Let’s talk about the aging of the Winnipeg Jets…to Tokyo in denim…Aaron Rodgers’ sticky notes…MLB grappling with lack of sizzle…old friend Big Jim takes a paddywhacking…Canadian Football Hall of Fame gets it right…what about Tricky Dick Thornton?…nightmare on TSN…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and still no word on the if and when of a CFL season, but here’s something else that’s real iffy…

Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

“I believe we’re close to having a team that has a chance to challenge for the Stanley Cup, and I’m really looking forward to that…we’re a lot closer than some people will give us credit for…I look forward to these next five years.”

Sound familiar? It should.

Blake Wheeler said much the same as Adam Lowry scant seconds after scratching his John Hancock on a six-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets.

Blake Wheeler

“I believe in people like (owner) Mark Chipman and Chevy, what everyone stands for and especially in my teammates. I have believed since I got here that we have what it takes to get to the next level, so this is just a part of that process. I truly believe that great things are in store for this group,” the then-future captain told news snoops.

Wheels was 26 at the time. There will be 35 candles on his birthday cake in August.

Lend an ear to Rink Rat Scheifele who, upon agreeing to an eight-year contract in 2016, expressed a robust belief in “the organization, in the players on the team, in the future prospects.”

The Rink Rat was 23. He’s now 28.

Connor Hellebuyck, the Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, locked in for six years and said, “The tools are in this locker room to be a championship team. I love it here and I want to be here and I really believe this team has what it takes.”

Hellebuyck was 25. He turns 28 next month.

Adam Lowry

And now we have another long-hauler, Lowry, parroting his teammates’ faith in a process that began in 2011 and has delivered the grand sum of two post-season series victories, both in the spring of 2018.

Lowry is 28. The freshly minted contract he signed on Friday will take him to 33.

So what’s my point? Just this: Unless your name is Evander Kane, Jacob Trouba, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine or Jack Roslovic, the Jets have all gulped down the Kool-Aid in a cultish-like obedience. They believe. And that’s the reason what went down at last week’s National Hockey League shop-and-swap deadline rankles.

We know Kevin Cheveldayoff kicked some tires on top-four defencemen, and we know the sticker price sent the Jets general manager running like a guy trying to stay two steps ahead of a loan shark.

We can assume his contemporaries were eager to fleece him and take Ville Heinola, Cole Perfetti and other shiny objects off his hands in exchange for their lame, halting and hard of seeing, but that was never going to happen because Chevy places premium value on his young studs. You might have a better chance of prying his bride, Janet, and their two kids away from him.

Chevy

So it was no sale. Chevy allowed the NHL trade window to close with a whimper, and the Jets are no closer to the Stanley Cup today than a week ago, unless you consider a bottom-end, plug-in blueliner (hello, Jordie Benn) a shiny object.

Oddly enough, many among the rabble, also some news snoops, have given Chevy a tip of the chapeau and a slap on the back for his do-little day, because he “protected assets,” meaning he clung to young wannabes Heinola, Perfetti and others like gum to the bottom of a shoe.

Well let me tell you something about assets: They don’t stay forever young.

Chevy is protecting the future when most of the parts are in place for today’s Jets team. Add the right top-four defender and we might be talking about a parade route. But the Jets GM chose to stand still, even as time refuses to stand still for his significant core workers.

Wheeler’s prime years have been wasted. Scheifele and Hellebuyck are into prime time. Same with Lowry, Andrew Copp and Dylan DeMelo. And don’t look now, but Josh Morrissey is 26.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Which begs this question: If the Jets GM was unwilling to go all-in now, when?

This was the time for derring-do, an opportunity for Chevy to orchestrate what could have become his signature moment, lifting the Jets to that “next level” Wheeler spoke of all those years ago.

Well, here’s something else the captain said, when he re-upped in September 2018: “It kind of looks like that (Stanley Cup) window is opening up.”

Apparently Chevy missed the memo.

I don’t know if the GM will reflect on this crusade five years from now and view it as the one that got away, but Blake Wheeler might. Rink Rat Scheifele, Connor Hellebuyck and others like Lowry who’ve committed long term might, as well.

Chevy should be kicking himself. Right in the assets.

Something Bryan Little said when the Jets’ playoff aspirations had been dashed in March 2017 is haunting: “It’s another year of your career that you can’t get back. Some of the best players in this room are the youngest. There’s definitely a bright future, but some guys are older and want to do something right now. That’s the thinking going into next year.” Little was 29. He’s now 33, wounded beyond repair, and there is no next year. Not for him. But why must it always be “next year” for Scheifele, Hellebuyck, Lowry et al?

As I was saying last week, I don’t buy into the Jack Campbell hype that news snoops in the Republic of Tranna have been spreading like thick, gooey peanut butter. He’s been a career backup goaltender for a reason, and Maple Leafs loyalists are beginning to see why. For all their talent, the Leafs are vulnerable in the blue paint, whereas Hellebuyck gives the Jets the best puck stopping in the Hoser Division (yes, including Carey Price). And we all know what that means when the boys begin to play for keeps, which is the very reason Chevy shouldn’t have dithered last week.

I don’t know about you, but I’m digging the threads our Canadian athletes will be wearing for the closing ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, if there is a Tokyo Olympics, that is. Ya, sure, you can say the denim jacket looks like a teenage graffiti artist had a moment of madness, but I look at it more as a stroke of genius. There’s a youth-cool vibe to the kit, something you might wear on a pub crawl, or wherever it is that our young people go these days. It’s totally boffo compared to the get-ups that noted needle-and-thread guy Ralph Lauren designed for our American friends. I can’t tell if he’s dressed the U.S. team for the next space shuttle mission or an expedition to the South Pole.

I’ll take nose-pickers for $2,000, Alex. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has completed his gig as guest host on Jeopardy!, and he let us in on a little secret about the sticky notes he used to aid his performance. One of them read: “Don’t pick your butt/nose.” Seriously. He needs a sticky note to remind himself not to pick his nose on camera? And the Packers trust Rodgers to call audibles in the red zone?

Curt, Terry, Howie, Michael and Jimmy.

Apparently, producers of Fox NFL Sunday were so impressed with Rodgers’ work on Jeopardy! that they plan to equip Terry Bradshaw with sticky notes to improve his work:
1. “Remember, this ain’t Hee Haw.”
2. “Powder shiny head during every commercial break.”
3. “Do not mention gap in Michael’s teeth.”
4. “Do not laugh at Howie’s 1950s haircut because at least he has hair.”
5. “Resist all urges to muss up Jimmy’s hair.”
6. “Do not tell Rob Riggle he isn’t as funny as Frank Caliendo.”
7. “Remember, guy sitting beside you is Curt, not James.”
8. “Jay Glazer is human, he just looks like a garden gnome.”
9. “Mention four Super Bowl rings whenever Jimmy mentions two Super Bowl rings.”
10. “When in doubt, always refer to sticky note No. 1.”

Favorite headline of the week was delivered by the New York Post: “How Yankees can address their crappiness.” Anything that combines New York Yankees and “crappiness” is right by me, although I’m sure George Steinbrenner’s son Hal wouldn’t agree.

If your product needs to add some sizzle and pizzazz, who you gonna call? Well, Major League Baseball has called Brian Stedman, now responsible for strategy and development. That would be the same Brian Stedman who, for the past seven years, carried the sizzle-and-pizzazz portfolio for Vince McMahon’s cast of characters in World Wrestling Entertainment. That will be quite an adjustment for Stedman. I mean, the play actors in wrestling are allowed to hit each other with everything including the kitchen sink, but the Yankees can’t hit anything.

