About Blake Wheeler’s snooty attitude…the athlete-media dynamic…fake news…untouchable Winnipeg Jets…and needing 23 more wins

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

It was a simple question, one put forth in the wake of yet another failed mission in a crusade full of failed missions and an equal measure of frustration and angst.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler

Your room was closed an unusually long time tonight. Was there a meeting?” Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press inquired of Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler on Friday night at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz.

What do you think?” replied Wheeler, turning and fixing Wiecek with a stare that suggested he was the worst form of pond scum. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut? Obviously there was a conversation had between us, obviously I’m not gonna give you anything that was said in this room.”

Obviously Wheeler was being a dink, obviously he didn’t have to be a dink.

Wiecek didn’t ask what was said behind those doors that stayed closed for 17 minutes. He likely didn’t care. He merely wanted confirmation that the Jets were late in allowing news snoops into their changing chamber because they had held a chin-wag following the 22nd loss of their National Hockey League schedule. He didn’t pose the question in a provocative, challenging or confrontational manner. Still…

What do you think?” came the snotty reply, the words dripping with unbridled contempt. “What do you think, we were just silent in here with the door shut?”

Look, I understand these are tense times in Jets Nation. That happens when your head coach has told anyone who cares to listen that all his players are “horse shit,” your supposed No. 1 goaltender can’t stop a runny nose, and you’ve just received a pair of paddywhackings, 7-4 against the Montreal Canadiens and 4-3 vs. the gawdawful Arizona Coyotes, who win about as often as Dustin Byfuglien passes on second helpings. Given those dire circumstances, the last thing a player wants or needs is a parry-and-thrust with people holding notepads and microphones. Newspaper deadlines be damned.

Trouble is, once that ‘C’ was stitched on to his Jets jersey, Wheeler became the official voice of the workers. Dealing with news scavengers, in good times and bad, is part of the gig. And I would expect he do it with a civil tongue.

The Jets captain could have—no—he should have said something like, “Yes, we had a players’ meeting and, before you ask, I’m not prepared to share what we discussed.” That’s how a true professional would have handled it. Not Wheeler though. He had to be rude, biting and dismissive. But, hey, if the president-elect of the United States can get away with calling the great Meryl Streep a bottom-feeding thespian, surely a hockey player dissing a news snoop is small potatoes.

I’ve never met Blake Wheeler. I doubt I ever will. I admire the way he plays the game, with a favorable blend of skill and naked intensity. And, really, that’s all that should matter. But, again, he’s the team captain. If Wheeler doesn’t like the media component of the job, simply surrender the ‘C’. Then he can be just like his mime-like buddy Big Buff, who apparently only shares his five-word pearls of wisdom with the Fourth Estate when the moon is full.

fake-newsFewer professional athletes genuinely embrace the ritual of news scavengers invading their space, before or after games. It’s tolerated as a necessary evil. But I’ve got news for Blake Wheeler and those of his ilk: Most news snoops I know and worked with don’t enjoy visiting changing rooms, either. I’m guessing that Paul Wiecek would be quite content if he never saw the inside of a sports boudoir again. But, as with the players, the athlete-media dynamic is a necessary evil. And without reporters in those rooms to ask questions, you get fake news. And fake news begets rancor, distrust and a Twitter-angry president-elect who can’t keep his thumbs to himself. So play nice and just answer the damn questions, boys.

While watching the Jets gag on a late lead and lose another hockey game Saturday night, 3-2 to the Kings in Tinseltown, it occurred to me that one of them is apt to be playing in Las Vegas at this time next year. So I scanned the roster, searching for the Jets whom I consider untouchable. I came up with seven: Jacob Trouba, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler, Josh Morrissey and the entire Lickety-Split Line of Puck Finn, Twig Ehlers and Rink Rat Scheifele. Vegas can have their pick of the rest, including Byfuglien.

It will take 90 points, minimum, to qualify for the western portion of the Stanley Cup tournament. The Jets need 46 points in 36 games to get there. In basic numbers, that’s a 23-13 record the rest of the way. Good luck with that.

