About those “rotten to the core” Winnipeg Jets…cranking up the gossip mill…putting Wheeler and others on ignore…parting gifts instead of banners for the Habs…nothing but bridesmaids in Canada?…talking about Ponytail Puck…and lady golfers at Augusta

Another Sunday smorags-bored…and you are under no obligation to grow a beard during the Winnipeg Jets playoff run…

Apparently, the local hockey heroes have issues.

They might be Dr. Phil-level issues. They might be let’s-drag-Oprah’s-couch-out-of-storage-and-give-everyone-in-the-audience-a-gift issues. They might be order-another-pint-and-vent-to-a-bartender issues. Whatever the case, after a week of stick-shattering hissy fits, an airing of grievances behind closed doors, giving news snoops the cold shoulder, and canceled practices for the airing of additional grievances, we’re advised that the Winnipeg Jets are not right in the head.

It’s nothing specific, understand. No details. Just a strong suggestion from the boys on the beat at the Drab Slab that les Jets have come undone like a school kid’s shoelace.

And we all know what happens with kids and undone shoelaces, don’t we. That’s right. Face plants.

So I suppose Jets Nation should fear the worst as Winnipeg HC preps for its opening salvo of Beard Season vs. the St. Louis Blues. I mean, it can’t be very comforting for the rabble to learn that the behind-the-scenes situation with their favorite National Hockey League club is “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy” as they enter the Stanley Cup runoff.

That, at least, is the picture painted by Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press, and you can choose to believe him or pooh-pooh his take on the local lads. I mean, he ought to have some insider intel because he’s been dogging the local lads across North America since October, but, at the same time, Double M fell short of providing anecdotal evidence of squabbling in the inner sanctum. He merely referenced Multiple Sources who, along with Reliable Sources, is every reporter’s go-to informant when no one is willing to say what needs to be said out loud.

Let’s accept that he’s accurate, though, and Winnipeg HC is a house divided. Does that mean les Jets best-of-seven playoff assignment vs. St. Louis beginning Wednesday at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie is a no-hoper? Not at all.

Allow me to direct your attention to the Winnipeg Jets circa 1978-79.

Rich Preston and Terry Ruskowski

Those of a certain vintage will recall the unique makeup of that outfit, in that it was actually two teams in one. On the heels of their second World Hockey Association title, les Jets were scuttled by a number of defections, most notably Ander Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to Gotham. To shore up a depleted roster, management purchased the nucleus of a Houston Aeros franchise that had gone belly up, with Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich and Scotty Campbell among the recruits.

It was a stroke of genius. Except for one thing: To say the Houston guys and the Winnipeg holdovers got along is to say hard-core Beatles fans were giddy when the dreaded Yoko Ono showed up on John’s arm one day. Some, myself included, still think of that as the day the music died, but I digress.

The Aeros-Jets had been fierce rivals on the freeze, and the residue of bitterly contested battles won and lost still existed when they began to share a changing room. Larry Hillman, the head coach of the day, could do nothing to achieve détente, in part because the Houston portion of the amalgamated roster was doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.

“You don’t think the rest of the players in this league don’t know that?” Robbie Ftorek said one night after he and the Cincinnati Stingers had laid a licking on les Jets.

Tom McVie

It wasn’t until Tom McVie arrived in River City, bull whip in hand behind the bench, that the boys clued in and began working in concert, a collaboration that resulted in an unlikely third WHA championship.

“At the start, the Houston players hung around together and the Winnipeg players hung around together,” Lukowich told me the night the Jets put away the Edmonton Gretzkys to gain permanent possession of the Avco World Trophy. “There was a time when it got so bad that I phoned my agent and told him to get me the hell out of here. I hated being a Jet.”

“They called us the New York Yankees because there were bad vibes on the team,” Ruskowski confirmed.

So, when they drop the puck for the Jets and Blues skirmish, I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the “rotten to the core” home side. Even squabbling outfits can get the job done.

Mind you, it would help if these Jets had Ruskowski, Lukowich, Preston and Campbell on board.

Coach Potty Mouth

You can dismiss McIntyre’s essay as nothing more than click-bait sensationalism, if you like, but my only issue with him is this snippet: “I’m not about to start feeding the rumor mill…” Good gawd, man, that’s exactly what you’re doing. Use the terms “rotten to the core” and “anything but rosy”—especially without supporting quotes and/or facts—and you’ve got rumor and innuendo running faster than a scalded dog. Are the players PO’d because Patrik Laine spends more time playing Fortnite than backchecking? Has coach Potty Mouth lost the dressing room? Whose track suit is Dustin Byfuglien dunking in the ice tub? Gossip, gossip, gossip. And if les Jets don’t get past the Blues, it’ll really crank up.

