SPORTS IN 2019: Chevy beefs up the Winnipeg Jets at the deadline…the return of Cronin…Marc Trestman coaching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers…a new queen of Canadian curling…and more from Madame Redneck

No looking back. Only looking ahead.

And who better to do that than Madame Redneck, my bony recluse friend who lives above the timber line with 12 cats and grants me an audience once a year as long as I bring along a case of Kokanee and a carton of smokes?

She’s a crazy, old girl—I suppose in polite company we’d call her eccentric—but she possesses the best psychic powers this side of Nostradamus. She’s my personal Nostra Damn-Miss.

I spent an afternoon with her last week, and here’s what she saw in her crystal ball for 2019…

  • Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff will dazzle ’em prior to the National Hockey League trade deadline, acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Los Angeles Kings and prying potential unrestricted free agent and noted Uber enthusiast Matt Duchene away from the Ottawa Senators.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to sign Duchene long term,” says Chevy. “We’ll get him his personal Uber driver if that’s what it takes to make him happy.”

  • Cronin the Barbarian

    Weary of watching Connor McDavid being abused and fouled by skill-challenged ruffians, Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock convinces GM Peter Chiarelli to buy out the sloth-like Milan (Looch) Lucic and drag 55-year-old Marty McSorley out of mothballs to ride shotgun for McMagnifique. Not to be outdone, the Calgary Flames counter with the signing of Tim Hunter and the Vancouver Canucks add Harold Snepsts.

“My first choice was Semenko,” Chiarelli explains, “but Sammy’s dead so that was out of the question. Marty’s a great second choice, though. He did boffo work as Gretzky’s guard dog back in the day, both in Edmonton and L.A. No one even breathed on Wiener when Marty was nearby.”

Asked if there’s concern about McSorley’s age and inactivity, Chiarelli scoffs: “Age shmage. Ya, he’s a fossil, but we’re confident there’s still bite in whatever teeth he has left. What’s Looch got this year? Two goals? Marty will score two goals just with the puck bouncing in off his walker.”

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg, GM Chevy considers hiring his own goon to counter the moves in E-Town, Cowtown and Lotus Land.

“I called Jimmy Mann, but he doesn’t want any part of Harold Snepsts,” he says. “Cronin the Barbarian is on standby, though.”

  • Eric Tillman

    The Canadian Mafia will be disbanded after the Bombers soil the sheets for the 29th successive Canadian Football League season. Head coach Mike O’Shea and general manager Kyle Walters will be the fall guys, and they’ll be replaced by Marc Trestman and Eric Tillman.

“We’re pleased to have both these quality men on board,” says the sole survivor of the Canadian Mafia, CEO Wade (Whacker) Miller. “The Grey Cup follows them around like scandal dogs Johnny Manziel. Coach Trestman promises to wear nothing but long pants and also promises he won’t have Justin Medlock attempt any 61-yard field goals in B.C. Place. That’s good enough for me. And GM Tillman promises to keep his hands off everyone’s baby sitter. It’s all good.”

  • Bombers starting QB Matt Nichols goes down with a season-ending leg injury, so Walters pries noted frat boy Manziel away from the don’t-have-a-hope-in-hell Montreal Alouettes in a final attempt to save his job.

“I don’t want to talk about Johnny’s sordid past of drunken debauchery,” says Walters. “I mean, c’mon, man. This is Winnipeg. It’s not like there’s a night life here.”

  • Rod Smith, Milt Stegall, Matt Dunigan

    Matt Dunigan is kicked off the CFL on TSN panel for breaking the Golden Rule by mentioning Manziel’s history of domestic violence.

“Matty knows the rules,” says a TSN spokesperson. “All our groupies—oops, I mean all our guys— in the broadcast booth and on the panel know the rules for the Cult of Johnny—kiss his ass. We don’t care how many women he’s beaten up. We don’t care how lousy a quarterback he is. He’s still our favorite lousy quarterback. So pucker up and smooch his backside, boys.”

  • CFL commish Randy Ambrosie’s player exchange with the Mexico football league runs into a potential roadblock when Donald Trump begins to build his border wall.

