Let’s take a trip down memory lane on Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day

This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.

It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:

  • The Old Barn On Maroons Road, when it had that new-rink smell.

    I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.

  • I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.

  • I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.

  • I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.

  • I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.

  • I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.

  • Billy Robinson

    I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Don Baizley, Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.

  • I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.

  • I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”

  • I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.

  • I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.

  • I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

  • Mikhail Smith

    I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.

  • I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.

  • I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.

  • I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.

  • I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.

  • John Ferguson

    I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.

  • I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!

  • I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.

  • Valeri Kharlamov

    I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.

  • I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.

I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.

The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.

Sad…a very, very sad day

Riding the iron lung on icy or snow-packed prairie roads was never my idea of a fun time.

I was there, with the West Kildonan North Stars and as a young sports writer tracking the Portage Terriers, St. Boniface Mohawks and Winnipeg Clubs—from River City deep into the B.C. interior—for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun.

The experience was especially eerie and discomforting at night, when most everybody on the bus had nodded off, the travelling party comprised of teenage hockey players, adult coaches, support staff and media, all of us weary after another difficult game in a difficult, hostile environment or the rush of meeting another urgent newspaper deadline. I never slept well on the iron lung, if at all. Thus, I was always aware of a haunting poetry to the on-bus silence and the bleak darkness of the night sky over a wide-open, flat and vast land before we would arrive at the Rocky Mountains and their special challenges. Only the soft, steady hum of rubber tires on pavement, a set of headlights and two steady hands on the wheel guided us on our way. We never thought much about getting from one small prairie town to the next, or successfully navigating the snake-like routes through the Rockies. We just assumed we would make it. Night or day.

The Humboldt Broncos didn’t on Friday. Fifteen of them are dead. Another 14 wounded after a semi truck reportedly t-boned their team bus. I weep for them.

So sad. So very, very sad.

Give your hockey-playing daughter or son a special hug today. She or he might need it.

Misogyny in hockey: Boys dropping C-bombs is as old as the game itself

(Reader advisory: This essay contains coarse language that some might find offensive.)

Only one man has called me a cunt.

I ask that you trust me when I tell you that I did not say, nor did I do, anything that should have positioned me on the receiving end of such a vile, disgusting epithet. Suffice to say, I was working as a cover girl at a popular nightclub and this male patron was of the misguided notion that his stuff didn’t stink. He believed himself to be exempt from paying our $5 cover charge. I thought otherwise and told him so. Politely.

“You’re such a cunt,” he said as he stepped through the entrance doors.

“Excuse me?” I responded, in full recoil.

He stopped, turned back and took two steps toward me.

“I said,” he repeated, “you’re such a cunt.”

So there you have it. Two C-bombs in less than a dozen seconds.

I was not impressed. Nor was management. He was escorted from the building by a rather large lad with much muscle power.

Now, it’s my understanding that the use of the word “cunt” is not on the A-list of insults in other parts of our world. It is, after all, just a word. We do not, however, live in “other parts” of the world. Here at home, “cunt” carries radioactivity. It is toxic and hostile in the extreme. It is deep, intense and has unmatched shock value. It is sooooo degrading.

It is with this in mind that I ponder Greg Betzold and Jake Marchment, two young men who have achieved considerable notoriety for launching C-bombs. Because both are performers in the Ontario Hockey League, our great game itself is under assault for its culture of mysogyny and entitlement. This saddens me.

It also saddens me when a male athlete says something stupid then follows with a forced mea culpa in an attempt to convince us that what he said isn’t who he is.

A case in point would be the aforementioned Betzold.

The Peterborough Petes forward goes on the dating app Tinder and calls a woman a “dumb stupid cunt.” Not only that, he posits that she has a post-university future in “taking dick for a living.” So, she’s also a whore-in-waiting.

What does this tell us? Well, it tells me that Betzold is not the type of fellow I want my daughters dating. But let’s not leap to any assumptions. Calling a young woman a “dumb stupid cunt” and a whore isn’t really who Greg Betzold is. A mysogynist? Nope. Not Greg Betzold. We know this because he has posted an apology on Twitter assuring us that his comments “do not reflect my true values or views.”

Well, yes they do, Greg. What we say is who we are.

I have never met Betzold. Probably never will. I doubt, however, that this was the first time he’s dropped a C-bomb on a girl. Ditto Marchment, who, in a nasty Tinder exchange with a lass professing she had better things to do than spread her legs for the Belleville Bulls captain, branded the woman an “ugly cunt.”

I roamed countless hockey changing rooms, both at the Junior and professional level, during 30 years in jock journalism dating back to the late 1960s. They are, if nothing else, testosterone-fuelled, alpha, frat-boy man caves, where the C-bomb would rank a close second or third to “fag” or “mother fucker” as the slur du jour. They are vain, vulgar dens. Trust me. This is how hockey players talk in chamber. Thus, the coarse language used by Betzold and Marchment is not fresh fruit. It’s just that the majority who occupy these chambers aren’t so thick that they use hockey-speak on social forums such as Tinder or Twitter.

Basically, Betzold and Marchment, a Los Angeles Kings chattel, have brought the masses inside the changing room. Those unaware that such a culture of mysogyny and entitlement existed are now up to speed.

Not surprisingly, the deep-thinkers in the OHL’s ivory tower are unamused, which is why they’ve told both Betzold and Marchment to go away for the next 15 games, presumably to gaze at their navels and contemplate the reaction if someone were to label either of their mothers a “dumb, stupid, ugly cunt.”

I’m not prepared to cut either Betzold or Marchment an inch of slack. Can’t go there. What I can do, however, is perhaps provide a pinch of perspective.

The theatre that is junior hockey mostly plays out in the nooks and crannies of the country. Junior hockey is Penticton and Pembroke and Portage la Prairie and Prince Albert. The players, mostly 16-19 years of age, have been spirited from the shelter of home and are now big fish in small ponds. They are fussed and fawned over. They are rock stars in small communities. It must be emphasized that they’re also horny, teenage boys for whom getting laid is as simple as spreading peanut butter on a piece of toast. I mean, go to any rink where the Junior game is played and you’re guaranteed to find teenage girls prepared to lift their skirts so they can tell friends that they’ve bagged themselves a hockey player.

That doesn’t make it acceptable to speak of, or treat, women like trash, but galloping hormones and the players’ pack mentality refuse to recognize societal standards.

Some, of course, handle the entitlement with greater grace than others, and I suppose it’s fair to suggest that Betzold and Marchment have some work to do in this area. But they are a product of their environment. Not their home environment, because I doubt very much that they learned to call women “dumb, stupid, ugly cunts” while gathered around the dinner table with mom, dad and little sister. Hockey has made them this way.

The OHL has been applauded for acting swiftly and forcefully in the Betzold-Marchment case. A 15-game suspension is, to be certain, a harsh piece of penance to deliver, but I can’t help but take a cynical, if not dim, view of the sentence. Is the punishment designed to grow the players as people or simply to prevent their sexist, degrading comments from surfacing on social media? I hope it’s the former but I fear it’s the latter.

It’s sad that nothing has changed since I rode the iron lung with a Major Junior hockey outfit through Western Canada during my cub reporter days in the early 1970s, and I’m not sure what, if anything, can be done to facilitate the expungement of mysogyny in junior hockey.

Here’s a place to start, though, boys: Never, ever call a woman a “cunt.” Not unless you have one of your own. That would be entitlement.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey 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 literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.