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.

Dean Blundell’s bit on Shane Doan was funny like the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar

At my former favorite saloon, the Toad In the Hole Pub & Eatery in Osborne Village, Mick the late-night barman was oft heard delivering the pained plea, “Can I have the last three minutes of my life back?”

His lament always was born of the empty-headed blather of those who sat before him at his bar.

And so it was for me in the small hours of Tuesday. (No, I wasn’t sitting at Mick’s bar, although after hearing what I heard on Sportsnet I surely had to suppress the urge to reach for a bottle.)

Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes captain.
Shane Doan, Arizona Coyotes captain.

While on my morning jog to numerous websites, you see, I made the most unfortunate discovery of a creature called Dean Blundell, a dinosaur of sorts in that he is a radio shock jock, a species I thought to be extinct. Imagine my surprise to learn that a) shock jocks still exist, and b) people actually still listen to the radio. Who knew?

Anyway, my unearthing of Blundell on the Sportsnet website was a misadventure because seldom, if ever, has a bigger boatload of bilge dropped anchor at my ears. For two minutes and 52 seconds, I listened to an astonishing verbal assult on Shane Doan, a longtime National Hockey League worker of admirable loft who, according to Blundell, had the bad manners to re-up with the Arizona Coyotes.

Give a listen:

I don’t really care whatsoever, but this was running through my mind when I read it this morning,” Blundell began on Sportsnet 590 The Fan in the Republic of Tranna. “Have you ever in your life seen a guy in any professional sport that likes losing as much as Shane Doan? I don’t know that there’s another man who’s been as good as he’s been in his sport that’s been not just okay with sucking, but looked forward to it, preferred it, took pay cuts to do it and is staying and finishing his career in a place he knows he can’t win.

I don’t get it whatsoever. This is why they’ve sucked for as long as they’ve sucked. They’ve got a guy that loves sucking. Like, he looks forward to it. Every season. I read this the other day and Shane Doan’s like, ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ I’m like, no kidding because you love to suck and that’s the centre of the suck universe when it comes to the NHL.

He has no clue, he has no desire to win. I have never in my life seen anything like it. Never. He’s gonna get $2.5 million, with his bonuses and incentives he could make up to $5 million just to suck. If that’s the goal for him, good for him. Job well done. You’re the Stanley Cup of suckage. Shane Doan prefers to suck.”

I believe it was supposed to be funny, because Blundell had at least one hand-picked stooge, perhaps two, providing the backup vocals and a cheesey laugh track. But this was funny like gonorrhea is a knee-slapper. I got more belly laughs watching The English Patient.

I suppose we ought to be thankful, though. I mean, Blundell stifled any urge to include crude homophobic humor in his rotten-to-the-core rant. He also fought off any compulsion to use a young hockey player’s death as part of a punch line about life in Edmonton.

Those, be advised, were among the trespasses for which Blundell was punted from his shock-jock gig at 102.1 the Edge in the Republic of Tranna. Yup, the guy is a class act. Like raw sewage is a martini and the back of a garbage truck is a salad bar. That didn’t stop the geniuses at Rogers Media from diving in and digging him out of the 102.1 dumpster for their morning show, though. I guess toilet humor and groundless guttersniping was in short supply at Sportsnet 590 The Fan.

Shane Doan, Winnipeg Jets rookie.
Shane Doan, Winnipeg Jets rookie.

Rather than lashing out at Doan for choosing to re-up for a 21st crusade with a franchise that drafted him when still housed in Winnipeg, Blundell might have put his two minutes and 52 seconds of slander to better use.

He could have Googled the name Ernie Banks, who spent 19 Major League Baseball seasons as a lovable loser with the Chicago Cubs, not once participating in a playoff game. Never once getting a sniff of a World Series title. Yet not once did he ask for, or demand, a trade to a contending team. He just kept arriving at Wrigley Field every day, saying, “Let’s play two.” I guess Mr. Cub “sucked” and had “no desire to win.”