“Hey,” says Ambrosie, “Trump’s actually doing us a favor. I mean, any Mexican players who can’t climb over a simple wall sure as hell aren’t in good enough shape to play in the CFL. It’ll save us the time and expense of working them out on our dime.”

  • Val Sweeting: Gimli?

    Jennifer Jones’ reign as queen of Canadian curling will come to an end at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Sydney, N.S., where she, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen are ousted by Kerri Einarson and her all-skip team that plays out of Gimli.

“Gimli? Really? We play out of Gimli?” asks Val Sweeting, the team’s import third who lives and works in Vegreville, Alta. “Nobody said anything about Gimli when I signed on. I don’t actually have to go there, do I? That wasn’t part of the deal.”

Advised that Gimli is the home of Crown Royal whiskey, Sweeting is puzzled: “Why should I care about that? Everyone knows curlers don’t drink.”

  • Genie Bouchard

    Tennis diva Genie Bouchard will continue her climb up the women’s world rankings, reaching the top 20 by late August. As a result, sponsors who had abandoned her during her four-year freefall will come back on board.

“Ya, my poor play cost me,” she admits, “but now there’s oodles of sponsorship money coming in again. Maybe this year I won’t have to take my clothes off for Sports Illustrated just to pay the bills.”

  • Serena Williams will win the Australian Open to capture her 24th Grand Slam tennis title, thus tying homophobe Margaret Court atop the all-time leaderboard.

“I’m so glad to finally get this out of the way,” says Williams. “I thought I was going to lose this final, but the match seemed to turn my way after I threatened to ram an effing tennis ball down the cheating, thieving chair umpire’s effing male chauvinist pig throat. Let that be a lessen to all you moms out there: If your kid is misbehaving, scare the hell out of her or him. Works for me.”

Meanwhile, Court was unimpressed with Williams equaling her record: “She’s a lesbian. I don’t care if she had a baby. She’s a lesbian, just like the rest of them.”

  • The Western Hockey League will return to River City when the Kootenay Ice abandons Cranbrook, B.C., and sets up shop at the University of Manitoba. The new entry will be known as the Winnipeg Falcons.

“Why Falcons?” says owner Greg Fettes. “Because they’re birds and this really is a bird-brained scheme. Like, can I really compete against the Jets and Manitoba Moose for the hockey dollar? What the hell was I thinking, man? I guess I wasn’t thinking.”

  • The Drab Slab known as the Winnipeg Free Press will promote from within and give Mike McIntyre the sports columnist gig.

“All those years working the crime beat are finally going to pay off,” says Mike Mac. “Only difference now is that I get to interview the criminals in the arena or at the football field instead of in a courtroom or behind bars.”

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About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

About the Winnipeg Free Press not giving a damn and the Winnipeg Sun being overrun by Postmedia outriders…flag football…Jim Barker’s lid…tell us what you really think, Kate…CFL power rankings…Mario’s pricey biffies…peeing in a bottle…and a chill in Winnipeg’s hottest summer

Three soft-boiled eggs on whole wheat toast and some leftover thoughts for a Monday morning breakfast

I cut my teeth in the rag trade by standing on the lumpy, pock-marked sidelines of local football fields, covering the Sisler Spartans, Churchill Bulldogs, Elmwood Eskimos and other outfits in the Winnipeg High School Football League.

If not at high school grid, I was courtside watching the best local tennis players do their thing on the clay courts of the Winnipeg Canoe Club or Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club.

Major Junior/Junior/Senior hockey, kids curling, high school track and field, badminton, junior golf, bowling, figure skating, fastball, gymnastics, Junior baseball, hoops, amateur boxing…you name it, I was there to write about it. And if I wasn’t on site, I was on the Winnipeg Tribune sports desk, doing rewrites or laying out the pages that would prominently feature the games that local people played for no pay.

People continue to play those games today, but the sports sections of the two daily rags in River City have abandoned them. Almost entirely. And that is, indeed, sad and most unfortunate.

