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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Kevin McCarthy

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

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

  • Billy Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mikhail Smith

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

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

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

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

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

  • John Ferguson

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

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

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

  • Valeri Kharlamov

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

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

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

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

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.

Let’s talk about a hockey junta in Ponytail Puck…newspapers telling the NHL how to spend money…bubble hockey for the Winnipeg Jets…Tranna’s “heroic” Golden Boy…the Zach attack on Raggedy Man-dy…Arrrrgoooos suck…and other things on my mind

A Monday morning smorgas-bored…and there’s white stuff on the ground where I live, so I might have to make like Harry and Meghan and relocate…

I find myself thinking about Ponytail Puck this morning, because the Dream Gappers were back on the freeze for fun, frolic, faux games and more self-congratulatory back-patting on the weekend.

In case you missed it, and you probably did, the Dream Gap Tour of malcontents staged six $15-a-pop glorified and largely unobserved scrimmages in the Republic of Tranna and Vaughan, Ont., and the hundreds of empty seats in Herb Carnegie Arena brought to mind something American Olympian Kendall Coyne Schofield said recently about the state of women’s hockey: “It’s in shambles.”

Kendall ought to know, of course, because she’s one of the 100-plus Dream Gappers who refuse to lace ’em up in the National Women’s Hockey League, the sole shinny operation on this continent that actually pays women to lace ’em up.

They’d rather be a barn-storming novelty act, featuring riveting rivalries like Team Larocque vs. Team Kessel, or Team Bellamy vs. Team Daoust, or Team Spooner vs. Team Coyne, or Team Kessel vs. Team Bellamy, or Team Coyne vs. Team Larocque, or Team Daoust vs. Team Spooner. The Battle of Alberta it ain’t, but that’s what the women are selling, and most of them don’t seem to notice that few folks are buying.

True story: I called up the feed for a Sunday morning scrimmage and there might have been 50 people in the building. Later in the day, I checked out the final scrimmage from storied Maple Leaf Gardens: Barn half empty.

Dani Rylan

But cue the rose-tinted glasses.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum going,” insists Canadian Olympian Renata Fast. “We’re making this sport better.”

“The momentum we’ve gotten in the last couple of months has been amazing,” gushes Sarah Nurse, another Canadian Olympian.

And here’s goaltender Erica Howe, who’s also worn the Maple Leaf in international play: “Everything is just moving and pushing forward towards our goals.”

Well, just don’t let the Dream Gappers fool you into believing their crusade is about a better tomorrow for today’s 12-year-old girls. It isn’t.

The Dream Gap Tour is a scorched-earth agenda. Period.

Uppermost, they want commish Dani Rylan and her NWHL to vamoose, leaving the Ponytail Puck landscape charred and barren. Once they’ve bullied Rylan out of business, they’ll tromp on the NWHL gravesite and go hat in hand to the National Hockey League with the expectation of becoming a welfare case. Call it a hockey junta.

You think not? Lend an ear to Melodie Daoust:

“We’re not where we want to be, being treated like professional or having more hockey games. But the answer to all of that is we’re waiting for the NHL to step in.”

Kendall Coyne Schofield

And here’s Coyne Schofield: “I hope the NHL steps in one day, because they would be the perfect partner.”

Translation: Get rid of Rylan and it’s game on.

Except Rylan has made it abundantly clear that she has no desire or intention to take a powder, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made it just as clear that he harbors no desire to play the role of knight on a white steed and save the women from themselves.

It’s uncertain what part of that equation the Dream Gappers don’t understand.

Whatever, they soldier on, wearing non-descript practice jerseys and playing meaningless matches in front of family, friends, 12-year-old girls and all those unoccupied chairs at Herb Carnegie Arena/old Maple Leaf Gardens in The ROT, all the while being largely ignored by mainstream media (unless you consider a 10-second clip on Sportsnet Central and a 30-second hit on Sports Centre substantial coverage).

Ron MacLean

Odd thing is, the Dream Gappers actually have friends in the media, most notably Ron MacLean and his Hometown Hockey co-host Tara Slone, who engaged in some pathetic pandering during a chin-wag with the aforementioned Erica Howe on Sunday.

“When you come out, you know, as a hockey fan, you see the names on the back of the jerseys, it’s like, it’s mind-blowing,” gushed a positively orgasmic Slone, who then swooned over Tie Domi.

“This is really interesting,” said the normally on-point Slone. “Just over the last few months, he’s really emerged as a big supporter of the women’s game. He was at the panel discussion on Friday night, he was at a game yesterday, so what does it mean to have people of that stature endorse (Ponytail Puck)?”

Oh, yes, that’s what every crusade needs: A former NHL goon who’s sole claim to fame was beating up people. Can’t have enough thugs backing your cause.

Gary Bettman

Look, if the Dream Gappers truly want to advance the cause of women’s hockey, they’d engage in meaningful dialogue with Rylan and, together, they’d come up with a viable business plan to show prospective investors (perhaps even Bettman) that a fulltime professional Ponytail Puck league can work. That it can pay its own way. Now that would be newsworthy.

But no. They’d rather take thinly veiled cheap shots at Rylan and indulge themselves in fantasy. You know, like talk of $50,000 to $100,000 annual salaries that Cassie Campbell-Pascall believes the NHL “should be” paying them.

