.

They were too soft. Too timid. Too unsure. Too Swedish, which, for the less enlightened—like the xenophobic gasbag who occupies the bully pulpit on Hockey Night in Canada—was North American shinny code for cowardly.

Sedin twins

Indeed, after Braydon Coburn declined an opportunity to exchange knuckles with a rag-dolling Brandon Prust during a Tampa Bay Lightning-Montreal Canadiens 2015 playoff match, Don Cherry used his Coachless Corner soapbox to align the Swedes’ name with cowardice, saying, “I will never, ever, want one of my players acting like Coburn here. This is Sedin stuff.”

Well, okay, now that the twins have left the building, let’s try to define “Sedin stuff.”

Admittedly, I only observed them from a distance, but certainly the National Hockey League was better for having Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who took their final bow on Saturday night in Edmonton. They played the game as it’s meant to be played, the same way Jean Beliveau and Wayne Gretzky did. The same way Connor McDavid does, with an emphasis on finesse and flash over fists and felony. That’s “Sedin stuff.” Those who know them best, including news snoops tracking their every mirrored move through 18 years and 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, tell us they were better people than hockey players. Tall praise, given that the Sedins are Art Ross, Hart, Ted Lindsay and King Clancy Trophy recipients. That, too, is “Sedin stuff.”

What really should be celebrated is their strength, a commodity that is not one-size-fits all. Different athletes show it in different ways, some through brawn, others with their brain.

Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson

The two mentally toughest players I ever met and covered were the Winnipeg Jets most-celebrated Swedes, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. They arrived together in the mid-1970s to join les Jets when the World Hockey Association was, on a certain level, a lawless frontier. Animosity born of xenophobia ruled the day and mayhem ensued on the ice. Hedberg and Nilsson were bludgeoned fore and aft by the heavy, wooden weapons wielded by envious, ill-mannered foes with an unreasonable dislike for foreigners. Their battered bodies featured every color of the rainbow, but the bruising wasn’t rainbow pretty. Through it all, Hedberg and Nilsson, both a class act, said nothing of the savagery, at least not on public account. They soldiered on, unwilling to acquiesce to the bullies and thugs and the BS. These were no “chicken Swedes.” They championed a cause and became champions.

Similarly, the Sedin twins have had to put up with a lot of crap, although from a different pile.

The masculinity of Daniel and Henrik often has been brought into question by rivals whose level of humor is on par with schoolyard adolescents, broadcasters who ought to know better, and fans who no doubt are devotees of Adam Sandler’s buffoonish movies.

Dave Bolland, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, called them “sisters” who “probably sleep in a bunk bed” in a radio interview. Not to be outdone, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars took to the airwaves and suggested the Sedins’ relationship was incestuous. Former New York Islanders general manager and TV talking head Mike Milbury called them “Thelma and Louise.” Denis Potvin, a Hall of Fame defenceman working in the Florida Panthers tower of babble-on, labelled Daniel a “lowlife.” During one post-match dustup, Potvin said, “The Sedins are pointing fingers now. Normally they only use those fingers to lick the peanut butter off their bread.” (What the hell does that even mean?) Fans would arrive at the rink wearing t-shirts that read: SEDIN SISTERS 2 GIRLS NO CUP. A Finnish media outlet, Ilta-Sanomat, ran a tasteless piece that featured Sedin Sisters paper doll cutout figures with dresses and high heels. Etcetera, etcetera.

And how did the Sedins respond? By playing hockey. By beating foes the honest way. The Hedberg-Nilsson way. It’s the Swedish way. And that is “Sedin stuff.”

From the department of He Doesn’t Have A Freaking Clue, I give you Frank Seravalli. In an ode to the Sedins, the TSN senior hockey reporter describes the Swedes as “the faces of hockey in Western Canada for much of the 21st century.” Good grief. Quick, someone give the man a copy of Western Canada for Dummies. I mean, there is no known word to describe that level of ignorance. It’s as daft as saying Don Cherry is the voice of Russian hockey. Yes, that dumb. As far as I can tell, (from the experience of living 99.9 per cent of my 67-plus years in Winnipeg, Calgary and Victoria) there’s just one commonality between the rabble on the B.C. coast and the Prairie provinces—a healthy distrust of, and dislike toward, the Republic of Tranna. Otherwise, what happens in Vancouver stays in Vancouver, because few Prairie folk gave a rat’s patoot about the Sedins before they declared their intention to retire last week. They gave them a warm sendoff Saturday night in Edmonton, because that’s the way Prairie folk are, but make no mistake: The Sedins never were the face of the Oilers, Flames or Jets, and last time I looked each of those outfits is based in Western Canada.