I mean, why am I reading about Miguel Angel Jiminez leading the Senior British Open golf tournament and a tie atop the ladies’ Scottish Open leaderboard in the Winnipeg Free Press instead of, say, the Manitoba Junior Baseball League playoffs, which are down to the short strokes and will feature two local outfits, the St. James A’s and Elmwood Giants, in the final?

Why does the Winnipeg Sun devote two full pages to a guy from Vancouver, Adam Zaruba, who’s in the training camp of the Philadelphia Eagles, two full pages to UFC blood-spilling in Calgary, and another two full pages to the Tranna-centric musings of Steve Simmons instead of the MJBL final four?

I know the reason behind the Sun’s dismissal of all local sports outfits that aren’t named Jets, Blue Bombers, Moose or Goldeyes, and I addressed it in January 2016, after parent company Postmedia adopted a centralized sports desk for its member papers:

“Some invisible head sitting behind some invisible desk in some remote outpost of the land now will decide what Winnipeg sports fans want to read. How this serves Pegtown provides serious pause for ponder. I mean, shouldn’t a sports editor be able to reach out and feel the pulse of the people? It’s easy enough to recognize that the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the big dogs in town and, thus, generate the most talk. But what of lesser players such as the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Goldeyes, the University of Manitoba Bisons, Junior hockey, local tennis, golf, curling, figure skating, etc.? My concern is that they shall be lost in the shuffle.”

The Moose and Goldeyes haven’t been ignored, but the others? Bupkus.

From July 15 until this very morning, the Sun printed 313 stories in 16 sports sections, and the professional-amateur split reads like a Harlem Globetrotters-Washington Generals scoreline—308-5. That’s a paltry 1.6 per cent of all copy devoted to amateur sports coverage, which has been sacrificed for Postmedia piffle from hither and yon, articles that have scant or zero significance to the River City rabble. Seriously. Steve Simmons taking issue with Kyle Lowry’s silence is something I want or need to read about in a Winnipeg newspaper?

It’s only marginally better at the Freep, where sports columnist Paul Wiecek wrote this at the start of the month: “A confluence of events over the Canada Day long weekend got me thinking about how we as Canadians so dramatically undervalue the contributions our amateur athletes make to this country, while simultaneously just as dramatically overvalue the contributions of our professional athletes.”

That particular column was more a gripe piece about greedy play-for-pay athletes, but the Drab Slab toy department and Wiecek then proved how little they value amateurs. From June 30 until this morning, they ran 614 articles and here’s the pro-amateur split: 558-56, or 9.1 per cent for amateurs. In that same time frame, Wiecek scribbled a dozen essays, 100 per cent aimed at pro athletes and pro sports (hmmm, 12 columns in 31 days…nice work if you can get it).

Like I said, I understand why the Sun has bottomed out on local amateur coverage. It’s marching to a national drummer. But the Freep has no excuse. It’s an independent paper with a sports section that doesn’t have any less space today than it did in the 1970s, and there’s no less staff. Which means there can only be one reason—they just don’t give a damn.

Speaking of pro sports, I must say, there was some gawdawful officiating on display during the Bombers-Tranna Argonauts skirmish on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, and it greatly benefited the home side. Winnipeg FC still would have beaten the Boatmen sans the generous flag-tossing, but, had the phantom infractions not been called, it might have made for a more compelling match.

The Bombers had a head count of 27,116 on Friday, their largest gathering of this Canadian Football League crusade, but Winnipeg FC is still 2,040 behind last-season’s three-game pace. That’s a dip of at least $57,000 in ticket revenue.

Rod Smith, Jim Barker, Matt Dunigan, Milt Stegall

I like Jim Barker’s input as one of the newbies among TSN’s cast of characters on CFL coverage, but he’s got to do something about his lid. If Barker’s grey-and-black locks aren’t flopping over his right eye, they’re sticking out at the back like he’s got bed head. Very distracting. As for that other newby, Davis Sanchez, if I want to listen to a man butcher the English language I’ll take Chris Walby any day. Bluto has better stories and he’s a lot funnier.

