It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and it’s Super Sunday, but you won’t find anything super here…
At some point today, we’ll see Katie Sowers on our flatscreens and another brick in the wall will come tumbling down.
Katie, you see, is female and gay, and females and gays aren’t supposed to be central players in the Super Bowl game, North America’s greatest gulp of sporting over-indulgence. Females, after all, know nothing about football (just ask any male lump sitting on a nearby bar stool or in a man cave) and gays are a distraction (ask Tony Dungy about that).
Except many of us know that simply isn’t true.
If Katie’s been a distraction down there in Miami, it’s only because she’s a she who does know football, and news snoops have sought her out for sound bites and anecdotal tidbits about the challenges of a societal double whammy—being female and a lesbian in an environment that registers 10.0 on the testosterone meter.
Never before has a woman attracted so much attention at the National Football League’s showcase event, at least not since Janet Jackson allowed Justin Timberlake to play peek-a-boo with her right breast. And, on that matter, many lumps on many bar stools no doubt will fix their eyeballs on today’s halftime proceedings, hoping for a re-enactment of Janet J’s wardrobe malfunction, only this time it would be pieces of either JLo’s or Shakira’s skimpy outfits falling off.
But I digress.
Sowers is in Miami this very day as one of the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive strategists attempting to plot ways of confounding and confusing the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive 11 in Super Bowl LIV, and if you don’t care that she’s the first woman and lesbian to coach in the gridiron colossus, I suggest you’re among the 50 per cent of the population that isn’t female and 95 per cent of the population that isn’t gay.
This is huge. For women. For the LGBT collective. And it should be for society.
But we hear the same questions every time a gay athlete wiggles her or his way into the spotlight, don’t we? Like: Does anybody really need to know who’s lying beside them when the lights go out at night? If they want to be treated equal, why do they insist on making themselves out to be special just because they’re gay? Why can’t the gays just shut up about it already?
Well, it’s a big deal because too large a segment of society still makes the choice of bedmates and romantic partners a big deal. Gays can lose jobs because of it. They can be denied jobs because of it. They can be denied service because of it. They can be denied housing because of it. They are bullied and beaten up because of it.
Sowers knows all about that, because her alma mater, Goshen College in Indiana, once rejected her as a volunteer hoops coach simply because she prefers the company of women.
“There were prospective students’ parents that were concerned that if there was a lesbian coach, their daughter might catch the gay or whatever it might be, because people might think it’s contagious,” is how she remembers it.
What’s that you say? That was more than 10 years ago? Well, lend an ear to Steve Sanders, an associate professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.
“What happened to Sowers could still happen, depending on the place and jurisdiction,” Sanders told the Indianapolis Star. “Many people are surprised that the legal protections from anti-gay and lesbian discrimination remain so spotty. If you’re gay or lesbian, you can get married one day and, at least in some jurisdictions, be fired from your job the next day.”
Goshen, a Christian school, recently delivered a mea culpa for its shoddy and shameful treatment of Sowers, but that doesn’t excuse the reality that gays continue to be marginalized today.
As do women in sports.
Or perhaps you didn’t catch Marcus Morris’ sexist spewings the other night after his New York Knicks had absorbed a good and proper paddywhacking from the Memphis Grizzlies. Morris didn’t appreciate Jae Crowder’s (perceived) theatrics on the Madison Square Garden hardwood, thus he told news snoops that the Memphis forward has “a lot of female tendencies” like “flopping and throwing his head back.”
Oh, yes, females be flopping and head tossing, Marcus.
Lest anyone misinterpret his remarks, Morris then described Crowder as “soft, very woman-like.” None of that was meant to be complimentary. It was meant to shame a foe as a lesser-than. A woman.
So, yes, Katie Sowers’ emergence as a Super Bowl coach is a “big deal.”
No doubt girls and women will see, or hear about, Sowers and ask themselves, “Why not me?” Ditto LGBT youth. It builds belief in self. Isn’t that something we should want for everyone?
It’s not just about generating dreams, though.
Sowers is breaking a barrier, but knocking down a door only matters if it opens up a mind. Maybe, just maybe, her presence will convince the anti-gay constituency and misogynistic lumps on bar stools, in man caves and in men’s pro sports that women and gays aren’t lesser-thans.
I doubt it, but we can always hope.
