The River City Renegade


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About the Secretariat of clay court tennis…a delight named Jelena…time for Chevy to get to work…and angry, old Grandpa Simmons is shaking his fist at clouds again

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

Let’s make something perfectly clear: Stan Wawrinka is very, very good and what he does.

Unless your name is Roger Federer, Stan the Man is the best tennis talent ever produced in Switzerland. He is just one successful Wimbledon fortnight short of a career Grand Slam, having already claimed the singles titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens. He is ranked No. 3 among all racqueteers on the third rock from the sun.

Yet Rafael Nadal made No. 3 look like No. 303 in the men’s final at the French Open on Sunday in Paris.

It was like watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Seriously, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1? In the championship match of a Grand Slam tournament? We haven’t seen a rout like that since Custer threw down on Crazy Horse at the Little Bighorn. Or at least since Rafa paddywhacked Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the 2008 championship match at Roland Garros.

But that’s what Rafa Nadal does. Put him on a tennis court made of clay and you have Secretariat.

Rafa Nadal

The wedgie Rafa delivered to Wawrinka on Sunday reminded me of something Yogi Berra mused about Sandy Koufax, scant seconds after the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander had whiffed 15 New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series:

I can see how he won 25 games,” said Yogi, the Yankees catcher. “What I don’t understand is how he lost five.”

It’s the same with Rafa Nadal. He’s won the title at Roland Garros 10 times, collecting 79 victories against two losses. How in the name of Philippe Chatrier did he lose twice?

Robin Soderling (2009) and Novak Djokovic (2015) are the only foes to vanquish Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros, and I have to assume French Open officials demanded that both men pee in a bottle immediately after their matches. I mean, you don’t beat Nadal in Paris unless there’s something funny in your drinking water.

Most people go to Paris for the food, the wine, the art, the culture and the romance. Nadal goes to search and destroy. He’s relentless, ruthless and has the steely-eyed focus of an assassin.

Wawrinka mentioned something about playing Rafa on a clay court being the stiffest challenge in tennis, and evidence supports that notion. Nadal has lost only twice at Roland Garros. In 13 years. He’s 102-2 in best-of-five matches on clay.

But Wawrinka is also selling the Spaniard short. It isn’t just tennis. Playing Rafael Nadal on clay is the greatest challenge in the entirety of sports.

Jelena Ostapenko

There’s hope for the future of women’s tennis, and her name is Jelena Ostapenko, the Latvian lass whose dashing and daring ruled the day at Roland Garros. The winners and unforced errors come in equal number from Ostapenko, but once she brings her service game up to the level of her groundstrokes (she hits her forehead harder than world No. 1 Andy Murray) the 20-year-old will become the face of the ladies’ game the moment Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova take their permanent leave. It isn’t just her substantial game, though. It’s her winning personality. On court, Ostapenko bares her emotions, off court she is the very picture of wide-eyed innocence, often giggling like a schoolgirl and forever smiling. She’s an absolute delight.

While watching the French Open this past fortnight, I found myself wondering this: How did Steffi Graf, Chrissie Evert, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and other legendary ladies’ champions win all those Grand Slam titles without the orgasmic shrieking and grunting that we hear today?

I heard a rumor that the National Hockey League season is over. If that’s true, someone give Kevin Cheveldayoff a nudge and tell the Winnipeg Jets general manager to “wakey, wakey.” It’s time for him to go to work.

I note that Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press has been tabbed for induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Roll of Honour in October. Good choice. Wiecek is the best sports columnist the Drab Slab has featured since Hal Sigurdson signed off in 1996, even when he’s writing about rock climbing.

Steve Simmons has become the Jose Bautista of sports writing: Tedious, tiresome and time to move on. I mean, it’s one thing for a columnist to be opinionated and rub the rabble the wrong way. That’s a large part of the gig. And Simmons surely has mastered the art of getting up noses with his alphabet farts that appear on sports pages of Postmedia sheets from one flank of the True North to the other. But…the Toronto Sun scribe has grown increasingly nasty and mean-spirited, if not cruel, in his commentary. He is Grandpa Simmons, shaking his fists at clouds and screaming at kids to get the hell off his lawn. A case in point is Simmons’ take on mixed doubles competition in Grand Slam tennis. When our girl Gabriela Dabrowski advanced to the mixed doubles final of the French Open last week, Mark Masters of TSN delivered this tweet: “No Canadian woman has won a mixed doubles grand slam title. Ottawa’s @GabyDabrowski has a chance to change that on Thursday.” To which Simmons responded: “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.” I’m not sure if that was supposed to be funny, witty or clever, but it was none of the above. It was classless, tacky and totally unnecessary, as were a series of insensitive follow-up tweets belittling Dabrowski’s and partner Rohan Bopanna’s achievement.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Simmons is pooh-poohing yet another event in sports. It’s become his shtick. Last year he was “bothered” by the selection of Rosie MacLennan as Canada’s flag-bearer for the Olympic Games in Rio, because trampoline is “a marginal pursuit” that “seems more backyard and gimmicky that it does Olympian.” He’s also advocated the elimination of women’s hockey at the Olympics, writing: “Women’s hockey is the least competitive, least interesting, least Olympic of all sports in the Winter Games. There should be a cry to end this Olympic charade of imbalance.” And he once told the Ryerson Review of Journalism that “I don’t believe there’s a demand from the public for women’s sports.” I’ll remind you that he writes for a newspaper that’s best known for the tits and ass it displays on Page 3 and, to this day, continues to objectify women with its Sunshine Girl.

Thanks to a study by neuroscientist Tara Swart, we now know what we’ve suspected all along: Journalists’ brains function at a sub-par level. For evidence, see: Simmons, Steve. (See, I can stoop to gratuitous, mean-spirited and nasty comments, too. You know, just like a real sports columnist at a real big-city newspaper.)