Listening to Kate Beirness of TSN glorify Johnny Manziel before and after the Edmonton Eskimos-Montreal Alouettes grass-grabber on Thursday night, I couldn’t help but wonder this: What does she really think about a guy who beat up his (former) girlfriend? What does she say about the Als quarterback once the camera is turned off? Is she being forced to promote him as the CFL’s shiny, new object?

I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek, he’s the only columnist in Canada who’s had the junk to write that Johnny Manziel’s doesn’t belong in the CFL due to his domestic violence history. If another scribe has spoken out, I missed it. So good on him.

Here are this week’s CFL power rankings…

1. Calgary (6-0): Who’ll stop these guys?
2. Winnipeg (4-3): Feasting on Tranna.
3. Edmonton (4-2): All those penalties (17) won’t cut it against a top-level foe.
4. Saskatchewan (3-3): Has anyone figured out what Chris Jones is trying to do?
5. Ottawa (4-2): Not going to win many games kicking seven field goals.
6. B.C. (2-3): Not convinced Travis Lulay is the answer at QB.
7. Hamilton (2-4): Going…going…gone?
8. Toronto (1-5): Time to try another quarterback.
9. Montreal (1-5): Still awful in either official language.

I note that hockey legend Mario Lemieux is selling his shack in Mont-Tremblant, Que., for a mere $21,999,066 million. It has eight bedrooms and nine washrooms. That’s $2,444,340.66 per biffy, for those of you keeping score at home.

On the subject of bathrooms, tennis great Serena Williams is whinging about men in lab coats continually knocking on her door and demanding that she pee in a bottle. Apparently, the doping sleuths have visited her five times this year. So what’s the big deal? I’ve had to pee in a bottle six times in the past 10 months, and I’m not even a world-ranked tennis player.

Shouldn’t the promotion of Gina Kingsbury to general manager of Canada’s national women’s hockey team warrant more than an ‘oh, by the way’ blurb in the media? It was bottom-of-the back-pages news in the Free Press, and 10 pages deep into the Sun sports section.

And, finally, the silence since a National Hockey League arbitrator awarded Jacob Trouba a $5.5 million contract has been deafening. Nothing from Winnipeg Jets ownership/management. Nothing from the Trouba camp. Kind of puts a chill into Winnipeg’s hottest summer in 30 years.

If the Winnipeg Jets have sent an SOS to Ondrej Pavelec, it must be fake news

We now take you inside the Winnipeg Jets’ changing room, where the third players-only meeting in less than a week is in progress…

Dustin Byfuglien: “Okay, guys, let’s make it snappy. I wanna get outta here and get up to Lockport for some ice fishing. I got my hut set up and I hear the catfish are biting real good.”

Captain Blake Wheeler: “Ya, sure Buff. We’ll make the meeting as short as your attention span on the ice.”

Byfuglien: “You dissing me, Wheels?”

Wheeler: “Just saying. You seem to be in a bigger hurry to get to your fishing hole than you are to get back to our end after another one of your colossal blunders in the O-zone.”

Byfuglien: “Hey, my bad pinches and brain cramps wouldn’t seem so bad if Beavis and Butthead sitting over there in the corner would stop the puck once in a while. I’m not half as bad as those two make me look.”

Ondrej Pavelec giving up a goal.
They shoot, they score on Ondrej Pavelec.

Wheeler: “Don’t blame Bucky and Hutch for your screwups, Buff. Besides, help is on the way. They’re bringing Pavs back.”

Byfuglien: “The hell you say!”

Wheeler: “True story. Ondrej Pavelec is starting in goal Wednesday night when we play the Arizona Coyotes.”

Mark Scheifele: “That’s fake news! Fake news, fake news, fake news! That’s Donald Trump-level fake news! I won’t believe it until I see Pavs flopping and flailing in the blue paint.”

Wheeler: “I’m telling all you guys that Pavs is coming back. He’ll be here in five, 10 minutes.”

Scheifele: “Whose brain fart was that?”

Wheeler: “You ever heard that saying about how crap flows down from the top? Figure it out. Starts at Chipper, trickles down to Chevy, trickles down to coach PoMo, then the steaming mess stops in here.”

Bryan Little: “Stops in here? Nice to know someone in this room can make a stop!”