Old friend Big Jim Bender took a bit of a paddywhacking on Twitter last week, after he made a flippant remark about the Brendan Bottcher foursome failing to win a trinket at the world curling championship but securing an Olympic berth for Canada. “Was the very least they could do,” Big Jim wrote. The Pebble People pounced. Darren Moulding, third on the Bottcher team, called the former Winnipeg Sun scribe “a joke,” adding, “You’re a stain on our country, not me.” Harsh. Olympian and TSN talking head Cheryl Bernard weighed in, describing Bender’s comment as “crap.” Oh my. Who knew the delightful Cheryl could be so undelightful? Anyway, not that he plans to call me to the stand as a character witness, but let the record show that Big Jim is a friend of curler’s everywhere. He’s spent more time in chilly two-sheeters than most people I know, so, as Strother Martin told Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”

Rachel Homan

Speaking of Pebble People, Rachel Homan played in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title match on the final day of February while eight months pregnant. She then went home to bring daughter Bowyn into the world, and now the former Canadian/world champ has returned to the fray, skipping her team in the Humpty’s Champions Cup just three weeks after giving birth. Meanwhile, Kawhi Leonard won’t be available to the L.A. Clippers today because he needs a rest—after sitting the last four games. I swear, if men could get pregnant and give birth, there would be no male sports.

Nobody asked me, but I’d say the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame got it right when they chose Marv Levy, Nik Lewis, Will Johnson, Mike Walker, Orlondo Steinauer, Don Wilson and Doug Mitchell as this year’s inductees. These things are always ripe for debate, of course, and we usually hear some squawking whenever a sports body salutes the best of the best, but I don’t hear any arguments about the class of 2021, nor should there be.

And that’s not to ignore broadcasters Bernie Pascall and Bob Hooper, who got the nod from the Football Reporters of Canada and will go into the CFHF media wing. Hooper was a long-time Hamilton Tabbies play-by-play voice, and Pascall’s career chatting about Rouge Football on radio and TV spans decades. Unfortunately, Bob’s not around to enjoy the honor, but Bernie’s still with us, so he has something fresh to talk about with the neighbors on beautiful Vancouver Island.

Ashley Prest

The CFHF media wing is the ultimate boys’ club. By my scorecard, there are now 101 members, all men. Yup, 101-0. I realize there haven’t been a lot of women on the beat, but in my 19 years covering the Canadian Football League in three cities (Winnipeg, Calgary, Republic of Tranna), I can recall sharing a press box at Grey Cup games with Ashley Prest of the Drab Slab and Joanne Ireland of the Edmonton Journal. Ashley also knew her way around the University of Manitoba campus to cover coach Brian Dobie’s Bisons, and there might be some high school grid in her resumé, too, because that’s what most of us did back in the day. We started at the bottom and worked our way up. So it seems to me that the boys on the beat should find room for trailblazers like Ashley or Joanne.

Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna has made his annual plea for Dick Thornton’s induction to the CFHF, and I can’t disagree with Sy. Tricky Dick certainly has the bona fides, including two Grey Cup victories with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and multiple all-star salutes, and he also happens to be one of the more colorful characters in CFL lore. Legendary Bombers coach Bud Grant once said this of his defensive back/wannabe quarterback/kick returner/kicker: “When most players arrive in a new town, the first thing they do is phone a girl. When Dick Thornton arrives, he phones a sports writer.”

Tricky Dick had an ego the size of a football field, and here’s how the great columnist Jack Matheson once described him in the Winnipeg Tribune: “The writers and broadcasters treat No. 14 with considerable respect because he’s hot copy, in or out of uniform. His eccentricities are always guaranteed to liven a dull scene and for conversation Thornton holds all records for Blue Bombers of the modern era. The conversation always seems to revolve around Dick Thornton, but he has a magnetism and I’ve never seen anybody walk away from Dick Thornton when his mouth was open.” Another time, Matty wrote this of Thornton: “An incurable extrovert who played harder with his larynx than his limbs.”

Final note on Dick Thornton: The Bombers traded him to the Toronto Argos the same day the Maple Leafs cleared the track and sent Eddie Shack to the Boston Bruins. I guess the Republic of Tranna just wasn’t big enough for two clown acts.

Gino Button and James McKenzie, or is it Craig Reda and Bob Duthie? Either way, it’s scary, kids.

Still getting creepy vibes from those face mashups TSN featured on its NHL trade deadline coverage. It’s clever work by Matty Go Sens, but morphing the faces of Gino Reda and Craig Button into one is the kind of stuff that will keep kids awake at night. Ditto the James Duthie/Bob McKenzie blending. I haven’t been so frightened since Alfred Hitchcock had all those nasty birds attack Tippi Hedren.

This from Steve Simmons: “The top four goaltenders in all-time wins are Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo and now Marc-Andre Fleury. All of them Quebecois. And there’s not a single Quebec goalie of consequence (apologies to Jonathan Bernier) playing in today’s NHL.” Hmmm. Last time I checked, Marc-Andre Fleury was still a Quebecois and leading the NHL in shutouts.

Patrick Marleau will lace ’em up for his 1,768th NHL skirmish on Monday night, moving past Gordie Howe for most games played. It’s a terrific achievement. Worth noting, however, are their birth certificates. Howe was 52 when he finally shut down, Marleau is 41. And, at 52, Howe was a significant contributor for the Hartford Whalers, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in 80 games, plus another two points in three playoff jousts. Marleau is 4-4-8 in what looks to be another lost season for the San Jose Sharks.

And, finally, on the subject of legendary performers, I discovered a DVD of Tony Bennett: An American Classic at a local video story the other day, and I snapped it up immediately. Fan-freaking-tastic. Tony’s duets with Barbra Streisand and our Canadian songbird k.d. lang brought on the water works (sheer brilliance renders me very emotional), and there was only one sour note struck—the November 2006 TV special was far too short, just 42 minutes. I wanted at least an hour more.

Let’s talk about the NFNFL (No Fans, No Football League)…COVID on the West Coast…The Rock and the Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop…an all-Easter sports lineup…Tiger’s tight lips…Men In Green Jackets chow down…a “huggable” Blue Jay…the Boston D’oh Boys…and other things on my mind

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and Happy Easter; may you find all those hidden eggs while I lay another one…

Okay, we knew there would be at least six zeroes on the bottom line of the Winnipeg Football Club’s 2020 operation, and we knew all those zeroes would be written in red ink, if not blood.

So the $7,000,000 bath the Blue Bombers took shouldn’t surprise any among us, except perhaps those who believe in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and The Rock as a turn-red-ink-into-black-ink Messiah of the Canadian Football League.

Some might even put on a pair of rose-tinted glasses and look at the financial wallop WFC took as favorable tidings because, even with a lost crusade due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a $7 million shortfall, the doors remain open out there at postal code R3T 1Z2 on Chancellor Matheson Road in Fort Garry. That the community-operated Bombers remain in business is a testament to the dollars-and-cents gymnastics of once-maligned CEO Wade Miller and the board.

Mind you, it’s good news like a guy who had his arms and legs shattered in a car accident, but he’s happy he didn’t break his nose, even if he can’t blow it without someone holding the hanky.

Wade Miller

And, really, that’s what the Bombers and their eight partners in Rouge Football require today—help.

As mentioned last week, the CFL is in an arms race, as in vaccines in arms. It’s become the NFNFL—No Fans, No Football League—so the immediate future of our quirky game rests in the hands of needle-pushers hither and yon.

Trouble is, the number of COVID vaccinations required to make football fields across the tundra fan friendly is a mystery.

When I last looked, 13.4 per cent of the citizenry in Manitoba had been vaccinated, so let’s say 80 per cent in Good Ol’ Hometown have been jabbed by June. Is that ample enough to get the turnstiles spinning at Football Follies Field In Fort Garry? If so, how many would be cleared to visit the Rum Hut and watch the large lads grab grass? Will they require a proof-of-vaccine badge? Also, keep in mind there’s no guarantee the faithful will rush back to the ball yard. After all, the thought of joining a large gathering likely will make some among the rabble quite antsy, like a Hertz rent-a-car clerk seeing Tiger Woods approach the counter.

Miller, of course, was talking a good game the other day, assuring Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun that “we’re going to get on the field,” and telling Taylor Allen of the Drab Slab “we’re getting ready to play with fans in the stands.”

I want to believe him. I really do. But we all know the harsh reality: The Bombers CEO doesn’t control the vaccine rollout in Manitoba, let alone across the dominion.