It’s never a surprise to hear sexist squawkings from male athletes, but it seems shamefully out of place in the National Basketball Association, which features 11 female assistant coaches, a female assistant general manager, and four female referees. Moreover, 13 Women’s NBA whistleblowers are female, and there are another 25 in the NBA G League. So Morris’ bleatings fly in the face of the NBA’s admirable and industry-leading diversity practices, and I’m sure commish Adam Silver was not amused.
At some point, it must have occurred to Morris that he has a mother, thus he offered a mea culpa which was as laughable as his comments were ill-advised. He claims to have spoken in “the heat of the moment,” except he went off on Crowder a full 15 minutes after the Knicks and Grizzlies had engaged in a game-ending rutting session. “I have the utmost respect for women and everything they mean to us,” he insisted in his apology. “I never intended for any women to feel as though in anyway I’m disrespecting them.” Right. And every time a jock coughs up a gay slur, he claims: “That isn’t who I am. I have gay friends.”
Stephanie Ready of The Bounce had perhaps the most interesting take on the Morris sound bites: “I personally take offence to that,” she told panelists Quentin Richardson and Caron Butler. “I personally am offended by the statement. I also happen to know that women are just inherently tougher than men, that’s the reason why we give birth and you guys don’t.” The boys squirmed and fought off any urge to debate the point.
Sexism is alive and well in Mother Russia, and Emily Kaplan of ESPN provides the evidence in an excellent article on the Kontinental Hockey Leauge-sponsored Women’s Hockey League. “(Rachel) Llanes was one of several women to demonstrate skills at the KHL All Star Game,” she writes, “but she was told she had to get her hair and makeup done before going on the ice. The KHL put out a promotional calendar for the WHL—which featured players posing naked, covered only by plants.” Sounds like a cosmetics marketing campaign for Cover Girl: Faceoffs and Fig Leaves.
Hey, come to think of it, if we ever get a Women’s National Hockey League franchise in the Republic of Tranna, we have the perfect team name—the Toronto Maple Fig Leafs.
Llanes, who plays for the sole Chinese-based outfit in Russia’s WHL, decided that fig leaves aren’t one size fits all and took a pass on becoming a calendar girl. “Part of being over here, you have to accept culture, even though there are some things you don’t agree with,” she told Kaplan. “The calendar, for example, I definitely don’t want to be in that. But it’s just the culture. Some things you can fight, some things you just go with. I’m playing hockey for a living. I don’t need to complain.”
You know that old bromide about an athlete can’t lose a job due to injury? Well, fuggedaboutit. Matt Nichols was laid low by a shoulder owie last August, and he’ll never take another snap for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Not ever. I’m not saying the Grey Cup champions were wrong to discard their now-former starting quarterback like a banana peel, but I feel bad for the guy. I mean, no one in the western precinct of the Canadian Football League is looking for an aging, brittle QB. Ditto Montreal, Ottawa and the Hammer in the east. Which leaves only the Tranna Argos. Hmmm. Bombers to the Boatmen. That’s like telling a kid who just won a trip to Disneyland that he’ll be going to the dentist instead.
Kobe Bryant is dead and grown men and women weep while the hosannas continue to pour down on the former Los Angeles Lakers great like wet stuff in a Brazilian rainforest. Fine. But here’s what I don’t get: Why is it considered bad manners for scribes and talking heads to tilt Kobe’s halo by mentioning his rape case in 2003? It happened, it was a huge story, and no retro look at the life and times of Bryant is complete without it. So spare me the gnarly discord.
Thoughtful piece by Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab on media reaction to the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and “seven others” last Sunday. Like Mad Mike, I find it curious that so little attention has been paid to victims three-through-nine—John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It’s as if their lives didn’t matter.
Having said that, I don’t need Mad Mike telling me that I should “learn all I can” about the “seven others.” It’s enough that I’m saddened that they’re gone, especially the children. I’m not sure what it is about news snoops who feel the need to tell us what we should be thinking and how we should be reacting. I mean, Mad Mike wants us to study up on seven dead people, and a week ago Cassie Campbell-Pascall informed us we “better start” watching women’s hockey. Or what? She’ll show up on our doorstep carrying a court summons? If it’s all the same to them, I’ll choose my own reading material and my own entertainment.