Wheeler: “Boys…boys…boys. Let’s not be sniping at one another. If you want to bitch and bark at someone, save it for the media. They’ll be in here as soon as our meeting is over. I’ll have to talk to the sons of B’s ’cause I wear the C. The rest of you guys can draw straws to see which two have to join me. Buff, you just hide in the showers as always.”

Chris Thorburn: “Why does Buff always get to duck out on interviews? That ain’t fair?”

Byfuglien: “Who asked you, Thorbs?”

Thorburn: “I’ve got a right to speak! I’m great in the room! Everybody knows that. If I wasn’t great in the room, you think I’d still be in the National Hockey League?”

Byfuglien: “If you’re so great in the room, maybe you should just stay in the room and let someone else have your five minutes of ice time.”

They shoot, they score on Michael Hutchinson.
They shoot, they score on Michael Hutchinson.

Wheeler: “Knock it off, you two! I told you, save your cattiness for the media.”

Jacob Trouba: “Wheels is right. We’ve lost four games in a row and we’re quickly losing contact with the wild-card playoff teams. We’ve all gotta haul together. One for all, all for one.”

Mathieu Perreault: “Oh, isn’t that rich? Look who’s talking about pulling together. It’s Mr. Trade Me, Mr. Holdout. It was nice of you to join us halfway through November, Troubs. What happened, mom finally kick you out of the house?”

Trouba: “Eat my shorts, Matty! You’re the most overpaid waste of skin in this room. I hope you and your 13 points enjoy playing in Las Vegas next year.”

Ondrej Pavelec enters the changing room…

Wheeler (standing to greet the Jets’ longtime scapegoat goaltender): “Pavs! Get over here, you big lug! Man, are we glad to see you, dude!”

Byfuglien: “Nobody’s happier to see you than me, Pavs. The two guys we’ve had in goal this season…we’d have been just as well off with that little twerp Justin Bieber in net. Every time I wave my stick at someone instead of actually trying to check them, the puck seems to end up in our net. Can’t be my fault, ’cause coach PoMo never benches me.”

Pavelec: “Well, I should warn you all, I haven’t gotten any better in my time with the Manitoba Moose. Check out my numbers. Just so-so. Same as my nine years in the NHL.”

Scheifele: “Ya, I guess the brass recalling you is kind of like offering a drowning man a drink of water. But Buff’s right. It’s been brutal. You can’t be any worse.”

Pavelec: “You have a short memory, Scheifs.”

Connor Hellebuyck giving up a goal.
They shoot, they score on Connor Hellebuyck.

Connor Hellebuyck: “Excuse me. In case you hadn’t noticed, Hutch and I are in the room. We can hear you.”

Byfuglien: “Nice to know something is working for you guys. Maybe you should have been trying to stop the puck with your ears.”

Wheeler: “Okay, enough! Time to draw straws and see who has to deal with those knobs in the media. They’ll wanna ask you all their dumb questions, Pavs. You in?”

Pavelec: “Just call me Strawman!”

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.

B-b-b-Benny and the Jets started with Ben Hatskin, and don’t you forget it, Winnipeg

I thought we were perfectly clear on this, but apparently some people still believe Bobby Hull is the reason professional hockey came to River City in 1972 and exists today.

So, as much as I dislike repeating myself, let me say this for the 8,151st time: Robert Marvin Hull is not—repeat NOT (and, yes, I’m shouting)—the reason pro shinny arrived in Winnipeg. Ben Hatskin IS (yes, shouting again) the reason. Always was, always will be. Benny is the godfather, grandfather and father of pay-for-play hockey as we know it in good, ol’ Hometown.

Ben Hatskin
Ben Hatskin

Again, this is not a chicken-and-egg thing. We know who and what came first.

Benny and the original Jets arrived in 1967 as a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League. But Benny and a few of the boys had bigger fish to fry. They thought it would be a swell idea to form a rebel league and yank the National Hockey League’s chain. You know, poach some of its players and minor league properties. Pay them big bucks, much more than they would earn in the NHL. Thus, the World Hockey Association was born.