He could have Googled anyone who’s ever willingly signed with the Cubbies post-1908, or anyone who wore Boston Red Sox linen between 1918 and 2004, or anyone who’s played for the Toronto Maple Leafs post-Punch Imlach, or anyone who’s happily pulled a San Diego Chargers jersey over his head. They all must have sucked and had no desire to win.

Sports is overflowing with franchises that never win. That suck.

The Edmonton Oilers suck like nobody has sucked for the past 10 years. So what does that say about Milan Lucic, who decided he’d rather spend his next seven NHL winters on the frozen tundra of the Alberta capital than with a Stanley Cup contender in Los Angeles?

Actually, a better question is this: Why would Sportsnet post the Blundell bile on its website?

Hey, I’m all for having fun. I love cynicism, irreverence, wit, satire and parody. But Dean Blundell’s calling out of Shane Doan was none of the above. It was lame and insulting. It was three minutes of cheap theatrics aimed for the kind of cheap laughs the loudest lump on a bar stool gets from his drunken buddies.

It failed. Miserably.

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.

Kevin Cheveldayoff: Translating the Winnipeg Jets GM’s Chevy-speak

That was quite the deliverance from Kevin Cheveldayoff earlier this week. Say this for the man who generally manages the Winnipeg Jets, he does not cut to the chase.

Kevin Cheveldayoff
Kevin Cheveldayoff

Fear not, though, kids. I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics and, during my 30 years in mainstream jock journalism, I developed a fool-proof method of translating shinny dialect into plain, ordinary, everyman’s English. Chevy-speak is a tough nut to crack, but I’ve managed to reduce his 28-minute chin-wag with news scavengers down to approximately 1,000 words.

Here, then, is what Chevy said and what he really said

Have you finalized your pecking order for next Friday’s National Hockey League entry draft?

What Chevy said: “The list is getting pretty much in ink. Unless something really dramatically makes a shift that you just don’t see, our minds are very set.”

What Chevy really said: “Listen people, there’s an ink eraser on my ball point pen, so—whoo boy!—if the Toronto Maple Leafs pull a page from the Edmonton Oilers’ draft manual and royally screw up (hello, Nail Yakupov!), we’ll be all over Auston Matthews like chin whiskers on Joe Thornton. But I suspect we’ll be selecting Patrik Laine with the No. 2 pick.”

Are you actively trying to trade young defenceman Jacob Trouba?

What Chevy said: “This is an interesting time of year. I’ve seen lots of different scenarios out there of teams that are pushing hard that I haven’t even heard from and I’ve talked to different teams that have asked different questions that I’ve certainly asked myself. I’m not trying to trade anybody. I think in this game there’s a distinct possibility that anybody can get traded. And again we’ve got some good young players here. We’ve got two of them that are up for contracts in Trouba and (Mark) Scheifele and we’re going to do our best to get those contracts done and in the books. So trying to trade him? No.”

What Chevy really said: “If Trouba thinks he’s going to get $7 million a year out of me, I’ll ship his ass out of here faster than you can say ‘Have fun in Edmonton.’ ”

rae and jerry'sWill your first pick in the entry draft, No. 2 overall, be able to step directly into the Jets’ lineup next season?

What Chevy said: “I think there was a lot of reference as to having…there’s the three players mentioned in the same breath all the time…those players each and every year differ, sometimes a player can step right into your lineup, sometimes they can’t. I think the players at the top end of the draft this year look like they’re ready to step in. How much they contribute, what type of role they play, all those kinds of things are really left for them to determine. That’s what training camp’s about. We’ll see how it goes.”

What Chevy really said: “Well, duh! If Patrik Laine doesn’t take a job away from Chris Thorburn or Anthony Peluso, I’ll personally buy all my friends in the media a steak dinner at Rae and Jerry’s.”

Have negotiations with Jacob Trouba and his agent been difficult?

What Chevy said: “The rumors and stuff that everyone hears, it’s interesting, because they don’t come from inside the negotiation room. They come from imaginations and different scenarios that this time of the year just naturally brings. In this game here, you just don’t know. In the National Hockey League there’s things that happen very quickly, there’s things that take time, there are scenarios that present themselves that maybe you do look at a trade, there are scenarios that present themselves that you look at signing a guy long term or short term. So, sitting here, standing here today there’s nothing that’s not on the table, but it’s good to have options to try and move forward with.”