What’s happening in Winnipeg isn’t necessarily what’s happening in Vancouver or the Republic of Tranna, not that anyone other than friends and family in those latter two ports-o-call gives a damn about Rouge Football. Point is, we have six different provincial health authorities receiving an unequal number of vaccine shipments and poking needles into arms in accordance to their parochial priorities.

Furthermore, there seems to exist a bit of a helter-skelter vibe to the vaccine rollout nation-wide, and that certainly doesn’t help the CFL put its house in order or butts on benches.

Cardboard cutouts don’t cut it. They don’t drink beer, they don’t eat hot dogs or popcorn, and they don’t buy $250 jerseys. They just mean no long lineups at the washrooms.

So, really, it’s vaccines or bust on a 2021 CFL crusade. In other words: Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls…present arms!

So here’s another question: Can Rouge Football kick off a 2021 crusade if the Bombers were allowed to welcome, say, 8,250 patrons (25 per cent capacity) to Football Follies Field while the B.C. Leos, Tranna Argos and Montreal Larks grab grass in empty buildings? I know, I know. The Leos and Argos are accustomed to crowds the size of a yard sale, and the folks in Montreal only pay attention when the Larks are winning, so an imbalance at the box office already exists. But can the CFL allow some teams to collect game-day revenue while others must keep their tills closed? I think not.

Frankly, I’m most concerned about B.C. If the Leos fail to get the okie-dokie for patrons in B.C. Place Stadium, do they take a leave of absence rather than pay 50-plus players’ wages with zero game-day revenue? Does the CFL shrink to an eight-team operation for a year? I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss that possibility. Keep in mind that B.C.’s top docs wanted no part of an NHL bubble last summer, and they’ll be less inclined to green light a Rouge Football season now that the coronavirus and its variants have ransacked the Vancouver Canucks roster. I mean, if the bug(s) can’t be kept at bay in the Canucks’ rigidly controlled environment, what chance would the Leos have with twice as many players wandering about the burg? B.C. health officials talk about the vaccine rollout being completed by the end of June, but what they really mean is sometime in July. The Leos allegedly gather for training sessions next month, they allegedly have a dress rehearsal at an empty facility on June 4, and they allegedly begin playing for full wages (three times) later that month. Do the math. I’m sure the guardians of the late David Braley’s estate have done that very thing and don’t like the numbers.

We have yet to hear 2020 bottom-line numbers from our prairie friends in Edmonton and on the Flattest of Lands, but we can assume they’ll be dripping in as much red ink as WFC. We already know that most, if not all, of the E-Town E-Somethings’ $12.9 million rainy day fund has vanished like summer wages, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders face their “biggest financial crisis in 110 years,” according to team president Craig Reynolds. Sigh. If only there was a Sugar Daddies ‘R’ Us shop available to the three community-operated clubs. Oh wait. Isn’t that where The Rock is supposed to come in?

Apparently The Rock and his accomplices, Dany Garcia/RedBird Capital, continue to make nice with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the Lords of Rouge Football, working toward a CFL-XFL alliance. But what do they actually bring to the table? Well, yes, their pockets are coal-miner deep, but they offer a twice-failed brand name, zero franchises, zero players, and the hope of springtime football, which has always landed in the gridiron graveyard. Sorry, but short of them underwriting all CFL-XFL losses, I fail to see the upside.

Moving on from the CFL, here’s my all-time, all-Easter-themed lineup:
10. Bunny Ahearne, longtime IIHF executive
9. Rabbit Maranville, baseball player
8. Bugsy Watson, hockey player
7. Luke Easter, baseball player
6. The Eggman, golfer Dan Halldorson
5. Christian Laettner, hoops player
4. Roman Gabriel, football player
3. Jesus Alou, baseball player
2. God Shammgod, hoops player
1. Connor McJesus, Edmonton Oilers messiah.

Officials have determined the cause of Tiger Woods’ car crash in February, but they’ll keep it on the QT until the golf great gives them the okie-dokie to release the information. Hmmm. I wonder which will arrive first, details of Tiger driving his SUV into a ditch or Haley’s Comet, due on July 28, 2061. My money’s on the comet.

Hey, I’m not saying Tiger is tight-lipped, but a bag of airline peanuts is easier to pry apart than his lips.

Just wondering: Do you think Woods will have hired a chauffeur by July 28, 2061?

So here’s some real dirt on Jack Nicklaus, told by the man himself on Twitter: “I was a switch-hitting catcher growing up & and if I hadn’t chosen golf baseball might’ve been my future. But I never liked standing around on a dusty field waiting for 10 kids to show up. With golf, it was me against myself, my own abilities & the course. But I still loved baseball!” Ya, almost as much as he loves Donald Trump.

I assume the Golden Bear will be at Augusta National this week to put on the feedbag at the Men In Green Jackets chow-down in advance of The Masters. It’s officially known as the Masters Club Dinner, but you don’t get a seat at the table unless you’re wearing one of those ugly green jackets that champions are allowed to wear only at Augusta (tie optional). The Men In Green Jackets menu was chosen this year by the reigning Man In Green, Dustin Johnson. What, no greens?

What’s this? Connor McDavid went McSquirrely the other night? Sure did. The Oilers captain shoved his right elbow into Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s chops, and I couldn’t have been more surprised had I found a copy of Sinatra: The Rapper Years at my local vinyl store. The reaction, on the other hand, was not unexpected. Some among the rabble were calling for the hangman, and to them I say, “Come on, people.” I mean, Gordie Howe is glorified to this day for using his elbows to perform unlicensed dental surgery on foes. Rumor has it that Mr. Hockey nailed two pallbearers and the grave digger as they lowered his casket. And now you want to crucify McDavid for one errant elbow? Hey, I’m no fan of goon hockey, but he isn’t Charlie Manson. He did it, he’s paid his $5,000 fine, so let’s move on.

The “huggable” Alejandro Kirk.

Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star wrote this about Toronto Blue Jays pudgy catcher Alejandro Kirk last week: “Kirk is immensely huggable.” Nothing offensive, right? But let me ask this: If a male jock journo used the same adjective to describe our leading lady of the links, Brooke Henderson, would he be branded a sexist oinker? Damn straight, he would. And that would be unfortunate. Descriptive scribbling in sports has become passé, if not a lost art, in our daily newspapers. The boys on the beat don’t dare write that our Brooke is “huggable,” for fear of a robust and thorough tarring-and-feathering on social media. So they simply write about birdies, bogeys and unplayable lies. But wait. Brooke Henderson is a delight. She seems very approachable. She smiles a lot. She has that squeaky clean, girl-next-door quality. Every time I see her, I want to pinch her chipmunk cheeks. She strikes me as teddy bear “huggable.” Why shouldn’t the boys on the beat feel comfortable writing that about Brooke the person? It’s no more sexist than Rosie DiManno telling us that Alejandro Kirk is “huggable.”

Mathew Barzal

So I’m watching Mathew Barzal rack up the points (three goals, two helpers) in the New York Islanders 8-3 rout of the Washington Capitals the other night, and I couldn’t help but flash back to the 2015 National Hockey League entry draft. The Boston Bruins had three successive shoutouts that day, Nos. 13, 14 and 15. They chose Jakob Zboril, Jake DeBrusk and Zachary Senyshyn, otherwise known as the Boston D’oh! Boys. DeBruck is the only one of the three who’s been worth half a lick. Meanwhile, plucked immediately after were Barzal, Kyle Connor and Thomas Chabot. Here’s what the scorecard looks like today:

Barzal: 272 games, 241 points.
Conner: 287 games, 237 points.
Chabot: 240 games, 142 points.
Totals: 799 games, 620 points.

DeBrusk: 224 games, 127 points.
Zboril: 34 games, 7 points.
Senyshyn: 12 games, 3 points.
Totals: 270 games, 137 points.