High-Class Snit of the Week: “Alex Steen blew off media post-game, and the team’s PR staff—who said earlier in the day he would for sure speak—wouldn’t make him available, after playing his 1,000th game in his hometown and with all kinds of interview requests. Absolute joke,” Mad Mike tweeted after Saturday night’s skirmish between the St. Loo Blues and Winnipeg Jets at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie. Not to be outdone, Scott Billeck of the Winnipeg Sun chimed in with this: “Alex Steen, given a nice tribute by the Jets and a nicer one from the fans who stood to recognize his 1000th NHL game tonight, refused to talk to the media after the game. Classless.” I have just three words for that level of media whinging: Boo freaking hoo.
Watched the Edmonton Oilers take Calgary to the slaughter house on Saturday night, so remind me again why the Flames recruited Milan Lucic.Oh, that’s right. To be the team guard dog. To provide some spine. Yet when all hell broke loose between the bitter rivals twice in four nights, where was the Looch? Playing innocent bystander. Looch spent 27 minutes, 34 seconds on the ice during the latest home-and-home installment in the Battle of Alberta, and here’s what he had to show for it: 0 goals, 1 assist, 0 time in the brig. Cripes, man, Calgary keeper Cam Talbot had a fight and two roughing penalties. Turtle Man Tkachuk chucked knuckles twice. Sean Monahan and Buddy Robinson dropped the mitts. Yet the supposed meanest dude on either side of the fray went all Switzerland. And they’re paying him $5.25 million for that?
Just a thought: It must really rot Don Cherry’s socks that he no longer has his Hockey Night In Canada pulpit to squawk about the kind of hoorawing that we saw from the Oilers and Flames. And, to think, he was silenced because of poppies.
Kasperi Kapanen of the Maple Leafs was scratched from the lineup Saturday night for what was described as “internal accountability.” Just wondering: Is that an upper or lower body injury?
Since the start of the 2017 tennis season, here’s the scoreboard for men’s Grand Slam titles: Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic 13, Rest of World 0. The last player not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic to win one of the four majors? Stan Wawrinka, at the 2016 U.S. Open. (Footnote: In the same time frame on the women’s side, there have been 11 different champions, with only Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka winning twice.)
And, finally, I’d really like San Fran to win today’s Super Bowl skirmish because of Katie Sowers. I just don’t think they will.
A Christmas eve smorgas-bored…and, baby, it’s not cold outside where I live but it sure has been windy and wet…
Now that the Winnipeg Jets have arrived at their Christmas recess, I believe a few random observations are in order, starting with the rabble.
I read a lot of copy on les Jets, usually scanning the comment section of each article as well, and it occurs to me that many among the faithful aren’t entirely satisfied with our local hockey heroes. Apparently, they ought to be doing better. Interesting. I mean, the lads are top of the table in the Central Division of the National Hockey League. They’re top of the table in the Western Conference. Two skaters—Rink Rat Scheifele and Blake Wheeler—are top 10 in scoring. Two—Scheifele and Patrik (Puck Finn) Laine—are top 10 in goals. They have a backup goaltender—Laurent Brossoit—who’s lost just once and is capable of pitching shutouts. Yet after most skirmishes, there’s much grumbling. Talk about a tough crowd.
Puck Finn lit the lamp 18 times in November. Apparently he decided to take December off to allow Rink Rat Scheifele to catch up.
Hocus pocus: Twig Ehlers takes two shots and scores three goals vs. the San Jose Sharks. For his next magic trick, Twig will make Gary Bettman disappear.
Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that les Jets top defensive pairing is third in line at the pay window? It’s true. Josh Morrissey/Jacob Trouba collect less coin than Tyler Myers/Dmitri Kulikov and Dustin Byfuglien/Ben Chiarot. I don’t know if that makes Kevin Cheveldayoff a genius general manager or a complete doofus.
Mathieu Perreault needs to sit in a barber’s chair, and Puck Finn needs to grow his bread-butter-and-egg man beard again. Which, I suppose, would make him Puck Amish.
Bryan Little is on pace for a 40-to-50-point season. Is that enough from a No. 2 centre? Since les Jets are in first place, apparently it is.
Yes, Puck Finn is a one-trick pony. I’m fine with that (for now) as long as he looks and plays like he’s actually more interested in hockey than Fortnite.
Nothing about keeper Connor Hellebuyck’s play bothers me. Today. If he’s still iffy in April, that will bother me.
Can we all agree that Paul Maurice is the right coach for this outfit? Nope. But if the boys in the room perform like they have Coach Potty Mouth’s back, I guess what we think doesn’t carry any weight.