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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.

 


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About Kevin Cheveldayoff’s playoff guarantee for the Winnipeg Jets…Festus Haggen running the Vancouver Canucks…Genie Bouchard’s hissy fit…the heavyweight boxing alphabet…and those darned kids are playing on Steve Simmons’ lawn again

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

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Interesting exchange between John Shannon of Sportsnet and Kevin Cheveldayoff before the ping pong balls went bouncy-bouncy at the National Hockey League draft lottery on Saturday in the Republic of Tranna.

Shannon: “I mean this sincerely, I don’t wanna see you (here) next year.”

Chevy: “I’m not coming back.”

I suppose we can read that light-hearted bit of good, ol’ boys banter one of two ways:

1) Chevy, after half a dozen years of generally (mis)managing the Winnipeg Jets, is telling the faithful that there shall be meaningful games played at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next spring. That’s right, playoffs. You have his guarantee. No ifs, buts or maybes. It’s iron-clad.

Or…

2) Should the Jets fail to qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup tournament, Chevy is telling Jets Nation that he no longer will be generally (mis)managing the Jets. They’ll kick him to the curb.

Which of the two is it? Well, I don’t think Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman is inclined to kick Chevy anywhere, although a good, swift boot to the seat of his britches might serve a useful purpose. So, he’s guaranteeing us that the Jets will not be a lottery team next year.

Trouble is, nobody will hold him to it.

Yo! Kevin Cheveldayoff! This is your weekly reminder about how to build a playoff team. If you’ve been paying attention to the Edmonton McDavids’ postseason run, you’ll know they’ve gotten game-winning goals from Zack Kassian (two), David Desharnais, Adam Larsson, Patrick Maroon and Anton Slepyshev. All but Slepyshev were acquired in trades, Chevy. Oh, and that goalie who stole Game 2 for the McDavids in their skirmish with the Disney Ducks? That’s right. Cam Talbot was acquired in a trade, as well. But, hey, you just keep drafting and doing nothing else, Chevy.

Why do I keep reading and hearing that it will be an upset if the McDavids knock off the Ducks? Edmonton was a mere two points in arrears of Anaheim at the close of regular-season business, they racked up the same number of Ws (regulation/overtime), and their goal differential was 12 better. So how would that qualify as an upset?

Festus Haggen and Trevor Linden: Separated at birth?

That hot mess that is the Vancouver Canucks doesn’t look any prettier after they dropped three spots, to No. 5, in the draft lottery, but it won’t prevent Trevor Linden from peddling his flock a snootful of hooey. “We could get a better player at five than the top two, and that’s what we’re focused on,” the Canucks chief cook and bottle washer said. “We’re thinking about the entire draft. We’ll have six picks in the top 120 and we’re going to add to our group of prospects. That’s the message to our fans.” Which is like trying to sell mosquitoes to Winnipeg.

Yo! Trevor Linden! It’s one thing to look like you’re in the fourth month of a hunger strike, but what’s with those scruffy chin whiskers? If someone were to stick a tattered, old cowboy hat on you, we’d be looking at Festus Haggen from Gunsmoke.

Would I be out of line if I suggest someone other than Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world? I mean, I don’t see anyone better than Erik Karlsson these days, and the Ottawa Senators captain is playing on a foot with two hairline fractures.

I see our girl Genie Bouchard had herself quite the hissy fit when the Sharapova Shriek returned to the Women’s Tennis Association tour this week after 15 months of shriek freedom. Maria Sharapova, of course, had been in exile for using the banned substance meldonium, and the return of Her Royal Blondness as a wild-card entry in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at Stuttgart, Germany, inspired Genie to label the former world No. 1 a “cheater and…I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again.” Geez, who knew Genie Bouchard was still on the circuit?

Maria Sharapova

Yo! Genie and all you other ladies (hello, Caroline Wozniacki) who would have Sharapova grovel! Listen up. Serena Williams is away having babies. The Sharapova Shriek had been silenced. You have no star power without them. Zero. Zilch. Nada. So give your heads a shake. Of course event organizers want the tall Russkie in the main draw. That’s why she was offered wild-card entries at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome. She sells. It’s a no-brainer. Will she receive a free pass into the French Open at Roland Garros? We’ll know mid-May. In the meantime, the WTA needs her as much as she needs it.

Once upon a time, a heavyweight title bout was the biggest sports story of the day. Heavyweight champion of the world was the most exalted position in all of jockdom. Today? Dispatches on the title tiff between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday night at Wembley Stadium in London didn’t even make it on the front page of the Sportsnet website (I guess they couldn’t work a Toronto Maple Leafs angle into the story) and it made the bottom of the page on TSN’s site. For the record, Joshua (19-0, 19 knockouts) stopped Klitschko in the 11th round and he now owns two of prize fighting’s alphabet belts—the IBF and WBA. Deontay Wilder is the WBC champeen and Joseph Parker holds the WBO title. No word on the three champions going dukes up to sort out boxing’s alphabet, but if they do fight I’m sure Sportsnet won’t care.

Grandpa Steve Simmons is in the Bow Wow Bungalow again.

Oh, dear me, those pesky kids are playing in Grandpa Steve Simmons’ front yard again. The Postmedia columnist tweets: “Shouldn’t playoffs be enough to get people excited? Why this need for blaring noise and screaming half hour before Raptors game?” Shhhhhh. You kids keep it down out there! Grandpa Stevie has to get in his nap before tipoff.

Just wondering: Is there a Canadian Football League rule that Chris Jones hasn’t broken since taking over Gang Green. The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Mr. Everything has been levied fines totaling $116,500, which could buy him a backup quarterback, a rookie O-lineman and a fine to be levied later.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 46 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.