Damien Cox of the Toronto Star might have established a new standard for poor taste in tweets when discussing the Vancouver Canucks and their raging COVID crisis, which has shelved the entire operation and puts the club’s season in jeopardy. Noting that Iain MacIntyre of Sportsnet suggested the Canucks schedule could be tweaked by eliminating four games vs. the Ottawa Senators late this month and replacing them with skirmishes vs. playoff-bound outfits, Cox had this horrible hot take: “The question then becomes are you handicapping those playoff bound teams by forcing them to play against a VAN team that’s more rested than it otherwise would be?” Seriously? Lying in a sick bed with an IV needle stuck in your arm or hand becomes a competitive advantage? It makes you more rested? My goodness. When someone is that tuned out, there are no words.

Here are the numbers for coverage devoted exclusively to female athletes/teams in the Winnipeg Sun and Drab Slab for March:

Front Page
Free Press: 4
Sun: 1

Articles
Free Press: 35 stories, 20 briefs.
Sun: 4 stories, three briefs.

Number of issues with female coverage
Free Press: 27 of 31 days.
Sun: 6 of 31 days.

And, finally, I give up. Why was there a promo for Steve Simmons on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun last Tuesday? He is a Tranna-based scribe, he writes a Tranna-centric column, he mentions athletes/teams from Good Ol’ Hometown in his alphabet pharts perhaps half a dozen times a year, and the local tabloid seldom runs his copy. Yet there was his scruffy mug on the front page of the Winnipeg Sun. This makes sense to whom, other than the misguided suits at Postmedia HQ on Bloor Street East in the Republic of Tranna?

Let’s talk about Josh Morrissey and Winnipeg Jets goats…the Toronto Star spending NHL money…second jobs…Red Sox air traffic control…the Kentuky (sic) Derby in Kentucky…Stamps or Raps?…and Felix gets the King of Clay in Madrid

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and, yes, it’s still morning where I live…

Okay, here’s what I want to know: What did Josh Morrissey do to tick off anyone? Hike gas prices? Steal nickels and dimes from panhandlers in Osborne Village? Say women’s hockey sucks?

Whatever the misdeed, there are folks who want young Josh on the next stagecoach out of Dodge.

Josh Morrissey

And, for me, that’s what jumped out as I scanned the results of the Winnipeg Sun You Be the Boss survey, in which the rabble were invited to play Puck Pontiff and suggest who among the Winnipeg Jets should stay or go.

The rest of it, I get.

The faithful, for example, have seen and heard enough of Jacob Trouba. Ditto Charlie Huddy. Well duh. Those two are to Jets loyalists what Trudeau II is to Saudi Alberta, and it doesn’t matter that Trouba just completed the most-productive crusade of his National Hockey League career.

Fact is, the young defender once requested a one-way ticket out of town and, when asked, Trouba refuses to express warm and fuzzy feelings for River City, a dismissive attitude that never plays well in a burg that leads the league in inferiority complex (ask old friend Evander Kane about that).

Paul Maurice and Charlie Huddy.

Huddy, meanwhile, holds the defence coaching portfolio and, since les Jets so often come across as Keystone Kopish behind the blueline, he takes the rap. Mind you, some longtime devotees never have warmed to Huddy simply because they can’t get past his alliance with the 1980s Edmonton Gretzkys. If you’re too young to recall those dark days, be advised that the Gretzkys made annual spring sport of les Jets, bullying them as if part of a college hazing ritual.

No surprise, therefore, that 78 per cent of 4,598 respondents want Trouba kicked to the curb, while 51 per cent would prefer that Huddy clear out his desk. (Note: He’s the only member of head coach Paul Maurice’s staff they want removed.)

Jacob Trouba: No warm and fuzzies.

But this Morrissey thing baffles me. The guy is boy-next-door likable. I bet he shoveled the neighbor’s sidewalk as a kid. Gratis. Likely mowed the lawn, too. You could create a sitcom based on him: Everybody Loves Josh. Except everyone doesn’t.

The question was simple: Should he stay or should he go? A whopping 98 per cent say Trouba’s top-pair defence partner is a keeper. Works for me. So who is the 2 per cent? And how did Morrissey possibly rub those 92 people the wrong way?

The survey results don’t provide those kind of answers, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. I mean, as long as Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff aren’t among the 92, Morrissey isn’t going anywhere.

Kyle Connor

Noteworthy was the Kyle Connor-Patrik Laine finding. That is, given a choice of one or the other restricted free agent, the rabble would prefer to keep Connor by a 61-31 percentage. That’s not surprising. It’s all about expectations, of course, and Puck Finn’s are sky high. Connor’s not so much. He scores 34 goals and the hosannahs ring out from hither and yon. Puck Finn, meanwhile, scores 30 and the sky is falling. It doesn’t help, mind you, that Laine basically dogged it for 2-3 months during the recently concluded crusade.

Also noteworthy is the number of respondents to the Sun survey. The 4,598 is dwarfed by a similar You Be the Boss study undertaken by its sister paper in Edmonton, where 9,250 angry Oilers fans had their say. That could mean a few things: a) the folks in E-Town are more PO’d that the rabble in River City; b) the E-Sun circulation is considerably larger than the W-Sun; c) they care more in E-Town; d) Winnipeggers have better things to do than fill out survey forms once the grass is riz.

Well, another newspaper editorial board is telling the 32 NHL owners how to spend their money. This time it’s the Toronto Star, where the Lords and Ladies of One Yonge Street have weighed in on the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a player boycott: “The players who built the league—and kept it afloat with plenty of their own money, earned through the second jobs they all had to have, just to play professional women’s hockey in this country—deserve so much better than this. A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path. It really is time for a $5-billion enterprise that claims “Hockey is for Everyone” to do something to make that sound a little less hollow for half the population.” Hmmm. I hardly think a private business that laid off 52 employees in summer 2018 and another 21 in June of last year is positioned to lecture another private business. And if the Star is so keen on resurrecting the CWHL, perhaps it can pony up $100,000 to put the Tranna Furies back in business.

Ken Ploen

Too much is being made of women’s hockey players needing to hold down second jobs to pay the bills. That’s as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock strap, and it’s never been limited to shinny. Ken Ploen had a day job throughout his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Ditto teammate Cec Luining, known as the Selkirk Milkman because he really was a milkman with the family dairy operation in Selkirk. New York Giants linebacker great Sam Huff bagged groceries. Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan worked at a gas station and installed air conditioning. Another hurler, Harvey Haddix, delivered heating oil. Jon Cornish, while leading the Canadian Football League in rushing, worked two six-hour shifts per week as a bank teller. Many CFL players still have second jobs. So it shouldn’t be included in the women’s hat-in-hand argument.

The Boston Red Sox wrap up a road trip on Wednesday in Baltimore, then break ranks to board two charter flights—one taking manager Alex Cora and seven players home to Beantown, the other carrying the remaining World Series champions to the capital for a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Trump at the White House. Final score at the D.C. airport: Red Sox 18, Air Force One.

Donald Trump

Got a kick out of the Trumpster tweeting about Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, which he pooh-poohed for its controversial ending. He spelled the state “Kentuky” and “Kentucky” in his original tweet, then someone made a correction on the first “Kentuky.” But, hey, don’t call it a spelling mistake. Trump aide Kellyanne Conway insists the Command-in-Chief was simply providing “alternative facts.”

What would a week be without some asinine scribblings from the Republic of Tranna? Here’s Michael Grange of Sportsnet on the Toronto Raptors: “You can make the case that they’ve been the most successful Canadian sports franchise for the last several seasons.”

Deep sigh.

Here’s what the Raptors have won in the past five seasons:
National Basketball Association titles: 0.
NBA final appearances: 0.
NBA Eastern Conference titles: 0.
Atlantic Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.

Here’s what the Calgary Stampeders have won in the past five seasons:
Canadian Football League titles: 2.
Grey Cup game appearances: 4.
West Division titles: 4.
First-place finishes: 4.

I’d say two league titles and four championship game appearances trumps zero every time. But, then, the CFL is like curling to news snoops in The ROT—it doesn’t exist.

And, finally, the good news is that our terrific tennis teen Felix Auger-Aliassime has advanced to the round of 32 at the Madrid Open. The bad news is he has a date with the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, on Wednesday.