What Chevy really said: “I repeat: If Trouba thinks he’s going to get $7 million a year out of me, I’ll ship his ass out of here faster than you can say ‘Have fun in Edmonton.’ ”

Patrik Laine sounds like a cocky kid, claiming he should be the No. 1 overall pick ahead of Auston Matthews. Any concerns about Laine shooting from the lip?

What Chevy said: “I think anybody that goes out there and plays and goes into the forum and into the ice surface and competes at the highest level has that level of confidence in themselves, and well they should. They’re all very good hockey players and, again, you get a short period of time at the combines to get a glimpse of it and…again, that’s why you do a lot of due diligence behind the scenes and other opportunities to talk to friends, school teachers…”

What Chevy really said: “We all know what happened to the last player who thought his stuff didn’t stink. I think Evander’s track suit was still wet by the time he arrived in Buffalo. Don’t worry about Laine. Give us a week and we’ll have him spewing the same old boring cliches as the rest of the guys.”

Often the NHL is a copycat league, so is there any urge to follow the lead of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

What Chevy said: “I think everyone looks at what’s going on, but I think you have to look from within. It’s kind of like, you don’t just change direction of a semi or a tanker or anything like that. You can’t just say we’re going in this direction. I think it has to be a philosophy that works for your organization. You have to look at what you have, what you have coming, what you have available to yourself, and every team is not going to have the same type of mix. So I think it’s a real dangerous, dangerous thing to sit here and say, ‘Well, just because Pittsburgh or just because Chicago or just because L.A. won the Stanley Cup that this is the direction. I think that the greater you can forge your own identity and grow that organically I think is what’s majorly important. And, again, I think it takes understanding what you have and not trying to shoehorn things into the wrong positions, and that’s what a good coach and coaching staff does.

What Chevy really said: “Give me Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang and I’ll copy cat the Pittsburgh Penguins; give me Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith and I’ll copy cat the Chicago Blackhawks; give me Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick and I’ll copy cat the Los Angeles Kings.”

How will an expansion team in Las Vegas affect your plans?

What Chevy said: “Again, the reports are the reports. It’s presumptuous on anyone’s part to talk about facts until they become facts, or if they become facts. The Board of Governors is coming up and certainly that will be when anything definitive will come out. I’ll just go back to our last general managers’ meeting when we were given a brief overview that if expansion did happen what the parameters might look at. The good thing is, we were told that if there is expansion it would not come until next season, so there’s a planning element that could be involved if the vote does happen.”

What Chevy really said: “Please, please, please, let there be an expansion team and let the Las Vegas Snake Eyes or One-Eyed Jacks or Royal Flush draft Ondrej Pavelec.”

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.

 

Say what? Here’s what the jocks were saying and what they should have been saying

This is a little segment I like to call: What they said/what they should have said.

In it, we consider the breathless sound bites delivered by sportsmen/women hither and yon and ponder what they should have said, or, in some instances, what I wish they had said.

Let’s begin…

Patrick Roy losing it.
Patrick Roy losing it, as usual.

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic had been hesitant to confirm the return of head coach Patrick Roy, but he made it official on this National Hockey League season’s final weekend that the ever-combustible St. Patrick will, indeed, be stamping his feet and blowing gaskets behind the bench as he guides the Avalanche through another non-playoff journey next year.

What Sakic said: “Yes, he will (be back). We’re in this thing together.”

What he should have said: “Are you kidding me? Have you seen what this guy’s like when he doesn’t get his way? He’s as loonie as a Canadian dollar. I had no choice but to bring him back as coach. You think I want to wake up and find a horse’s head at the foot of my bed one morning?”

  • Mark Scheifele, sitting on a career high 27 goals with just three matches remaining in a long lost NHL crusade, was doing the chin-wag thing with news scavengers when someone mentioned the possibility of a 30-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets centre, who no longer resembles Bambi on ice.