So, here’s your overall lineage to that point: Ben Hatskin, Junior Jets, World Hockey Association.

The next trick was to get NHL players whose contracts had expired and the paying public to take the rebel league seriously. No better way to do that than take the NHL’s glam guy hostage. Thus, Benny set his sights on Hull, who wasn’t feeling the love from Chicago Blackhawks ownership. Benny tossed some large numbers, like $250,000 per annum, at the Golden Jet. Hull basically scoffed. He could pry that out of tightwad Bill Wirtz in the Windy City.

Tell ’em to give me a million dollars and they’ve got themselves a hockey player,” Hull advised his agent, Harvey Weinberg.

Benny alerted his accomplices at the WHA ownership level that the sticker price for Hull’s good looks, charisma and 110-m.p.h. slapshot was $1 million. They might have winced at that figure, but Benny somehow convinced each of them to kick in to the B. Hull kitty. The deal was done.

Make no mistake, though. There would have been professional hockey in Winnipeg in ’72 with or without Hull. Hatskin was all in before signing the Golden Jet. What Hull’s presence did, however, was provide the Jets and the WHA with star power and staying power. Without him, the league’s shelf life would have been shorter than a Winnipeg summer. With him, they survived seven seasons and moved into the NHL.

I point all this out not to minimize or trivialize Hull’s contribution to shinny in good, ol’ Hometown. His role was immense, although I believe some people err when they romanticize his signing. Don’t think for a minute that Hull agreed to come to River City for altruistic reasons, like giving legs to a fledgling operation. He wasn’t sitting at home in the Toddlin’ Town saying, “You know, I think I’d like to spend the next 10 years of my life playing hockey in the middle of nowhere. Besides, I’ve always wanted to see how my skills stack up against Frankie Beaton and Bad News Bilodeau.”

Bobby Hull came to town because the WHA member teams and Ben Hatskin showed him the money. Period.

Bobby Hull
Bobby Hull

They kept calling and I kept telling everyone that would listen that I wasn’t going anywhere, least of all to Winnipeg,” is how Hull explained it to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun on the occasion of the Jets’ 40 anniversary.

A $1-million signing bonus and a $1.75-million contract changed Hull’s thinking and the professional hockey landscape.

Who would have thought that any cowboy was worth $1 million in 1972?” Hull told Friesen. “Seabiscuit didn’t make that. No four-legged animal made that. No athlete had made a million dollars until then.”

Which is why players from back in the day still thank the Golden Jet for doubling, tripling and quadrupling their salaries. Some team owners, meanwhile, probably still curse his name.

Again, the point of this essay is not to discredit Hull. It’s to reaffirm Ben Hatskin as the starting point and the most significant figure in Winnipeg’s pro hockey lineage as we know it today. It goes like this: Ben Hatskin-Winnipeg Jets/WHA-Bobby Hull-NHL-Mark Chipman-Manitoba Moose/IHL/AHL-David Thomson-NHL/Winnipeg Jets.

It started with Ben Hatskin and there would not be an NHL franchise in River City today except for his vision and bull doggedness in the pursuit, and signing, of Bobby Hull.

(Footnote: There was pro shinny in River City pre-Jets. The Winnipeg Warriors, featuring Billy Mosienko, Ted Green, Gerry James and Fred Shero among other notables, competed in the Western Hockey League from 1955-61.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour in 2015.

 

About the Bombers’ binge…Huf huffing and puffing…a menage-a-goaltender…spoiled brats…and media groupies obsessed with a Raptors groupie

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

Many people were surprised to learn that Winnipeg has been ranked among the top seven most intelligent communities in the world. We’re not talking about one of the brightest burgs just in Manitoba, Canada or North America, understand. This is the whole world. The. Entire. Planet.

Ya, well, if there are so many Einsteins in Pegtown, why can’t one of them show the Winnipeg Blue Bombers how to win the Grey Cup?