About the NHL “code,” the Coyote and the Roadrunner…the Dinosaurs 3…earning R-E-S-P-E-C-T…zip those lips…J.T. and his PJs in The ROT…the Packers and the Raiders in the Peg…and are they really still curling?

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s baseball season, so I believe I’ll enjoy the ceremonial first hot dog today…

Let’s play Jeopardy!

Contestant: “I’ll take ‘NOT THE SHARPEST KNIFE IN THE DRAWER’ for $2,000, please Alex.”

Alex Trebek: “Okay, here’s your clue: This is the only group of people on earth known to be dumber than a doorknob, dumber than a sack of hammers, and dumber than Fox News.”

Contestant: “Who are the people sitting in the front row at a Donald Trump rally?”

Alex Trebek: “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s incorrect. While those folks definitely aren’t very bright, the correct answer is: Who are National Hockey League players?”

Yes, kids, let’s face it, your hockey heroes are D’oh! boys. The biggest D’oh! boys in all of jockdom. I mean, we’re talking Homer Simpson dumb.

I say that because they believe they’re obliged to fight, and nowhere else in professional team sports do you find athletes so easily duped.

Look at football. Very physical sport. Dirty, gnarly sport. On a play-by-play basis, it’s far more violent than hockey. Blind-sided quarterbacks are cold-cocked constantly. Ditto defenceless receivers. But they rarely come up chucking knuckles. If fists do fly, the combatants are dismissed pronto because fisticuffs is taboo.

Basketball? It can get right nasty under the bucket, with elbows and forearms crunching into jaws, cheekbones and bent noses. Knees dig into groins. But the tall lads seldom feel obliged to throw down. When they do, they’re gone.

Nolan’s noogies.

Baseball? You hit my batter with a thrown ball, I’ll hit your batter with a thrown ball. Then the benches clear, the boys slap and push one another (unless it’s Nolan Ryan delivering serious noogies to Robin Ventura), and the men in blue give the offending parties the rest of the day off.

But in the NHL, there’s a “code.” The “code” is as old as Gordie Howe’s first jock, and it’s misguided vigilantism on blades.

To wit:

You hit me with a cheap shot—or hit me legally but too hard for my liking—and I now must knock your block off. If not me, one of my guard dogs will take care of business. Might not do it immediately. Might not do it that same night. Might have to wait a year. But someone is coming after you and you better not turn tail when challenged. You want the respect of friend, foe and fan? Only way is to “man up.” That’s the “code.”

Well, the “code” is stupid and so are hockey players for following it.

A woozy Paul Byron.

The “code” has ended careers (hello, Steve Moore) and it took Paul Byron out of the Montreal Canadiens lineup last week because he felt obliged to accept MacKenzie Weegar’s invitation to go dukes up. It doesn’t matter that Byron weighs a buck 60—about 40 pounds less than the Florida Panthers defender—and gives away four inches in height. Nor did it matter that he’d already served a three-game sentence and taken a sizable wallop to his wallet for an illegal hit on Weegar in January. There’s league-mandated accountability, then there’s law-of-the-jungle accountability.

So, ya, Byron dropped his mitts…then swallowed the knuckles on Weegar’s left fist and wobbled off the freeze, presumably to a very quiet room with no windows and all the lights turned off. Post-concussion, he was unavailable to les Canadiens on Thursday night in Columbus, where they lost to the Blue Jackets in a skirmish that carried considerable playoff significance, and there was no sign of him at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night when the Habs tried their luck vs. the Winnipeg Jets.

All that because Byron has been duped into believing he had no choice but to “man up” to the “code.”

“It’s been in the game forever,” one of his teammates, Andrew Shaw, said matter-of-factly.

Ya, and Wile E. Coyote has been chasing the Roadrunner forever, no matter how many sticks of dynamite blow up in his face or how many Acme anvils fall on his head. He just keeps coming back for more. Because Wile E. is really, really dumb.

So what does the Byron-Weegar scenario tell us about hockey players? Just that they’re as dumb as the most pathetic cartoon character ever created.

Brian Burke

Naturally, the Dinosaurs 3—Don Cherry, Brian Burke, Nick Kypreos—weighed in on Byron-Weegar, and it was no surprise to hear their knuckles scraping the floor as they spoke.

Here’s Cherry: “I know it’s hard for people to, you know, it’s a code and all that stuff and everythink, he had to do it, he had to stand up, and I know the players respect him more. I know you people put down the code, it’s a code and it’ll always BE THERE.”

Here’s Burke: “(Byron) wasn’t compelled to take this fight. He took it, and I respect him for doing it. He does not have to take the fight. He does not have to take this fight. But keep in mind, in our league, historically, we have allowed the players to use self help, we have allowed the players to regulate, extensively, the level of violence that occurs on the ice. This is a good tradition, the code works, the injury’s unfortunate.”

Nick Kypreos

Here’s Kypreos: “I had a lot of respect for Paul Byron, I have more for him today because of that.”

Well, isn’t that comforting for Byron to know. I’m sure he’ll sleep more soundly at night now that he’s earned a higher level of respect from a former thug who, when last seen on an NHL freeze, was lying face down and unconscious as blood oozed from his mouth. How did Kypreos get there? He lost an argument with Ryan VandenBussche’s left fist, whereupon a neurosurgeon suggested he get on with life, one that didn’t include disputes settled with bare knuckles. Yet here he is, 22 years later, faithfully clinging to and preaching the “code.” Also praising the latest victim.

Like I said, dumb.

The end of Nick Kypreos’ career.

I agree, it’s illogical that a guy whose career ended in a pool of his own blood would use his Sportsnet pulpit to repeatedly and, without apology, advocate violence. It’s like the victim of a drunk driver promoting “one more for the road.” But here’s where Kypreos confirms he has truly lost the plot.

“Two things I wanna tell people,” he said on Hockey Central At Noon, as if delivering a sermon. “When you step on the ice to play the game of hockey, two things a player always remembers: That you’re either trying to earn respect, or you’re trying to maintain respect. Okay? People don’t understand that, that aren’t there, and they never will because you gotta be there to understand that.”

How arrogant. Because 99.99999 per cent of us never laced ’em up in the NHL we know nothing about earning or maintaining respect? Perhaps Kypreos can tell that to any female news snoop who’s been assigned to cover men’s sports. Earning respect is an every-day, never-ending challenge for them. Same goes for female fire fighters and cops. Ditto openly gay athletes. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, actors, singers, artists, writers, parents—women and men—we all strive for respect. The difference, of course, is that we don’t feel the need to punch anyone in the face to achieve it.

Kypreos is either delusional or a damn fool, and I’m inclined to believe it’s the latter.

J.P. Barry

Offering an anti-goon voice in the discussion was J.P. Barry, who represents Byron and called out the “code” for what it is: A sham. Bogus. “I’m sure you will hear from many others who see things much differently than me and will say ‘look at Paul Byron, what a warrior, he answered the bell.’” Barry said. “These are the people that believe in the old ‘code.’ It’s time for Player Safety to be the new ‘code.’ What really matters is eliminating avoidable concussions wherever we can in our player safety rules going forward.” Imagine that, a voice of reason. To which Burke responded: “J.P. should have kept his mouth shut.” That’s rich. A guy who now makes his living as a squawk box is telling others to zip their lips. What freaking ever.

John Tavares

Astonishing headline on the Sportsnet website last week: “Tavares’ excellent season with the Maple Leafs flying under the radar?” They were kidding, right? Nope. On the Tim & Sid chin-wag, the boys discussed John Tavares being “overlooked.” Said Sid: “I can’t believe I’m about to say this—there’s been so much other stuff—he has been overlooked to a certain extent.” Oh, pu-leeze. The leading goal-scorer with the Tranna Maple Leafs has been “overlooked” like the moon landing and the JFK assassination. His name has been in more headlines than Robert Mueller’s. Cripes, man, how often have we seen that pic of J.T. in his PJs? A dozen? Two dozen? Until I see Connor McDavid or Sidney Crosby in a onesy, no player in the Republic of Tranna is “overlooked.” Ever. And certainly not by Leafsnet.