What Scheifele said: “It would definitely be huge. I’m definitely trying to push for it, but the most important part is to continue to play the right way and if they go in, they go in. And if not, I want to be happy with the effort I give each and every night and with a full 200-foot game. I’m definitely going to be going for it. But I’ve got to play the right way first.”

What I wish he had said: “Dude, you must be mistaking me for Evander Kane. I don’t give a shit about personal numbers. Don’t talk to me about 30 goals when we’re not going to the playoffs.”

  • Kevin Lowe, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, vice-president and president, is generally viewed as the guy wearing the black hat in The Chuck, because the once-mighty NHL franchise became a running joke under his watch. But that didn’t stop him from standing before a full house and pandering to the faithful post-game when the Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to their old barn, Rexall Place, last week.

What Lowe said: “(Edmonton has) the greatest fans in all of hockey.”

What he should have said: “It was nice of you dipsticks to actually get through another entire season of losing without tossing your Oilers’ jersey on the ice.”

Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak telling lies.
  • Mother Russia backed up the truck and loaded on the entire roster for the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota, replacing it at the 11th hour with the entire Under-17 squad. Speculation, not surprisingly, ran at a full gallop, with most observers believing the Russkies pulled the switcheroo because all of the Under-18s have been on the now-banned drug meldonium, thus they would not have passed drug testing. This left legendary goaltender and Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak with some ‘splaining to do.

What Vlad said: “(This was) a tactical decision by the coaching staff. I ask you not to give in to rumor and to speculate about what has happened.”

What he should have said: “Hands up anyone who believes there are still some clean athletes in the Motherland! But seriously, after Maria Sharipova got caught using meldonium, we knew the jig was up with these kids. It’s not like 1972 when we used all the illegal drugs we could get our commie hands on before we played Team Canada. They would have blown us out if we weren’t on the juice. Now if you’ll excuse me, my presence is requested in President Putin’s chamber and I understand he isn’t very pleased with me.”

  • Major League Baseball players and managers are struggling with the enforcement of a rule that prohibits a base runner from sliding hard into second base with the express purpose of breaking up a double play. Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons believes it cost his club a win and he used a sexist comment to express his distaste for the ruling.

What Gibby said: “It’s a joke. Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

What he should have said: “Ty Cobb will be spinning like a lathe in his grave. The game’s become a joke. I guess we’ll just have to take off our big-boy pants and play with our little-boy pants from now on.”

Ernie Els
Ernie Els just puttering along.
  • Golf great Ernie Els lived the worst possible nightmare on the first hole in the opening round of The Masters, taking six putts from inside three feet before his ball found the bottom of the hole. Upon arrival at the practice tee the next morning, Els was met with stony silence.

What Els said: “The players and caddies looked at me like I didn’t have any pants on.”

What I wish he had said: “My golf game sounds just like that broken-down jalopy my dad bought me when I turned 16—putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt.

  • The Winnipeg Jets finished the season on an impressive run, winning their final four matches, including a California sweep of the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Still, it left the Jets in the Central Division cellar at close of business and swimming with all the other bottom feeders in advance of the NHL draft lottery. So what say you, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec?

What Pavelec said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

What he should have said and what I wish he had said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

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 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 in 2015.

 

Coach PoMo morphs into Coach Claude…the God squad…Bo knows quarterbacking…and Ronda Rousey isn’t so tough after all

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

Okay, who stole Paul Maurice and why have you replaced him with Claude Noel?

Claude Noel
Claude Noel

Seriously.

That 7-0 wedgie the Nashville Predators delivered to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday night in Twangtown, Tenn., was 50 shades of gawdawful and conjured up flashbacks from the gory days, when most games seemed to be Keystone Kops meet the Three Stooges. It was slapstick shinny. Helter-skelter hockey.

That was circa Noel, the yuk-a-minute yet bewildered head coach who, when asked by news scavengers to explain the woeful ways of his workers, would reply, “I can’t give you the answers as to why.”