John Hufnagel
John Hufnagel

I’m not sure what caused more raised eyebrows last week, the Bombers signing seven players scant seconds after the opening bell rang for the Canadian Football League’s annual livestock auction of untethered talent, or John Hufnagel’s reaction to the Big Blue’s free-agent binge. “I’d say that’s a little surprising,” the Calgary Stampeders grand poobah huffed and puffed. “How many years are they going to do it? You answer me that. They didn’t sign any of their guys, and they sign other people’s guys. I prefer to sign my own guys. That’s just me.” One day later, “just me” signed two “other people’s guys,” Bakari Grant and Taylor Reed of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then added a third, James Green, late of the Ottawa RedBlacks. Pot, meet kettle.

You’ll have to excuse me if I hesitate to join the hallelujah chorus in touting the Bombers as new, improved and bound for glory. No doubt general manager Kyle Walters has added some top-end talent in running back Andrew Harris, size-smurf receivers Weston Dressler and Ryan Smith, and place-kicker Justin Medlock, but it’s still about the offensive line, the starting quarterback, Drew Willy, and, perhaps most important, the sideline maestro and film fanatic, head coach Mike O’Shea. Does Walters’ handiwork make O’Shea any smarter today than he was at the close of business in 2015? I think the GM said it best when asked how much better a product he’ll field in the ’16 CFL crusade: “Well, we’ll see.” So color me curious but not convinced.

Connor Hellebuyck
Connor Hellebuyck

Speaking of curious, I viewed the three’s-a-crowd demotion of Connor Hellebuyck to the farm as a bit of a head-scratcher. Not surprising, though, because the Winnipeg Jets have long been goaltender blind. Hellebuyck did enough good things during his time in the blue paint to convince me that he’s a National Hockey League-calibre goaltender and might be the Jets’ starter-in-waiting, so Michael Hutchinson should have been the fall guy and dispatched to the American Hockey League Manitoba Moose once Ondrej Pavelec returned from sick bay. Yes, I realize Hutchinson would have been exposed to the waiver wire were he the odd man out in the Jets’ menage-a-goaltender, but so what. I doubt another outfit would have claimed him. If so, no loss. I just cannot see where he fits into the club’s future.

There can be just one reason for the Winnipeg Free Press to have recruited Scott Campbell to pen a weekly column on the Winnipeg Jets: To provide a (former) player’s insight. His latest offering? Zero insight. I mean, telling us that Michael Hutchinson is having “a disappointing season” is lame. And implying that Andrew Copp has struggled as an NHL rookie because he’s been flanked by “a variety of nondescript players” is a copout (pun intended). From everything I’ve seen, Copp himself is a nondescript player. Gotta do better than that, Scott.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight: Cam Newton, the losing quarterback in the National Football League championship joust, walks out during a post-game chin-wag with news scavengers and he’s Darth QB. The Carolina Panthers’ main man is roasted and toasted as a sore loser, a spoiled brat and cited as an example of everything that is wrong with today’s pro jocks. Yet, two days later, Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville waves his arms in frustration and stomps out of a gab-session with the media and there isn’t a peep of protest. What am I missing here? Why is it unacceptable for an NFL quarterback to behave like a brat, but it’s permissble for an NHL coach?

Raptors groupie Drake
Raptors groupie Drake

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this groupie-like love affair between scribes in the Republic of Tranna and the rapper Drake. I mean, I’ve read more headlines about Drake in the past few days than Stephen Curry, who, give or take a Lebron James, is the best basketball player on the planet. The National Basketball Association all-star weekend in Toronto has become a testimonial to Drake. There are feature pieces on him in both the Globe and Mail and National Post sports sections. And the headlines: Drake receives coaching tips from Michael Jordan; Drake starstruck by Michael Jordan; How Drake became the king of Toronto; Celebrate Valentine’s Day the Drake way; Drake gets key to the city; Drake to introduce all-stars.There were two pics of Drake on the front page of Toronto Sun website and three more on the sports front. And for what? Because he’s a Toronto Raptors groupie. And the media are groupies of the groupie.

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.

 

Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us…hope in Edmonton…media whining about the zebras…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…

chipman and chevy
Is this how it works with Mark Chipman and Kevin Cheveldayoff?

Winnipeg Jets, last place in the National Hockey League. Manitoba Moose, last place in the American Hockey League. So, how’s that draft-and-develop thing working out for you so far, Mark Chipman?