Aaron Rodgers

What’s this? The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are in discussions to bring the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders to Good Ol’ Hometown for a National Football League preseason skirmish? Please, say it ain’t so. I mean, what if the Raiders refuse to leave?

Interesting tweet from Winnipeg FC voice Knuckles Irving on the Packers-Raiders invading three-down country: “Any CFL team that offers to host an NFL pre season (sic) game should have their franchise revoked. And I might not just be kidding.” I agree with Knuckles. But only if we get to keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

And, finally, now that the Major League Baseball season is upon us, shouldn’t the curling season be over? Will anyone actually be watching the men’s world championship from Lethbridge? I can’t imagine that it’s must-see TV for many folks, not even hard-core Pebble People on the Prairies.

About Puck Finn and sports folklore from “back in the day” in Good Ol’ Hometown

Many years from now, when people of a certain vintage gather to advise young’uns what it was like “back in the day,” Patrik Laine surely will occupy a place in the spinning of yarns.

The tales the elders tell will be tall and, no doubt, embellished to the point whereby Puck Finn is remembered as a larger-than-life National Hockey League player who, when not scoring goals, rescued babies from burning buildings and single-handedly dug a mile-wide trench around Duff’s Ditch to spare River City from cataclysmic spring flooding.

Puck Finn

“I was there when he dug that trench,” they’ll swear. “Took him a week. And danged if he didn’t go out an hour after putting down his shovel and score five goals on five shots. I was there when that happened, too. Still have the ticket stub to prove it.”

And that’s okay. It’s what us old farts do. We traffic in folklore and expect whippersnappers to accept that everything “back in the day” was better than everything today.

I recall my oldest son, for example, sitting at the dinner table in the mid-1980s and pooh-poohing the notion that Gordie Howe might have been a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky.

“What did Howe ever do that was so great?” he asked with considerable adolescent cheek and a smirk that needed to be wiped from his face.

“Excuse me? What did Gordie Howe do?” I replied, almost choking on my pork chop. “You mean aside from the six scoring titles, the six MVPs, the four Stanley Cup rings, the five goal-scoring titles, the most goals and points in the history of hockey, the 20 all-star teams? You mean aside from all that? And let me tell you something else…Gretzky was spoiled as a kid. His dad built him a rink in his back yard. Mr. Hockey—that’s Gordie Howe—wasn’t spoiled. He had to trudge two miles barefoot through three feet of snow just to get to the rink and back when he was a kid. All of us kids had to do that.”

Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe

My boy bowed his head. He had been properly chastised, yet he remained unconvinced of Howe’s superiority before finishing the last of his green peas and slinking off to the living room.

“Gretzky’s better,” were his defiant, parting words, “and I don’t believe that stuff about Howe walking barefoot in the snow. I’m sure they had buses back then.”

“They did, but Howe got kicked off for elbowing all the other boys,” I replied.

Similar tall tales will be told about Patrik Laine, his five goals on five shots in Winnipeg Jets’ 8-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues last weekend destined to be included in the I-was-there-when-it-happened folklore 40-50 years hence.

And that set me to thinking…

I began watching and following River City athletes more than 60 years ago, in the mid-1950s just as Billy Mosienko was returning to Good Ol’ Hometown to join Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League. So I’ve seen some jocks. And these are the 10 I mention most when asked about the way it was “back in the day.”

  • Ken Ploen

    Kenny Ploen: Once upon a time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won the Grey Cup. Repeatedly. And Ploen was usually at the forefront of those powerful 1950s-60s Canadian Football League outfits—as a quarterback, a defensive back, or both. Oh, yes, Ploen played two ways. Sometimes in the same game. And he was an all-star at both positions. He also might be the nicest man alive. I recall riding my bike, twice a day, out to Packers Field in St. Boniface during Bombers training camp. I’d ask Mr. Ploen for his autograph after each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Every day for a week. He never once declined my request for his signature.

  • Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Hedberg was a cheetah on skates. Nilsson had four eyes, two in the front of his head and two in the back. The Shoe was short and squat, kind of like Barney Rubble. It was as if an unseen giant had put his thumb on the top of the Shoe’s head and squashed him. But move the puck? The best. And the beatings those Swedish boys took from North American ruffians after joining the Jets in the World Hockey Association? Rented mules don’t get whacked that often.

  • Terry Sawchuk

    Terry Sawchuk: The great goalie grew up in the same area of town as I did, East Kildonan. When I began playing Little NHL hockey at Melrose Park, rumor had it that a pair of goalie pads we used once belonged to Sawchuk. That set of pillows had magical, mystic powers. The kid who wrapped the Sawchuk pads around his legs always got a shutout. Honest. He did.

  • Donny Lalonde: I remember the first time I saw the Golden Boy working out in a firehall-turned gym, his every move in concert with the sound of Bob Dylan’s great album Infidels. He struck me as kind of scrawny for a light-heavyweight boxer. He wasn’t much of a ring technician. And he fought with his left arm tied behind his back. But his one good arm won a world championship and he became just the second man to floor the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard.

  • Bluto

    Chris Walby: If it’s possible for anyone to actually be larger than life, Bluto is your man. He went from total junior hockey goon with the West Kildonan North Stars to a career as arguably the best offensive lineman in CFL history. He later became a talking head on CBC football coverage, mangling the English language while actually making sense. If you ever see Walby, check out his hands. His fingers are as gnarled and as bent as tree bark. They’ve been broken more often than a politician’s promises.

  • Jeff Stoughton: A curler who didn’t drink. Go figure. And I don’t recall ever hearing cuss words escape his lips. That certainly made him suitable for mixed company and, in fact, mostly forgotten is that his breakthrough on the national stage came in the mixed game, where he skipped his rink to a pair of Canadian titles before beginning his run as the most successful male curler in a curling-rich province. His spin-o-rama delivery is legendary.

  • The Finnish Flash

    Teemu Selanne: I’m not convinced that the Finnish Flash actually happened. I mean, 76 goals and 132 points as an NHL rookie? Go on. You’re making that up. That’s pure fiction. But it’s not. Teemu actually did it in real life, not PlayStation. Then—poof!—he was gone, like Col. Flagg on M*A*S*H.

  • Vic Peters: Like Selanne, seemingly too good to have been real. Forget that he was a champion curler. Vic was the loveliest of lads. A total people person who, when not winning curling championships or making pebbled ice, could be found at Larters or The Meadows golf courses, grooming the fairways/greens or playing a few holes while still wearing his superintendent’s galoshes. If K. Ploen isn’t the nicest man, Vic was and he left us far too soon.

About an eastern bum and creep invading River City…Champions ‘R’ Us…No. 4 Bobby Orr…Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and the puck…goaltender shrinkage?…hype from The ROT…going to pot…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in three, two, one…

Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.

Damien Cox is one such news snoop.

Jennifer Jones and gal pals won Olympic gold, but didn’t get a parade.

Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.

This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.

“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.

That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.

Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.

“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.

Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.

Winnipeg Goldeyes: More proof of a championship team from River City.

But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:

Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!

All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.

But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.

The 1979 WHA champion Winnipeg Jets. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull are nowhere to be seen.

Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.

Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.

Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.

Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?

What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?

If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?

If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.

Can you hear the hype about Auston Matthews.

Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.

Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.

I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.

If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.

Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”

Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”

Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).

Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”

Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.

And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.

My Hens in the Hockey House want Jacob Trouba to stay long term and Big Buff to stay short term

Once again, I present to you my two Hens in the Hockey House, who are down on Winnipeg Jets ownership/management but bullish on a number of players.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: Well, this is our final gum-flapper of the hockey season. We’ve already dumped on the Fiddle-Farters Three, so what do you want to talk about now?

Answer Lady: Hey, this is Buffalo West. What do you think we’re going to talk about? In other National Hockey League locales, they talk about the now, which is to say the start of a playoff series, but not in Buffalo West, where one of the unfailing rites of spring is failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup shindig.

Question Lady: Boy, that’s a word you don’t hear too often anymore—shindig. You think youngsters in the audience know what it means?