Are the Jets as good as the group that reached the Western Conference final last spring? Ask me that once the trade deadline has passed.
I’ve long held that Rink Rat Scheifele is the top bargain in the NHL at $6.125 million a year, but, upon further review, Mikko Rantanen has to be the best buy today. The league’s leading point collector has a base salary of $832,500 and a cap hit of $894,167 according to CapFriendly. A day of reckoning awaits Colorado Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.
Had to chuckle at Mike McIntyre’s piece on Cheveldayoff in the Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press. McIntyre conceded that Chevy has mastered “the political art of saying plenty without saying a lot,” yet that didn’t prevent the Freep scribe from writing 2,119 words in an Ode to Hot Air. Never have so many words said so little. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, Ken Wiebe provided the Coles Notes version of the Gospel According to Chevy—969 words of nothingness. And this is my version: Chevy flaps gums, wags tongue, hot air seeps out. So here’s the deal, boys: When Chevy speaks, listen…but when he says nothing (which is almost always), close your notebook and erase the tape.
Department of Bad Timing: This headline on an Andrew Berkshire piece in the Drab Slab: “Kings too old, too slow to compete in high-tempo NHL.” D’oh! Those sloth-like Los Angeles Kings beat les Jets 4-1 that night.
I don’t know how much the Freep is paying Berkshire, but it’s too much. His charts, graphs and numbers haven’t told me anything that my eyes can’t see. I mean, I don’t need fancy stats and pie charts to advise me that the Kings are old and slow, or that les Jets could use an upgrade on the blueline. I wrote that stuff before they dropped the puck on October. As did others.
When did NHL players become such wimps? Seriously. No one can absorb a legal bodycheck without chucking knuckles anymore? What went on in Vancouver last Tuesday between the Canucks and Tampa Bay Lightning was just stupid. I saw one reckless, nasty fender bender. The rest were meh moments. Yet the entire second period was a scuffle. I’m all for going after cheap-shot scoundrels like Tom Wilson and the dearly departed Matt Cooke, but breathing too heavily on Elias Petterson shouldn’t be cause for a ruckus.
So the Women’s Tennis Association no longer will penalize players who take time off to have babies. Welcome to the 21st century, ladies.
Got a kick out of this line from Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail: “Torontonians like going out to see things. Anything. Except the World Cup of Hockey.” Really? Tell that to the Argonauts. The Boatmen couldn’t draw a crowd if the Radio City Rockettes promised to high-step the length of BMO Field naked.
It’s not all bad news for the Argos and their attendance woes. I mean, they’re guaranteed one sellout in 2019. Trouble is, they have to get out of Dodge to do it. They’ve farmed out a game to Halifax, where fans want the Canadian Football League in the worst way. Given that it’s Argos vs. Montreal Alouettes, that’s exactly what they’ll get—football in the worst way.
Kelly also writes that Canada is a “one-sport country.” Which is like saying the Republic of Tranna is the only city in the country. Come to think of it, that’s what some folks in The ROT believe.
What’s this? Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star and Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna sniping at each other on Twitter? They sure were. Too bad they didn’t do any of that hissing when TSN’s The Reporters was on the air.
This from Simmons in his weekly three-dot column: “Unless their name is Walter Gretzky, hockey dads should basically keep their opinions to themselves.” That’s rich. I mean, a guy who makes his living by spewing opinion doesn’t want to hear other opinion. Unless it’s from Wayne’s dad Wally. Where the hell does that come from? I mean, Scotty Bowman is a hockey dad. Ditto Ray Bourque, Louie DeBrusk, Keith Tkachuk, Ray Ferraro, Cliff Fletcher, Dave Gagner, Dave Lowry, Sami Kapanen, Dave Manson, Michael Nylander, Paul Reinhart, Peter Stastny, Mike Foligno, etc., etc., etc. Millions of everyday men across the globe are good hockey dads. And they shouldn’t be allowed a voice in their daughters’ or sons’ activity? And what about hockey moms? Are they supposed to shut the hell up, too?
And, finally, I remember finding a tiny, blue Tranna Maple Leafs sweater under the tree one Christmas morning many, many years ago. It didn’t have a name or number on the back. Just that classic Leafs logo on the front. I don’t ever wonder what happened to that sweater, but I’ve often wondered what happened to the Leafs.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.
But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.
Right to the very last drop.
Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”
In fact, it almost certainly was not true.
Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.
Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):
Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90 King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96 All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95 Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17 Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars—15.
Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17 Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93 All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80 Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17 Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.
We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.
Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.
But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.
This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.
Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.
So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.
Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.
If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.
I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.
How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.
Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
In the department of really, really,really dumb headlines, Sportsnet takes the prize for this: “Oilers fans ready to show us what a hockey town looks like.”
Just wondering, would those be the same fans who, only two years ago, were hurling Edmonton Oilers jerseys onto the ice in disgust? Those people are going to show the rest of us how it’s done? That’s like hiring Don Cherry as a wardrobe consultant. Or Meryl Streep recruiting Adam Sandler as an acting coach.
Hey, don’t get me wrong. Oilers fans are terrific. When they aren’t tossing $200 orange-and-blue clothing onto the freeze.
I doubt there’s anything Oilers loyalists can teach the faithful in the other six National Hockey League ports-of-call in Canada, with the possible exception of Vancouver, where the locals like to play with matches and try to reduce the town to ashes whenever the Canucks lose a playoff series. I mean, what can the rabble in Montreal, for example, learn from their counterparts in The Chuck? Zilch, that’s what.
Officially, Roman Catholicism is the main religion in Montreal. But we know better, don’t we. It’s hockey, specifically les Canadiens. The team jersey (which no one tosses on the ice surface) is known as La Sainte-Flanelle—the Holy Flannel. The Habs’ former home, the fabled Forum, wasn’t a hockey rink. It was a cathedral. Carey Price isn’t a goaltender. He’s deity. If he backstops les Glorieux to their 25th Stanley Cup title, he, like Patrick Roy, will achieve sainthood. At the very least, he becomes the Pope.
And Edmonton is going to show Montreal what a hockey town looks like? As if.
Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! Did you notice who scored twice for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their double OT victory over the Washington Capitals on Saturday night? That’s right, Kasperi Kapanen, acquired as part of the Phil Kessel trade. And did you notice who assisted on both of Kapanen’s goals, including the overtime winner? That’s right, Brian Boyle, acquired just before the trade deadline for a minor leaguer and a conditional second-round draft choice. So you see, Chevy, there’s more to being an NHL general manager than draft and develop. It’s actually permissible to improve your Winnipeg Jets roster via barter, whether it means surrendering spare parts or an elite performer, as the Leafs did with Kessel.
I don’t know if Blake Wheeler has been watching first-round Stanley Cup skirmishing, but, if so, I’m guessing it must really gnaw at the Jets captain that he isn’t included in the fun. This is his kind of hockey—intense, ballsy, belligerent, hostile, up-tempo, elite. Wheeler would excel on that stage. As for his colleagues, I wonder how many of the Jets could compete in that environment. It would be nice to find out sometime this decade. Well, wouldn’t it, Chevy?
Unless I missed it, the Winnipeg Free Press ignored the passing of Bill (Sudsy) Sutherland, a member of the original Word Hockey Association Jets team and assistant/head coach of Jets 1.0 in the NHL. Sudsy’s death doesn’t warrant a mention? Not even a paragraph or three on one of the truly good guys in Jets lore? That’s totally lame.
Funny story about Sudsy from Joe Watson, a teammate with the original Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. After scoring the first goal in franchise history in Oakland, Sudsy and the Flyers returned home for their season debut at the Spectrum, on Oct. 19. Here’s how Watson remembered it for csnphilly.com: “We’re coming through the building and the security guards were there and we are all walking through and all of us are looking kind of young and Billy was looking older and the security guard says, ‘Where are you going? Billy says, ‘I’m a player.’ And the security guard says, ‘You can’t be. You’re too old.’ He was 36 at the time.” As it happened, Sudsy scored the only goal that night in a 1-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had lifetime security clearance thereafter.
I’m not sure what was more astonishing at Paul Maurice’s season-over chin-wag with news scavengers, his unvarnished arrogance or his smugness. Asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun why, given the head coach’s track record, Jets fans should be confident that he is the right man to “turn this (team) around,” Coach Potty-Mouth declared “It doesn’t need to be turned around. It’s already headed in the right direction.” Well, excuuuuse us all to hell. And here we thought the Jets missed the playoffs. Again. Later, Maurice twice refused to allow TSN’s Sara Orlesky to complete a question about acquiring a veteran goaltender, interrupting her both times with a smug response. I will say one thing for Coach Potty-Mo, though: At one point, he confessed to lying to the media. I’m sure they take considerable comfort in knowing they shouldn’t believe anything he tells them.