Look at it on the chipper side, though, Mark. This rare daily double of yours provides True North Sports & Entertainment with a catchy slogan for next season’s marketing campaign—Bottom Feeders ‘R’ Us. That ought to lure prime NHL free agent beef to River City come summertime.

Cheap shots aside, accusing fingers are being pointed in the direction of Kevin Cheveldayoff, general manager of the Jets (at least on paper) who’s bound to be the fall guy for an NHL crusade that has gone horribly wrong and has two principles, captain Andrew Ladd and backliner Dustin Byfuglien, skating in shinny limbo.

I cannot, however, let go of the notion that Chevy is merely playing Pinocchio to owner Chipman’s Geppetto.

Saint Mark already has advised a national television audience that he sticks his thin, pointy beak into Chevy’s business, which is to say the co-bankroll imposes his whims and wishes on trade and contract negotiations. To what degree, we are uncertain. So, what exactly do we have here? Humpty Harold Ballard without the bluster?

Chipman’s involvement/interference, to me, is the X factor in the Jets’ operation and, should we discover that he’s hamstrung his paper GM, then we must refrain from flinging poison arrows in Cheveldayoff’s direction and aim them toward meddling Mark.

connor mcdavid
In Edmonton, hope is named Connor McDavid.

Here’s the difference between the Jets and Edmonton Oilers: In Winnipeg, they’re hoping; in Edmonton, they have hope. Hope is named Connor McDavid and, if you bore witness to his return from sick bay against the Columbus Blue Jackets this week, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Oilers management, of course, have been the poster boys for faceplants since 2006, but it appears that a decade of pratfalls is finally about to pay dividends.

Here’s what should be unsettling, if not frightening, for the faithful in Jets Nation: The Winnipegs aren’t pretending to be this bad in order to land the next whiz kid, Auston Matthews, in the 2016 NHL entry draft. They are this bad.

This from Tim Campbell of the Winnipeg Free Press in his gamer on the Jets-Carolina Hurricanes joust Friday night at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie: “The Jets continue to have a hard time getting away from their reputation for taking penalties. In the first 40 minutes, the tally was Winnipeg, four infractions; Hurricanes, benefit of the doubt every time.” Oh, please. Would you like some cheese with that whine, Tim? It’s one thing for fans to infer the zebras are out to screw the Jets, but it’s lame when a member of the mainstream media does it. Campbell goes on to say, “The calls and non-calls had no bearing on the outcome (a 5-3 ‘Canes win).” So why even mention it?

newspapers2So this is how it works in the new world of Postmedia, which does not believe in competition between newspapers: Terry Jones of the Edmonton Joursun goes to Las Vegas to cover curling; Ed Willes of the Vancouver Provsun is dispatched to Charlotte, N.C., to file copy on the National Football Conference championship match; Toronto-based scribes Michael Traikos and Mike Zeisberger are sent to Nashville for the John Scott Testimonial, otherwise known as NHL all-star hijinks; Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sunprov and Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun are lodged in San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, and Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun is…well, he’s told to stay home and write an advancer for the men’s provincial curling event next week. I realize that Paul is a ginger-haired lad, but does Postmedia really have to treat him like the ginger-haired cousin who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the kids?

First Jets rookie Nikolaj Ehlers is $2,000 out of pocket for flopping all over the ice, and now the NHL has dipped into prodigal son Alexander Burmistrov’s pay envelope to the tune of $2,000, also for bad acting. The Jets aren’t very good at hockey, but they’re assembling a crack synchronized diving outfit for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

I note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Kyle Walters plans to be an active participant in this year’s livestock auction of Canadian Football League free agents. “Overall, organizationally, we just need better players,” he says. “Simple as that.” Geez, what was your first clue, Sherlock? Last season’s 5-13 record or a quarter of a century without a Grey Cup championship? And shouldn’t you have recognized that two years ago?

If there is a worse website than that which the Winnipeg Free Press delivers, it is that which the NHL offers. What a tire fire. Someone in the NHL has turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear.

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.