So there was Maurice post-paddywhacking in Music City on Saturday, parroting his predecessor.

“I don’t have an answer for you yet,” is how the Jets coach began his scrum with scribes and other gatherers of sound bites, then later adding, “we have to keep searching for answers.”

It’s one thing for Maurice to sound like Noel. Coaching like him is a more disturbing matter.

In that tire fire in Nashville, the Jets were scrubs on skates, an outfit in utter disarray and one that cannot possibly harbor any hope of qualifying for the playoffs in the National Hockey League’s most-challenging precinct, the Central Division. To be blunt, they looked poorly coached. You know, just like when the players stopped listening to Noel.

I agree with all those advocating an increase in the size of NHL nets. Why, with larger nets there’s no way the Predators would have shut out the Jets 7-0. It would have been more like 14-1.

It might feel like the sky is falling in Jets Nation because the hockey heroes are one-for-November, but losing four straight games and six of seven assignments is not cause for alarm. So says the team captain, Andrew Ladd, who assures us it is just “a little funk.” Yes, and Don Cherry’s clothing is “just” a little loud.

American Pharoah
American Pharoah

When I look at the list of finalists for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, I don’t see any man, woman or animal who had a better 2015 than American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years of horses making left turns at North American race tracks, and first to the wire in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But wait. If the great Secretariat didn’t win the award in 1973 (it went to fast car driver Jackie Stewart), American Pharoah cannot possibly get the nod. Unless, of course, horses are given a vote. Then he’s a shoo-in.

So, how are we to summarize the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ season? Try this: Paul Wiecek, in the Winnipeg Free Press, writes about them “laughing, joking and horsing around” during their final workout of yet another Canadian Football League crusade gone horribly wrong; defensive back Maurice Leggett believes there is a shortage of “mean jerks” in the changing room; and they have a placekicker, Sergio Castillo, who is convinced an invisible God has already predetermined which of his kicks shall sail off course. Apparently, the invisible God decided that Castillo would misfire on two of his five field goal attempts in the 21-11 season-ending loss to the Argonauts in Toronto. “I didn’t have the game I wanted to, but I enjoyed it,” he said. Who knew screwing up could be so much fun? Makes you want to rush out and purchase 2016 season tickets, doesn’t it?

Quarterback Henry Burris is certain to be named most outstanding player in the CFL, but I’m guessing that if you were to quiz the league’s nine head coaches, asking who they’d prefer behind centre, they’d all answer Bo Levi Mitchell of the Calgary Stampeders before Burris, the Ottawa RedBlacks greybeard QB.

Am I the only one who finds that Scotiabank Fifth Season commercial featuring the girl with all the Marie Osmond teeth painfully irritating? I mean, she’s a cute kid and I’m sure she’s lovely, but, geez Louise, did they have to make her out to be such a nerdy girl? Oh, it’s more than just annoying, Miss Woods.

Take that, Ronda Rousey.
Take that, Ronda Rousey.

I think Holly Holm did every fight fan a favor when she boxed Ronda Rousey’s ears and put the boots to her in their Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title bout. Perhaps now people will stop making senseless noise about Rousey whupping convicted woman-beater and world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather. She isn’t even the toughest girl on the block, let alone the baddest ass in all of mixed martial arts fighting.

Shouldn’t the Winnipeg Free Press have hired a sports columnist to replace Gary (La La) Lawless by now? A sports section without a columnist is like a pub without pints or a church without prayer. I need someone to pick on.

Speaking of needing a scribe to pick on, there’s always Steve Simmons, thin-skinned columnist with the Toronto Sun. In making the case for Darryl Sutter to be considered for a coaching post in the World Cup of Hockey next September, Little Stevie Blunder advises us that the mumbling bench boss “has won three Stanley Cups with the Los Angeles Kings.” Really? Three? I demand a recount. No surprise he’d have it wrong, though. Facts are too often a casualty in today’s sports writing, which is a pet peeve of mine.