Craig Button of TSN had this to say about les Jets in advance of the Stanley Cup tournament: “They’re a weak team giving up a lot of goals. They’re the weakest (Western Conference) team going into the playoffs.” Ouch. That’s “anything but rosy.”

Blake Wheeler

After all the pomp, the praise, the worship, the Sportsnet headlines, the tributes, the mattress commercials, and the blah, blah, blah about John Tavares, he finished with three fewer points than Blake Wheeler’s 91. Now, I don’t buy the pre-fab bunk that players in Good Ol’ Hometown fly under the radar, because people around the league know what Wheeler has done. But I will submit that les Jets captain gets ignored. But, then, so do other elite performers with Canadian-based outfits. Five of them—Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Johnny Gaudreau, Mitch Marner and Wheeler—outscored Tavares this season, yet all but McDavid received less than half the ink devoted to the Tranna Maple Leafs centre by national media. Just saying.

If you’re keeping score at home, another of the over-ballyhooed Leafs, Auston Matthews, scored at a clip of 1.07 points per game. Twenty players were as good or better. Again, just saying.

Just wondering: Can Dave Poulin of TSN talk without holding a pen in his hand?

Sam Pollock

I keep hearing pundits say this was a successful season for the Montreal Canadiens. I’m sorry, but I don’t follow. I mean, the Habs will be on the outside with their noses pressed to the window when the playoff fun commences this week. When did parting gifts replace championship banners as a suitable reward for the most storied franchise in NHL history? It’s like Tom Hanks being happy about losing an Oscar to Adam Sandler. I swear, ol’ Sammy Pollock must be spinning like a lathe in his grave.

Really strange headline No. 1: “Jets’ Patrik Laine evolves from sublime scorer to all-around player.” Ya, Puck Finn is an all-around player like a box of Timbits is a seven-course meal.

Really strange headline No. 2: “Even Oilers not stupid enough to trade Connor McDavid.” No, the Edmonton Oilers would never be so dumb as to deal away Connor McDavid. You know, just like they would never be so dumb as to trade away Wayne Gretzky.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

I think Cathal Kelly of the Globe and Mail is a terrific wordsmith. A truly gifted writer. It’s just that sometimes he totally loses the plot. Like his take on the rise of Canadian tennis teens Bianca Andreescu, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov: “Our tennis was becoming like everything else this country does on the international stage—a strong second.” Right. We’re always the bridesmaid in sports like hockey and curling. As if. And Brooke Henderson, Penny Oleksiak, Clara Hughes, Donovan Bailey, Mike Weir, Virtue and Moir, Mikael Kingsbury, Percy Williams, Daniel Nestor, Lennox Lewis, Barbara Ann Scott, Nancy Greene, the Crazy Canucks, Cindy Klassen, Susan Nattrass, Jim Elder, Northern Dancer, Steve Nash, Larry Walker, Jacques Villeneuve, etc….I guess they all finished second best, too. Come on, man, give your head a shake.

So nice of mainstream media to finally notice women’s hockey in a non-Olympics year. Too bad it took the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League to grab their attention. I think their newly discovered interest in Ponytail Puck was best summed up in a tweet from Diana Matheson, a member of our women’s national soccer side: “Speaks volumes to the problem that my initial response to a discussion about women’s hockey on the radio, is to be surprised they are talking about it.” Now we’ll see if the MSM attention span lasts long enough to actually cover whatever teams emerge from the ashes of the CWHL.

And, finally, scientists say Canada is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. In other weather news, women golfed at Augusta National this weekend, so hell just froze over.

Ed Tait’s “meh” rouses the rabble…Winnipeg’s downtown football stadium…Hamonic or harmonica…a homophobic heavyweight champ…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…

grey cupOh, woe is Ed Tait.