Frank Seravalli

If you’re wondering how a TSN reporter could make such a “D’oh!” statement, be advised Seravalli is not of us. He’s an American, born in Bucks County, Pa., just north of Philadelphia, and he was schooled there and in other eastern U.S. outposts. Clearly, he didn’t major in Canadiana. Still, that’s no excuse. I mean, the City of Brotherly Love remains his home base, and I’m guessing no Philly guy, including him, would be so dense as to suggest Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins are the faces of northeastern U.S. hockey. Seravalli’s been to Western Canada. He knows the good people of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton identify with their own players, not two guys on the La La side of the Rocky Mountains. Get with the program, man.

This is rich. In the breezy Say What?! banter between Winnipeg Free Press sports editor Steve Lyons and columnist Paul Wiecek, the former accuses Hockey Night in Canada gab guys Jim Hughson and Scott Simpson of being “homers” and waving blue-and-white Maple Leafs pom-poms when les Jets visited the Republic of Tranna last weekend. “Come on guys, try to refrain from cheering in the press box will ya?” Lyons scribbles. Yet his own guy, Wiecek, has become guilty of shameless pom-pom waving. He writes this of the Jets as they prepare to embark on the Stanley Cup crusade: “Yeah, we want the Cup. More than most, I’d venture. But what we need first is a playoff win. And then another. And another.” He’d like the Jets’ playoff run to last “hopefully weeks.” And “for once it feels like the sporting gods are working in favor of the locals instead of against us.” Us? Us? That isn’t a good look for a sports columnist. Nor for a sports editor who condemns others for cheering in the press box even as his writer does that very thing in print.

Look, I get it. Sports writers are human. Honest, some of them are. They have their favorites and it’s a more enjoyable gig when the locals are successful. I confess now that I wanted the Jets to win the final WHA title. They were a terrific bunch of guys. But the “we” and “us” and “hopefully” stuff has to be left to the rabble and blogs like Arctic Ice Hockey. Or even this blog. Mainstream scribes covering the team, on the other hand, are expected to operate from a platform of objectivity. Well aren’t they?

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Speaking of the WHA’s last act, in which the Jets delivered a championship to River City, this is what sometimes happens when people who weren’t there write history: Mike McIntyre of the Freep scribbled a lengthy piece about past Jets’ post-season activity and mentioned they received “contributions from the likes of Willy Lindstrom, Morris Lukowich and Peter Sullivan” in beating the Quebec Nordiques and Edmonton Gretzkys in the spring of 1979. While true, no review of the Jets’ third WHA title can have the ring of credibility without the mention of Terry Ruskowski and Rich Preston. They were the driving forces. Ruskowski, who basically played the final vs. the Gretzkys with one arm, was an emotional force and led the team with a dozen assists, while Preston, a penalty-killing demon, provided 13 points and was saluted as playoff most valuable player. McIntyre’s failure to acknowledge them is a glaring omission on what went down that spring.

I’m still liking Jets captain Blake Wheeler and his 91 points to be a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. I have, mind you, slightly revised my personal top five: Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, Blake Wheeler, Taylor Hall and Sidney Crosby.

Randy Turner: Burned

Really enjoyed a fun Twitter exchange between Damien Cox of the Toronto Star/Sportsnet and Randy Turner of the Freep.

Turner: “Personally, I’m rooting for a #NHLJets-Leafs Stanley Cup final just so Toronto fans can finally get some much-needed publicity for their hockey team.”

Cox: “Plus it’ll give Winnipeggers a chance to see what the Grey Cup looks like if they come to town for the series.”

Total burn for Cox. Brilliant. Love it, and I’m from Pegtown.

Dumbest headline and article of the week was delivered by Sportsnet: “Thinking about past, and future, Maple Leafs Stanley Cup parades.” The piece is written by former Leafs general manager and Sportsnet chin-wagger Gord Stellick, a great guy who never should have been GM of the Leafs and never should have written that article.

Julie Chu, Caroline Ouellette and Liv

The best from Sportsnet came in the form of a lovely Hometown Hockey feature on same-sex couple Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, and their baby Liv. I’d say we’re making progress when a national sports network doesn’t shy away from talking about married lesbian hockey players/coaches. It was a beautiful bit of work that dampened my eyes.

On the subject of getting teary-eyed, I thought bean counter Scott Foster playing 14 minutes of goal for the Chicago Blackhawks and shutting out the Winnipeg Jets would be the feel-good sports story of the year, but G.T. Nicklaus’s ace on No. 9 in the Masters par-3 tournament has moved to the front of my scorecard. Caddy G.T.’s ace brought grandpa Jack Nicklaus to tears. It was a magic moment.