Answer Lady: We have an audience? And there are youngsters in it? Who knew? Anyway, in River City, much like Buffalo where the Sabres make an annual early exit from the fray, we talk about the future because that’s all the Jets have to peddle—hope. That’s what both general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice will be selling next week at their respective season-end chin-wags with news snoops—hope. Both men will wax on about the “process” and the “long haul” and “patience” and new players “fitting in,” but neither will say when the future becomes the now.

Question Lady: You think?

Sean Spicer

Answer Lady: Listen, it’ll be Chevy/Coach Potty-Mouth doing Sean Spicer without the finger-pointing and schoolyard bickering. They’ll probably  deliver some interesting alternative facts, too. By the time they’re finished blah, blah, blahing and yadda, yadda, yaddaing, they might have some of the rabble convinced that the Jets actually made the playoffs.

Question Lady: Okay, let’s forget about those two because, you’re right, it’s all going to be hollow, preach-the-party-line blather. So you tell me, are the Jets about to turn the corner?

Answer Lady: I’m not sure they can even see the corner.

Question Lady: You’re kidding me, right?

Answer Lady: Not at all. Look, the Jets have incredible, top-end talent that I’m sure some other outfits envy. You think George McPhee wouldn’t like to hit the ground running with the top end of the Jets’ roster in Vegas? I’d venture to say that Vancouver Canucks ownership would swap rosters with the Jets—even-up—faster than you could say “Harold Snepsts is a cult figure.” I mean, would you want to step into the future with Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine or with the Sedin twins? So, ya, the Jets have some fab pieces in place. But ready to turn the corner? Not without first navigating a whole lot of potholes. Frankly, I can see them in the same situation a year from now.

Question Lady: I find that hard to believe. I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?

Answer Lady: One, coaching. Two, goaltending. Three, unless Dame Fortune looks very favorably on the Jets when the ping pong balls start bouncing in this year’s draft lottery, their first choice in the auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers will be a two- or three-year project. Maybe longer. I’m not saying he’ll be as bad a choice as last year’s panic pick, Logan Stanley, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll step in immediately like Laine did this season.

Canucks cult figure Harold Snepsts.

Question Lady: Is Laine going to win the Calder Trophy as top rookie?

Answer Lady: I think Puck Finn could finish this crusade with back-to-back hat tricks and it still wouldn’t be enough to sway the eastern bloc vote. The Calder is Auston Matthews’ bauble. He deserves it. But it’s no bigee that Laine won’t win. Connor McDavid wasn’t rookie-of-the-year. Nor was Sidney Crosby—he received only four first-place votes. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of players who don’t have their names inscribed on the Calder. Guys like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur, Mark Messier, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, St. Patrick Roy.

Question Lady: Laine is a keeper for sure. What other Jets do you consider untouchables?

Answer Lady: There are no untouchables…there are players I would least like to move—Puck Finn, Rink Rat Scheifele, Twig Ehlers, Jacob Trouba, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey, Bryan Little.

Question Lady: No Dustin Byfuglien on that list?

Answer Lady: They should have sent him packing last year, when he was positioned to become an untethered free agent. He would have brought a boffo return. So it was a missed opportunity. He’d still be the first guy I’d try to deal away, but his contract makes it very difficult, if not impossible. I’m afraid the Jets are stuck with him, although I’m sure they don’t look at it that way.

Question Lady: What’s the most-pressing issue the Jets face vis-a-vis the roster?

Answer Lady: Convincing Trouba that Winnipeg is where he wants to play his hockey. He’s the stud defenceman you build around. He has just one year left on the under-market-value deal he signed to end his contract impasse last November, and the Jets don’t want to go there again. I don’t know if there’s negative residue on either side from their standoff, but I want Trouba happy, healthy and wealthy.

Question Lady: What do you think owner Mark Chipman and Chevy will do?

Jacob Trouba

Answer Lady: It’s like the to-and-fro between a man and a woman. The guy’s always going to be interested in the girl, but if the girl isn’t interested in the guy it’s a non-starter. Same with the Puck Pontiff and Trouba. Chipman can pitch woo and Chevy can have a gazillion pictures of Trouba on his office wall, but the kid’s heart might be set on playing in another market, come hell or high income.

Question Lady: That’d be a bummer. Any other thoughts on the Jets before they shut down for the season?

Answer Lady: Ya, I kind of feel sorry for guys like Wheeler and Little. As I’ve written, their career clocks are ticking and they can’t afford many more wasted years while the Fiddle-Farters Three continue to fiddle-fart around by selling hope. Wheeler is very good at hockey. He’s the Jets’ best player. And Little goes about his business in an admirable, understated way. They deserve playoff hockey.

Question Lady: Agreed. Well, that’s it for me, girlfriend. I’m out of here until the entry draft in June.

Answer Lady: Ditto. Enjoy the playoffs. Or do what I do—break out the hot dogs and watch baseball.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.

2016: It was very good year in the toy department

Top o’ the morning to you, 2016.

Talk about playing to a tough crowd. I mean, a lot of people are saying you’re the worst year. Ever. Ever. Ever. Yes, even worse than 1968, when a presidential candidate (see: Kennedy, Robert F.) and a civil rights giant (see: King Jr., Martin Luther) were gunned down in cold blood.

Chicago riots, 1968
Chicago riots, 1968

The King Jr. assassination in April 1968 ignited race riots in 130 cities and there were 46 riot-related deaths. Riot troops were positioned on the White House lawn and machine gun nests were established at the Capital. At the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August ’68, 10,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters clashed with 26,000 cops, national guardsmen and soldiers, who beat and wounded at least 1,000 civilians. Just under 200 cops also required medical attention. There were close to 600 arrests.

The black cloud that was 1968 also included…

  • North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, an intelligence ship. The North Koreans accused the 82-man crew of spying, then imprisoned, beat and tortured them for 11 months.
  • The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.
  • Sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos were kicked off the American Olympic team in Mexico after their silent demonstration against racial discrimination in the U.S.
  • Richard Nixon was elected president of the United States.
  • American troops slaughtered 347 civilians in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
  • Richard Harris recorded the regrettable MacArthur Park, where someone left a cake out in the rain and they’ll never have that recipe again.

All that gloom and doom is a tough act to top, 2016. But apparently you trumped it, right down to the last drop of protesters’ blood. Pollster Angus Reid, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times all say it’s so, so I guess that’s what you are, 2016—the…worst…ever.

Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.
Tommie Smith, centre, and John Carlos at the Summer Olympics in Mexico.

But, hey, that’s why we have sports. To escape things like terrorism and an apparent racist, bigot and misogynist moving into the White House. And you didn’t let us down in the toy department, 2016. You were on your game, so to speak.

I mean, any time you can say “Cubs win! Cubs win! Cubs win!” the World Series, it has to be a very good year. The best year since 1908, the last time the Cubbies won the annual Fall Classic. That’s why more than 5 million people gathered for the championship parade in the Toddlin’ Town. And Chicago cops didn’t beat up anyone. You delivered a classic Game 7, 2016. Brilliant stuff. It’s just too bad the Cubbies had to beat the Cleveland Indians, who continue to look for their first WS title since 1948.

I guess you just didn’t want Cleveland to get greedy, though, 2016. After all, King LeBron James and his Cavaliers claimed the National Basketball Association crown, toppling the mighty Golden State Warriors in seven games after trailing 3-1. More brilliant stuff.

And what a gift you gave us in the Ottawa RedBlacks. They didn’t even exist four years ago, and already they’re champions of all they survey in the Canadian Football League. Their overtime victory against the star-studded Calgary Stampeders was even more brilliant stuff from you, 2016.

Naturally, a whole lot of folks in River City had been hoping that their beloved Winnipeg Blue Bombers would have been in that 104th Grey Cup game, but at least you let them participate in the playoffs, 2016. It’s just a shame that you also chose the final seconds of that one-and-done post-season game to deliver head coach Mike O’Shea his signature moment of madness, when he had place-kicker Justin Medlock attempt an unmakeable 61-yard field goal.