Sorry, but Coyne Schofield is correct: The game is “in shambles,” and what went down in The ROT on the weekend did nothing to change that. It underscored how broken it really is.

As stated, Ponytail Puck has friends in the media. The Winnipeg Free Press editorial board, for example, tells us the NHL has “a moral obligation to do more than simply collect outlandish ticket revenues. It’s time for the NHL to step up in a more materially significant fashion.” Toronto Star opinionists agree, writing, “A partnership with the NHL, which has the brand power and all the resources, is the best way to put women’s hockey on a sustainable path.” Scott Stinson of the National Post tells us that “it is long beyond time that (the NHL) listened” to the women’s pleas, while Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post insists the women “deserve livable wages and health insurance.” Also, if Ponytail Puck disappears “the NHL is guilty by inaction.” I must say, it’s awful thoughtful of newspaper people to provide the NHL with financial advice even as their own business goes down the toilet. But tossing good money after bad is never a sound business plan, and until someone comes up with a better idea the women are on their own.

Is there a market for Ponytail Puck? Absolutely. Whenever it’s Canada vs. U.S.A., eh? Otherwise, not so much until they sort out the mess.

I note TSN has extended its working arrangement with Hockey Canada through 2033-34. Initial reaction: It’s nice to know there’ll be a 2033-34. Second blush: Hopefully between now and then TSN will actually find a time slot for some Ponytail Puck.

The Winnipeg Jets were pegged as a bubble team when the puck was dropped on the current NHL crusade, so why are so many among the rabble surprised that they are, in fact, on the playoff bubble? I still believe the local hockey heroes will qualify for Beard Season, but we probably won’t know for certain until the 11th hour.

If the Jets don’t start winning games at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie, I sense we’ll soon be reading another “ruffled feathers” story.

Auston Matthews

Reason No. 6,379,292 why many of us in the colonies think the geniuses at our two national sports networks are a bunch of mooks is this headline on the Sportsnet website following the Jets-Tranna Maple Leafs joust last Wednesday: “Heroic effort vs. Jets officially puts Leafs’ Matthews in Hart Trophy talks.” According to essayist Chris Johnston, “The superstar centre willed his Toronto Maple Leafs to a point” and “you are starting to see Matthews exert his will in all three zones” and “against the Jets, he was the only reason the Leafs walked out of Scotiabank Arena with something to show for their night.” That’s all fine and dandy, except for one small detail—the Jets won the freaking game! Oh, and did I mention that Rink Rat Scheifele, not Auston Matthews, was la premiere étoile? But, sure, Matthews was “heroic.” Sigh.

Bench puppeteer Paul Maurice, aka Coach Potty Mouth, described the 3-on-3 OT session between his Jets and les Leafs as a “shit show.” You tell ’em, Coach PoMo. We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!

Interesting that the Leafs used the subway to get to and from practice last week. Except backup goaltender Michael Hutchinson. He was still under a bus somewhere.

This is not a fight.

Okay, when is a fight not a fight in the NHL? Apparently when Zack Kassian of the Edmonton Oilers drops his mitts, grabs Matthew Tkachuk by the scruff of the neck, tosses (by my count) 11 bare-knuckle punches, and ragdolls the Calgary Flames forward like a Rottweiler with a new chew toy. We haven’t seen a fight that one-sided since the Tiger Woods divorce settlement. But wait. It wasn’t a fight. Kassian was flagged for roughing and told to sit and stew for an additional 10 minutes, but not for fisticuffs. Well, if that wasn’t a fight, Albertans don’t vote Conservative.

Kassian had some special language for Tkachuk post-match, describing Raggedy Man-dy as a “pussy.” That didn’t put my knickers in a knot, but I’m guessing in this era of zero tolerance for sexist remarks it was greeted with much harrumphing in the NHL ivory tower.

After watching the Kassian-Tkachuk beatdown, Drew Doughty said: “Why the hell didn’t I think of doing that?”

Gotta like Montreal Larks new co-bankroll Gary Stern. When asked why he and father-in-law Sid Spiegel didn’t purchase the Tranna Boatmen when they were available, he said: “The Argos suck.” I don’t know if that will translate into a bump in ticket sales when the two Canadian Football League outfits grab grass next season, but I know news snoops will want their recording gadgets in proper working order whenever Stern speaks.

Is it just me or does anyone else find something wrong about playing tennis in Australia while the entire continent burns to a charred ruin?

Katie Sowers

The San Francisco 49ers will play for the National Football League NFC title next weekend, and it’s worth noting that one of their assistant offensive coaches is Katie Sowers, a woman and lesbian. So much for gays being a “distraction.” As Katie says in her new Microsoft Surface Pro 7 computer commercial, “I’m not just here to be the token female. I’m here to help us win.” You go, girl.

And, finally, according to Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times, news that Prince Harry and Meghan no longer wish to live off granny’s money and plan to relocate to Canada has “unleashed a frenzy of excitement” in the True North. We’re all “giddy,” don’t you know? After all, they’ll be “injecting some glamour” into our “bone-chillingly cold country.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I’d be more frenzied and excited if a couple top-pair defenceman would relocate to the Jets blueline.