While it remains uncertain if the Jets are, indeed, “headed in the right direction,” as Maurice submits, I’ll take their roster over that steaming mess of hooey in Vancouver. Do the deep-thinkers with the Canucks (hello Trevor Linden and Jim Benning) even have a clue? Basically, they fired their head coach, Willie Desjardins, because the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, had the bad manners to get old, and former GM Mike Gillis mangled half a dozen entry drafts.
To underscore how fortunate the Jets were at the draft lottery last April, consider this: By the odds, they should have picked no higher than sixth in the annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers. Patrik Laine would have been gone by then and they likely would have settled for Keith Tkachuk’s boy Matthew. The difference between Puck Finn and Tkachuk? Twenty-three goals, with Laine scoring 36 and Keith’s kid 13 for the Calgary Flames. Of the top 10 youngsters chosen last year, only three—Laine, Tkachuk and Auston Matthews—played full time in the NHL this season. That’s how lucky the Jets were at the lottery.
Paul Wiecek of the Free Press offers an interesting theory in explaining why NHL outfits from the True North have failed to bring the Stanley Cup home since 1993—it’s your fault, Josephine and Joe Phan. “My theory,” Wiecek writes, “is that we’re to blame—every sad-sack hockey fan in Canada who continues to fill the arenas in this country and pay huge bucks to watch mediocre (at best) hockey. Our strength as a hockey nation is also our biggest weakness when it comes to the NHL: our passion for the sport—and our willingness to be separated from our money in support of it, no matter what—provides no incentive for our NHL teams to be anything more than exactly what they are: Just good enough to make the playoffs but not nearly good enough to actually win a Cup.” The alternative, I suppose, is to stop supporting Canadian-based teams and let them all move to the southern U.S. How did that work out for Winnipeg the first time?
An odd bit of analysis on the Jets was delivered by Jeff Hamilton, one of the young scribes at the Drab Slab. “It makes little sense at this point to start pointing fingers,” he writes in the Freep. Really? If the media isn’t prepared to critique the local hockey heroes and assign responsibility for failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby, who will? Certainly not the fans, who, as Wiecek submits, happily part with their money for the opportunity to watch mediocrity. It’s the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to hold the Jets’ feet to the fire, and a talented writer/reporter like Hamilton surely knows that.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, whichmeans she is old and probably should think about getting a life.
Okay, we’ve heard from all the “so-called” experts, many of whom have sifted through the tea leaves and now are forecasting a rather splotchy future for the Winnipeg Jets.
“No playoffs for you!” they yelp.
Well, stop it right there. Most of your “so-called” experts have no more “so-called” expertise than most lumps sitting on a bar stool. Oh, sure, having a byline or holding a microphone under an athlete’s chin is cool, but all it really tells us is that they get paid for their prognostications, however hallucinatory those prophecies might be. False prophets, that’s what they are.
For the real poop on the Jets as they set out on a fresh National Hockey League crusade Thursday night against the not so big, bad Bruins in Beantown, I sought my favorite go-to girls—The What If Lady and The Answer Lady, fondly known as the Two Hens in the Hockey House.
They’ve got the gossip, they’re glib and they deliver the goods. So take it away, ladies…
What If Lady: What if the Jets’ prized freshman Nik Ehlers wins the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie this season? Does that make general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff a genius?
Answer Lady: Actually, our Danish Delight prefers to be called Nikolaj, not Nik. So let’s nip Nik in the bud and make it Nikolaj. Can Nikolaj win the Calder Trophy? Sure. If Connor McDavid breaks a leg or retires. So Chevy still won’t be a genius.
What If Lady: Are you surprised that the Jets are letting Andrew Copp wear No. 9?
Answer Lady: I’m absolutely shocked! I mean, I thought Dustin Byfuglien threw that sweater in the ice tub with the rest of Evander Kane’s clothing.
What If Lady: Did Copp call Bobby Hull and ask his permission to wear No. 9 like Kane did a few years back?
Answer Lady: That would be like George Strombouloupouloupoulous calling Ron MacLean to ask permission to use really bad puns. Or like P.J. Stock calling Don Cherry for permission to turn his granny’s drapes into a sports jacket. No one requires B. Hull’s permission to do anything.