Poor guy had the bad manners to “meh” the 103rd Grey Cup game and the many frills that provide the Grand National Drunk with its pulse, and that has roused the rabble. One reader demands to know who peed in Tait’s Corn Flakes. Another suggests he’s been too long in the company of Winnipeg Free Press colleague Paul Wiecek, whose scribblings are often measured by the masses as glass-half-empty musings. Yet another proposes the passing of a collection plate to finance a getaway to a Mexican resort for the two Freep sports scribes, who then could engage in some serious navel gazing and be fitted with a proper pair of rose-tinted glasses.

Well, in the words of Colonel Sherman T. Potter, “Mule muffins!”

I didn’t attend the Peg pigskin party, so I can’t speak to the hijinks around and about good, ol’ Hometown during a Grey Cup week than concluded on Sunday, but I surely watched the Canadian Football League championship skirmish between the Edmonton Don’t Call Them Eskimos and the Ottawa RougeNoir. My take? I’m with Tait—meh.

Let’s face it, that was a rout dressed up as a burning barn. The final score was 26-20 Edmonton, but it was 26-7 Edmonton after the initial six minutes and nine seconds had ticked off the clock. The best Ottawa could do after putting the game’s first 13 points on the tote board was two field goals and a rouge. In 54 minutes of football. So one more time with feeling—meh. (You think if I say “meh” often enough someone will send me on a vacation to a Mexican resort?)

osborne stadiumI cannot imagine what manner of madness existed in Paul Wiecek’s mind when, in referencing the 1991 and 2006 Grey Cup jousts in Winnipeg, he wrote, “both of those games were played at the downtown stadium.” The closest thing to a downtown football facility in River City was Osborne Stadium, home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from the mid-1930s to the early 1950s. It sat across the street from the Leg and lost an argument to a wrecking ball in ’56. Both the ’91 and ’06 CFL title games were, of course, played at Winnipeg Stadium, a more recent victim of the wrecking ball.

I find the banter about bringing Travis Hamonic to the Winnipeg Jets’ blueline somewhat amusing. I mean, I’d hazard a guess that 75 per cent of Jets Nation didn’t know Hamonic from a harmonica before his yearning for a trade was made public last month. To hear it now, though, it’s as if the New York Islanders’ defenceman invented the stretch pass. Should the Jets covet Hamonic? Absolutely. He’d enhance any National Hockey League outfit. But the Jets aren’t going to get him in barter for Dustin Byfuglien, whose game can shift from spectacular to slovenly in a heartbeat. Unless Isles’ general manager Garth Snow has suddenly morphed into Mike Milbury, Hamonic for Byfuglien will never happen.

Paul Maurice. Sigh. Search as I might to find a legitimate reason why Anthony Peluso is gainfully employed by an NHL outfit, I always arrive at one conclusion: Winnipeg Jets head coach PoMo refuses to budge from the horse-and-buggy notion that there must be a cement-head element in his lineup. So don’t blame Peluso for being a slug. Blame Maurice for keeping him around and, worse, inserting his bare knuckles into the lineup.

I note that Forbes magazine has devalued the Winnipeg Jets franchise from $358 million a year ago to $350M today. I’m not sure what accounts for the dip of $8M, but there’s no truth to the rumor that it has something to do with Evander Kane leaving unpaid parking tickets and unpaid bar tabs behind when he bolted for Buffalo and the Sabres.

Tyson Fury, left, took the heavyweight boxing title from Wladimir Klitschko.
Tyson Fury, left, took the heavyweight boxing title from Wladimir Klitschko.

Someone named Tyson Fury is now champion of most of fist fighting’s heavyweight alphabet. Does anyone care that there exists a new king of the boxing ring, or are followers of fistic mayhem still more concerned about Ronda Rousey’s fat lip and bruised ego?

Until he boxed defending champion Wladimir Klischko’s ears on Saturday night in Germany, winning the WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight boxing titles by unanimous decision, little was known about Tyson Fury. We have since discovered that he’s a descendent of Irish gypsies, his dad, John, was a bare-knuckle boxer who just got out of jail for gouging a man’s eye out in a brawl at a car auction, and Tyson is 6-feet-9, 258 lb. of raging, Bible-thumping homophobic bleatings. Once fined for calling two foes “gay lovers,” in a recent interview with the Mail on Sunday in the U.K., Fury delivered rants about devil worship and days end, saying, “There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedephilia.”

Although Tyson Fury holds four heavyweight title belts, it should be pointed out that he does not own the complete boxing alphabet. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champ. You have to go back to the last century to find the man who could call himself the undisputed heavyweight champion—Lennox Lewis.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old 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.