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 of Honour.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: It must really suck to be Lirim Hajrull-oops

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

How bad a day did Lirim Hajrull-oops have on Saturday afternoon at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry? Well, after coughing up a hair ball on four field goal attempts and a convert in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ one-point loss to the Edmonton Eskimos, he was so angry when he got home that he wanted to kick a dog.

Naturally, he missed. Fido is just fine.

It’s no surprise, really, that Lirim Hajrull-oops’s teammates stood by their man and resisted the urge to hurl the much-maligned place-kicker under the team bus. They put on the proper public face. In private, though, we all know what they had to be thinking—he cost them two points in the West Division table and, possibly, admission to the Canadian Football League post-season party. It was the worst kicking performance since Jay Leno gave Conan O’Brien the boot, and he ought to be fired. That’s the reality.

I see where TSN has been doing the promo thing for a feature on the Toronto Blue Jays’ 1993 World Series championship, and Joe Carter, the batsman who struck the decisive blow in the home half of the ninth inning of Game 6, tells us that “everyone knows where they were” when he swatted his three-run homer, and the Jays’ success “changed how we view baseball.” I can assure Mr. Carter that I, for one, do not have a clue where I was or what I was doing when he clouted a Mitch Williams pitch over the fence in left field, nor did that development alter the way I watch rounders. I mean, get a grip, man. It was a baseball game, not the JFK assassination.

Exactly how many people does Raffi Torres have to send to the hospital before the National Hockey League does the right thing and tell him to go away and never come back? Suspended for a fifth time, his most recent trespass being a predatory-type assault on Jacob Silfverberg of the Disney Ducks, it truly is time to toss the book at the San Jose Sharks’ repeat felon.

So, three female reporters were denied access—temporarily—to the Jacksonville Jaguars’ changing room post-game in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon. Not good. Blatant gender discrimination. Should never happen in 2015. A male usher made a serious faux pas. But wait. One of the women, Graham Watson, described the usher as an “old, out-of-touch geezer” and another, Joey Chandler, was only slightly more charitable, referring to him as an “old man.” Way to keep it classy, ladies. Makes it rather difficult to sympathize with you when you’re so insulting.

Okay, let’s put the corks back in the champagne bottles, boys. That is to say, there are far too many champagne celebrations in baseball for my liking. You win a division title, fine. Break out the bubbly. Ditto for an American League or National League pennant and World Series victory. But for earning a wild-card spot? Or a second wild-card spot? Again, get a grip, boys. You haven’t won a thing. What next? A champagne bath for finishing first in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues in spring?

 

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 of Honour.

Winnipeg Jets: A tough-talking coach and a tough team to play

If it’s true that a team assumes the personality of its coach, then it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg Jets play hockey the way they do and why they have fooled so many people.

I mean, you look at their puppet master, Paul Maurice, and the first two words that come to mind are not “tough guy.” More like “book worm” or “bean counter.” Coach PoMo looks tough like Clark Kent or Buddy Holly look tough. Start with the eye glasses. Black, horned rimmed and science-project nerdy, if he were in junior high school he’d be a wedgy waiting to happen.

Coach PoMo’s hair doesn’t help, either. It’s thinning and in rapid, middle-age retreat, like a neglected lawn. Another few years and he’ll have enough forehead to start a second face.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

It’s only when Maurice opens his mouth that you realize what you see isn’t what you get.

The Jets’ bench jockey talks like a tough guy. His voice is bottom-of-the-barrel deep. Commanding and no-nonsense. He often speaks with a clenched jaw, as if he is clamping down—hard—on an irksome thought that requires his immediate attention and deserves the back of his hand. He sniffs a lot, like a pug at the end of 10 rounds. It is clear he does not suffer fools well. There is a street fighter in Maurice, someone with a hidden fury who’s prepared to throw down on you at the very hint of defiance.

And so it is with his Jets.

You look at the Winnipegs’ roster and it is found wanting when measured against those of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Yet there they are, in lockstep with the Blackhawks, two points in arrears of the Blues and distancing themselves from the Kings, who entered this 2014-15 National Hockey League fray as defenders of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.