What If Lady: That’s disrespectful. What if Hull hadn’t signed with the World Hockey Association in 1972?
Answer Lady: There’d be no Jets 2.0. But that’s down to Ben Hatskin more than Hull. Benny is the father of pro hockey in River City as we know it. There should be a statue of him inside or outside the Little Hockey House on the Prairie.
What If Lady: I see where the New Jersey Devils are erecting a statue to honor Martin Brodeur. What if the Jets erected a statue of a player? Who would it be?
Answer Lady: They had a statue years ago. His name was Sergei Bautin. When last seen, he was part of the rubble after the wrecking ball whacked the old Winnipeg Arena.
What If Lady: Getting back to Evander Kane, what if he scores 50 goals for the Sabres this season? Does that mean Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made a bad trade when he shuffled our resident bad boy off to Buffalo?
Answer Lady: Bartenders and servers at pubs and restaurants in Winnipeg won’t think so.
What If Lady: Don’t you think Kane got a bit of a bum rap in Winnipeg with all that dine-and-dash stuff? There was never any proof that he weaseled out on his tabs, was there?
Answer Lady: Nope. He got the bum’s rush for a bum rap.
What If Lady: Speaking of paying or not paying, both Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien become unrestricted free agents at the end of this season. What if the Jets can’t afford to keep both of them?
Answer Lady: They’ll unload big Buff because he’ll fetch far more in return. Chevy won’t let happen to Byfuglien what he let happen to Michael Frolik, which is to say let him skate away for zip.
What If Lady: The Jets will definitely miss Frolik because he was a Jack of all trades kind of guy. Do you think Alexander Burmistrov can fill that Swiss army knife role?
Answer Lady: Ah, yes, the prodigal son. Born-again Burmi. It’s almost like he’s a rookie again. After two years in Mother Russia, it’s uncertain what he’ll deliver. Hopefully, it won’t be a bad attitude. I always liked the guy. If the bolts in his neck are screwed on tight, I see him as a Fro Lite.
What If Lady: Speaking of light, I note that Mark Scheifele has put on 15 pounds of muscle. Does this mean he’ll no longer fall down as often as Bambi?
Answer Lady: Once a Bambi always a Bambi. But I have an inkling that this will be a true breakout season for Scheifele. Dancing Gabe will be doing the Scheifele Shuffle in the aisles. It’ll be all the rage at Whiskey Dix.
What If Lady: What are you saying? That the Jets are a bunch of post-game party boys?
Answer Lady: Hey, they’re young. They’re wealthy. As far as I know, they all like young women and young women like young, wealthy hockey players. If the skate fits…
What If Lady: I can’t imagine any of them being as bad as Keith Tkachuk or that Kane kid in Chicago, but what if the team veterans can’t keep the youngsters on the straight and narrow?
Answer Lady: I think we all know what happens when one of the Jets’ young stallions strays from the herd. That’s right, his track suit ends up in the ice tub. I really don’t see it as an issue or a concern.
What If Lady: What are your concerns heading into this season?
Answer Lady: Two words: Chris Thorburn. Two more words: Anthony Peluso.
What If Lady: Seems to me a couple of spare parts should be of little concern, so why them?
Answer Lady: Goons in hockey have rapidly gone the way of the bare-faced goaltender, yet here we have the Jets with not one but two low-talent, back-alley thugs on the roster. They bring nothing but bruised bare knuckles to the table.
What If Lady: But what if there’s nobody to ride shotgun for smaller, skilled guys like Ehlers and Nic Petan?
Answer Lady: You don’t need that kind of guard dog today. What’s Peluso going to do if someone runs one of the Smurfs? Throw his box of popcorn at the ruffian from his perch in the press box?
What If Lady: You mention Ehlers and Petan. Are those two, along with guys like Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry and Copp, proof positive that Cheveldayoff’s draft-and-develop blueprint is a stroke of genius?
Answer Lady: Good grief. You sound like someone who writes for the official newspaper of the Winnipeg Jets. Look, it’s not like Chevy invented sliced bread or the curved blade. Sam Pollock did that. To date, though, it would seem that Chevy’s bird dogs have flushed out some dandy prospects. I can’t say that there’s a Jimmy Mann or Sergei Bautin in the bunch.
What If Lady: Last question…what if the Jets are out of the playoffs this season?
Answer Lady: Can you say Auston Matthews?
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old 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 to her 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.