Puck Finn
Puck Finn

You weren’t terribly kind to the Winnipeg Jets on the ice, 2016, but you blessed them with lucky bouncing ping-pong balls at the National Hockey League draft lottery, giving the locals the No. 2 shout overall in June. The harvest from that stroke of good fortune was Patrik Laine. Puck Finn has been dazzling ’em this season. I doubt that your heir, 2017, will give him the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top freshman, because the guy chosen ahead of him by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, Auston Matthews, isn’t exactly chopped liver. And, of course, he’s sure to earn the eastern bloc vote. That’s okay, though. Puck Finn will be your gift that keeps giving long after your shelf life has expired, 2016.

What other delights did you deliver, 2016? Well, speaking of teenagers, there was Penny Oleksiak, the Toronto high school student who struck for swimming gold and collected three other medals at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio. She’s a real sweetie.

So, too, is Brooke Henderson, who won her first Ladies Professional Golf Association major and one other tournament. A few of the boys on the beat weren’t kind to Brooke, but some jock journalists are always looking for dark clouds in silver linings.

kaepernickOne of the things I liked about you, 2016, is that you had a social conscious. You had San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner, which inspired a discussion about racial discrimination in the United States. Unlike Tommie Smith and John Carlos in 1968, Kaepernick wasn’t kicked off his team.

You also had 56 openly gay athletes competing in the Rio Olympics and winning 25 medals—11 gold, 10 silver and four bronze—and lesbian Amanda Nunes is an Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder who walloped Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds on Friday night in Las Vegas. You told North Carolina you wouldn’t tolerate its anti-LGBT legislation and announced that the 2017 National Basketball Association all-star game would be moved out of Charlotte.

You let us watch Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Big Papi ride off into the sunset. A-Rod did, too, although I suppose not a whole lot of folks care that he’s bid adieu.

You allowed us to say farewell to The Greatest, the King and Mr. Hockey—Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer and Gordie Howe. We didn’t mourn their deaths so much as we celebrated their athletic accomplishments, their lives and their legacies.

Sour Hope Solo
Sour Hope Solo

All of this is not to say you were without your rough edges, 2016. You did, after all, give us two ugly Americans in Rio. The disgraced duo would be soupuss soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and swimmer Ryan Lochte. Solo branded the Swedish women’s side a bunch of “cowards” because they refused to play a run-and-gun game with the U.S., while Lochte claimed to have been robbed with a cocked gun pointed at his head. In reality, he was taking a pee on the wall outside a Rio gas station.

Those were mere blips, though, 2016. And they were easily offset by Jimmie Johnson claiming his record-tying seventh NASCAR driving title, Leicester City, a 5,000-1 longshot, winning the English Premier League soccer title, and the great Serena Williams earning her 22nd Grand Slam tennis championship to equal the equally great Steffi Graf.

You were a wonderful year, 2016, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.

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.

 

About hockey greats…self-indulgent, unnecessary sports writing…Lebron James’s legacy…Kerry Fraser’s gaffe…Jimmy Hoffa…and other things on my mind

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

No. 4, Bobby Orr
No. 4, Bobby Orr

I witnessed my first live professional hockey game in the mid-1950s at the old barn on Maroons Road in Winnipeg, which was razed to rubble five decades later.

I watched my first televised hockey game in the 1950s, when our TVs had rabbit ears (sometimes with tin foil wrapping on the tips to enhance the quality of our black-and-white reception) and we would join a game originating from Toronto or Montreal already in progress (most often in the second period). That’s when I learned to truly dislike Rocket Richard.

I covered my first hockey game for a newspaper in 1970 and my byline first appeared on a hockey article in June 1971.

I wrote about, and commented on, hockey in mainstream media for 30 years and have written freelance articles and blogged on hockey for the past 17 years.

Do the math: I have been watching hockey for 60 of my 65 years and writing about it going on 47 years, long enough to draw conclusions.

So, were I to start a National Hockey League franchise, drawing from players I have witnessed—either in person or from my living room floor/sofa—which player would I choose to build around? No. 4, Bobby Orr.

Orr is the best hockey player I’ve ever seen. Still. Probably always.

Here’s my all-time dream team…

GOAL: Glenn Hall, Dominik Hasek

DEFENCE: Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Viacheslav Fetisov, Ray Bourque, Valery Vasiliev.

FORWARDS: Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Peter Forsberg, Bobby Hull, Mario Lemieux, Alexander Maltsev, Valeri Kharlamov, Jean Beliveau, Stan Mikita, Anatoli Firsov, Sergei Makarov.

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press on the death of Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe. “You’re going to be reading lots of ‘Here’s what Gordie Howe means to me’ stories over the next week,” he writes. “Most will be self-indulgent and unnecessary.” Let’s face it, much of what sports scribes scribble is self-indulgent and unnecessary, but the storytelling is neither. When someone of Howe’s or Muhammad Ali’s loft goes to the other side, the storytelling is essential to the narrative, otherwise all we’d have are lists of statistics to describe and define them. Without the storytelling, we know the athlete but not the person. Wiecek spun a terrific yarn about Howe that was far more interesting and insightful than spewing career scoring numbers.

Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe
Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe

Speaking of self-indulgent, one of the first columns I wrote for the Calgary Sun was about Gordie Howe. He was in town for a minor hockey promotion, the details of which now escape me, and we met at the CTV studios and spent the better part of an hour wagging our chins about all things shinny. The following morning, our editor-in-chief, Lester Pyette, approached me in the newsroom and said, “Great piece on Gordie Howe. Loved it. I’m a big Gordie Howe fan. But the publisher didn’t like it. He wants me to tell you that we brought you here to write about the Flames and Stampeders, not kids hockey and retired players.” I was gobsmacked. “Lester,” I told him, “if I find out that Mr. Hockey is in town, I’m writing about Mr. Hockey.” So I did. As mean and as ruthless as he was on the ice, Gordie Howe was as gracious and down-to-earth off the freeze. Wonderful man.

The notion that Lebron James needs to add a third National Basketball Association title to his resume before being granted all-time-great status is beyond absurd. How many World Series championships did Major League Baseball legend Ted Williams win? Or Carl Yastrzemski? Zero. Jim Brown, arguably the greatest running back in National Football League history, was 1-2 in championship games. How many times has the name Bobby Hull been inscribed on the Stanley Cup? Once. The great hoopster Jerry West was 1-8 in NBA championship series. James doesn’t need to set foot on the hardwood ever again. He’s already and all-timer.

Okay, Kerry Fraser has ‘fessed up. The former National Hockey League referee admits in The Players’ Tribune that he blew the call when he failed to banish Wayne Gretzky to the brig for slicing and dicing Doug Gilmour’s chinny-chin-chin in Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Los Angeles Kings. It should have been a major penalty. “It was missed. Period,” is how Fraser puts it. Now, can Leafs Nation finally stop whining about something that happened 23 years ago?

If Connor McDavid’s name isn’t called when the NHL announces its top rookie for the 2015-16 season, he shouldn’t lose any sleep. Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Borje Salming, Stan Mikita and Patrick Roy weren’t at the head of their respective freshman classes, and each is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?
Is Jimmy Hoffa hiding in one of those beards?

So, legendary flying Frenchman Guy Lafleur isn’t fond of facial foliage. He looks at the unruly shrubs sprouting from the cheeks and chins of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks and declares them “a disgrace for hockey.” This from a guy who went through two packs of cigarettes a day and actually smoked in the dressing room between periods when he played for the Montreal Canadiens.

Just wondering, when the Stanley Cup tournament concludes and Thornton and Burns finally reach for the razors, what are the chances of Jimmy Hoffa falling out of one of those beards?

Aside to Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: You’ve cranked out some quality copy re the deaths of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe, but do yourself a favor—stop writing about Phil Kessel. We get it already. You weren’t a fan of his game or his eating habits during his tour of duty in the Republic of Tranna. Let it go, man. Move along.

Just for the record, this entire article has been self-indulgent and unnecessary. But I had nothing better to do when I awoke at 2:30 this ayem, so I started typing.

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.