Apparently, fighting fool Conor McGregor did something really stupid this week. In other news, dog bites man.

Wayne Gretzky

And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: In a Twitter exchange with Heather Marginet re the NHL Hart Trophy, Simmons displayed a shocking lack of knowledge for a national sports columnist.

Marginet: “The 79-80 Oilers finished with 69 points. Significantly worse than this (current) Oilers squad. Gretzky was the Hart.”

Simmons (being sarcastic and dismissive): “They were so bad they played 13 playoff games that year—basically announcing their arrival as a team to reckon with.”

As numerous people eagerly pointed out, Simmons was totally out to lunch. The Oilers, in fact, played just three playoff games that year, not 13. All were losses to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Sports media: Who critiques those who critique?

I have been asked (more than once) why I am such a loud critic of mainstream sports media, most notably the lads who record the daily deeds of play-for-pay practitioners in Winnipeg.

The reason is quite basic: Because they’re there. And, because they’re there, it has long been—and remains—my position that jock sniffers ought not to be exempt from the same performance-based scrutiny and assessments that they themselves place on those who work in the business of frolic, whether their target is a player, coach, management or ownership.

Let’s consider the recent scribblings of Gary Lawless as an e.g.

He has written a stinging, aggressively worded piece advocating the ouster of Gary Etcheverry, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beleaguered defensive co-ordinator. He skewered the man. He wants him fired. No muss, no fuss, just kick him to the curb. Now.

“(Head coach Mike O’Shea) should Band-Aid his defensive co-ordinator and move on,” Lawless writes. “Tear it off quickly to minimize the pain. Keeping Etcheverry on staff is the wrong move from the tactical and survival perspectives. The entire city wants Etcheverry clipped. No one would question the move.”

Lawless cannot be discredited for delivering opinion (assuming it has a foundation in fact and fair analysis). That, of course, constitutes a large part of his gig as main sports voice at the Winnipeg Free Press. It is, however, one thing to act as the self-appointed adjudicant of all things Bombers and quite another to presume to speak for the totality of a populace. While others perhaps share his views, Lawless’s column speaks for himself and the Freep, not an entire city (unless I missed something and he actually won last month’s mayoral election). For him to believe otherwise suggests he is an extremely vain or horribly misguided man.

Those who follow this blog know that Lawless is among my favorite whipping boys. He and Little Stevie Blunder (Steve Simmons of Sun Media) have often been in my crosshairs, for a variety of reasons. Both are columnists and radio/TV commentators. They are public figures who flog other public figures. Thus, I ask: Should it not work both ways?

Ah, but who critiques those who critique?

Where in our newspapers or on their websites do we find writers taking writers to task? William Houston and Bruce Dowbiggen once scribbled sports media columns in the Globe and Mail. Gone. Chris Zelkovich did the same for the Toronto Star. Also gone. The print sports media in Canada does not eat their own. Not publicly, anyway. Privately, it’s a different head of lettuce. They are very much disposed to ransacking the reputations of other scribes.

Bottom line: If it’s sports media critique you seek, there’s only one place it can be found—in the blogosphere. And the MSM guys don’t like it.

I have written that there is no creature roaming the third rock from the sun with thinner skin than a print sports journalist. I have been advised, for example, that Lawless refuses to read my blog because I have been too biting in my criticism. Yet he freely trafficks in naysaying on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

As do most others in sports media.

Last week, I listened to Daren Millard, Scott Morrison and Gord Stellick of Sportsnet criticize the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee for bypassing Eric Lindros yet again. Then I listened to Dave Hodge criticize those who would criticize the HofF selection committee (without naming names, of course).

Yet, no matter how long and hard I search, I cannot locate a sports talk show on Canadian television that critiques sports talk shows on Canadian television.

Mainstream sports media (print division) in our country offers much to critique, not just for what is written and shown, but in its very makeup. It is, for the most part, a fraternity of white heterosexual men. An old boys club, if you will. Females need not apply because we all know women know diddly about sports, and men don’t want their daily dose delivered by a girl. And the thought of a gay man writing sports…ugh. Go cover the ballet, Nancy boy.

It isn’t much different on the electronic side. The chin-waggers on discussion panels are all white heterosexual men, the notable exception being TSN’s Off the Record. Host Michael Lansberg has often featured female voices, but not necessarily media-based female voices.

So, yes, I lift a loud voice in critique of the media. I’ve been there and I’ve done what they’re doing. And if they’re going to be there, I want their there to be top-drawer and all-inclusive.

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.