The inclination, even this deep into a crusade that began with scant hope of achievement and even less promise, is to suggest the other shoe has yet to drop. That the Jets shall awaken one morning, perhaps not long after this weekend’s all-star recess, and collectively say, “Who are we trying to kid? We aren’t this good.”

Just don’t count on it.

The Jets, you see, have assumed the Maurice mentality. They are street fighters. They are—dare I say it?—truculent. Which is why they win games they have no business winning. It explains how they can skate into the United Center in Chicago and, challenged by the Blackhawks to a bash-and-bang bit of roller derby on ice, they give as good as they get. And win.

In short, the Jets don’t take any crap.

Maurice calls it “teamness” where “everybody takes care of everybody else.”

One, of course, could point to the Daniel Carcillo-Mathieu Perreault crosscheck episode in the Toddlin’ Town on Friday night and suggest it didn’t look that way. That the Jets’ reponse to their hottest hand being harpooned and rendered unavailable by the Chicago pest was less than adequate. That they had lost the plot. This repeat offender should have been drawn and quartered, right? Well, a case could be made that the time wasn’t right to deploy the assault squad. There was a hockey game to be won. The bill collector could perhaps visit Carcillo another time, another place.

The Jets might choose to not seek retribution for Carcillo’s callous act, but on no level would that be in disagreement with the reality that they can be a rather beligerent bunch with gusts up to ornery. We shouldn’t expect that to change as long as Maurice is riding herd.

You are who you are as a team,” says Maurice, his jaw clenched, “and you have to be true to that.”

That’s a tough guy talking…even if he doesn’t look the part.

HITHER & YAWN: I realize he’s a broadcasting legend, a wonderful man and he still has the great chops, but listening to Bob Cole describe a hockey game is painful. It’s anybody’s guess who has the puck. It’s like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in the jar…So, what was this week’s lesson for “all you kids out there” from the resident curmudgeon on Coachless Corner on Saturday night? Just this: Be like Phil Kessel—if you score the most goals, kids, don’t sweat the little details like backchecking. “Kessel…forget it comin’ back,” Don Cherry bleated. “Just score goals. He’s your magic guy with the hands. Forget backchecking. Let him go.”…Is it just me, or does anyone else sometimes forget that Ottawa actually has a team in the NHL?…Mark Hunter, director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, on junior phenom Connor McDavid: “He could play in the National Hockey League right now and get 50, 60 points, I think. That’s how good I think he is.” Not if McDavid played for the Leafs. They only score one goal every four games...So, the Disney Ducks retire Teemu Selanne’s jersey No. 8 in an elaborate ceremony that takes a little more than 90 minutes. The L.A. Kings retire Rob Blake’s No. 4 in a ceremony that takes 35 minutes. The Buffalo Sabres raise Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters in a ceremony that takes less than 20 minutes. At this rate, jersey-retirement ceremonies soon will last about as long as a Hollywood marriage…This from Roberto Luongo, courtesy Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province: “People don’t understand how hard it is to be a goalie in a Canadian market. You have to wear the pressure during the game; then, after the game, you have to answer every question about every goal. ‘How did that one go in? Why did that one goal in?’ And it’s after every game. You can’t escape it.” Somewhere, Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets is nodding in agreement.

THE FAB WHO? Blake Wheeler is my new fave Jet. I like the way he plays, first of all, but when I discovered he can name the Beatles—all four of them—I was sold on the Jets big winger.

The folks at NHL.com have this fun feature called Puck Personalities, you see, and Wheeler was one of 14 players asked to provide the names of the most famous rock band in history. How did they score? Let’s just say this: If they were this bad at hockey, they’d all be playing in beer leagues.

Except Wheeler, who was the sole player of the 14 who rattled off John, Paul, Ringo and George—in that order—while the others…so sad.

Erik Karlsson wondered if “John Something?” was a member of the Beatles. Claude Giroux asked about “McArthur?” and Kyle Okposo figured a lad named “Paul Ringo” was one of the Fab Four. It was left for Henrik Lundqvist to sum up the exercise by saying, “This is awful, by the way.”

Yup, it was.

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 of Honour.