It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and I’d make a comeback just like Tiger Woods, except no one is dumb enough to hire me…
Two main takeaways from Game 3 of the Winnipeg Jets-St. Loo Blues skirmish on Sunday night in the Show Me State:
1) Now we know what happens when the puck stops hitting Jordan Binnington.
2) Les Jets discovered a rather unique, yet simple, tactic to remedy Connor Hellebuyck’s leaky goaltending—refuse to let the Blues have the puck.
Oh, sure, there were other reasons why les Jets got off the schneid with a 6-3 W on a night when losing was not an option. Like, Kyle Connor and Kevin Hayes grew weary of being bystanders and decided it would be a swell idea to join the fray. And Dustin Byfuglien was in one of his I’m-gonna-rag-doll-someone moods.
But, let’s face it, it’s usually about the guys in the blue paint once the lads start sprouting chin whiskers.
Goaltending won Game 1 for St. Loo and lost Game 2 for Winnipeg HC, and les Jets were determined to reverse that before it became a disturbing trend that scuttled their Stanley Cup aspirations. They did so by playing keep-away with the puck, spending most of their time with it in the offensive zone at Enterprise Center, and it was a superb example of damage control. The less Hellebuyck saw of the little, round disc, the better their chances.
It also helped, of course, that Binnington was in an obliging mood at the opposite end of the freeze. Although magnificent in the initial 20 minutes, we now know the National Hockey League rookie with the Midas touch isn’t actually the reincarnation of Georges Vezina. Or the second coming of Mike Liut.
That’s not to say the kid’s a fraud, but les Jets made him look awful ordinary on Sunday night, and I didn’t see any of them shaking their heads in frustration and disbelief at the final bell.
Maybe it was a one-off and Binnington will return to form in Game 4 of this best-of-seven skirmish on Tuesday, but at least les Jets know the formula for success and a way out of their 1-2 deficit—keep the puck away from the Blues. And Connor Hellebuyck.
Even with limited work, Hellebuyck couldn’t get through the game without a colossal gaffe. He continues to handle the puck like he’s afraid of catching the cooties from the thing, and he almost coughed up the biggest hair ball of them all in the third period. Fortunately for les Jets, Patrick Maroon of St. Loo is lacking in the lickety-split department, so damage was avoided.
I began watching hockey in the mid-1950s. I haven’t seen everything, but I’ve seen a lot—brilliant stuff, lousy stuff, strange stuff, questionable stuff, stupid stuff, nasty stuff, idiotic stuff, zany stuff. But I don’t recall ever seeing anything so totally messed up as the call on what should have been Finland’s winning goal in the Women’s World Hockey Championship on Sunday.
To provide the Cole’s Notes version of events, Petra Nieminen scored in sudden-death overtime. The referee nearest the swirl of activity indicated it was a good goal. Game over. The Finnish players, coaches, support staff and fans in Espoo lost their minds, believing they had beaten the mighty United States, 2-1, for the first world title in the country’s history.
But wait…someone hiding in a video room wanted a second look at the winning tally. He or she determined that Jenni Hiirikoski of Finland had interfered with American goaltender Alex Rigsby. Thus, the goal was voided. Play on, girls. Except the U.S. was required to play on shorthanded because Rigsby was penalized for tripping Hiirikoski, who supposedly had interfered with the U.S. keeper as she scrambled to secure a loose puck outside the blue paint. Huh? Confused? Weren’t we all.
Bottom line: Finland was ripped off by a video judge who had no business over-ruling the on-ice officials, and a historic moment for women’s hockey was dashed.
While confusion reigned in Finland, I kept wondering why the two TSN voices on site, Rod Black and Cheryl Pounder, refused to tell the truth. Finland got royally screwed. Say it. In those words.
Yes, now that you mention it, I was among the numerous naysayers who insisted that Tiger Woods would never win another golf major. Thanks for reminding me. But on the heels of Tiger’s fifth Masters title, I was hoping I wouldn’t hear too many over-the-top platitudes. Sigh. Too late.
The moment I clicked on the Internet in the small hours this morning, I was reading headlines about Tiger’s victory being the “greatest comeback in sports history.”
Look, I was caught up in the drama of Tiger’s victory at Augusta National on Sunday, and I admire his talent and stick-to-itness as it relates to golf. It’s just that I don’t think 30something-year-old sports scribes like Jon McCarthy of Postmedia are positioned to determine the best of anything, except perhaps Justin Bieber’s greatest hits.
You want to talk about comebacks? Okay.
Try golfer Ben Hogan, who lost an argument with a Greyhound bus in 1949 and suffered a double fracture to his pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a fractured left ankle, a chipped rib, near-fatal blood clots, lifelong circulation problems, and required blood transfusions. He won the U.S. Open the following year, and another five Grand Slam tournaments after that.
Try Muhammad Ali, banned from boxing for 3½ years due to the political climate of the day, then returning to win the heavyweight title.
Try Monica Seles, stabbed in the back with a nine-inch knife by a crazed Steffi Graf fan during a tennis match, disappearing for more than two years due to depression and the fear of another attack by a man who never spent a day in jail, then returning to win the Australian Open.
Try Mario Lemieux, who won a battle with cancer and returned to the NHL to win multiple scoring titles.
Try driver Niki Lauda, hauled out of a fire-engulfed car and his head and face burnt to a crisp, then returning to win the Formula 1 driving title one year later and again five years after his first retirement.
Woods battled back from self-inflicted public humiliation and numerous physical challenges that could have ended his career, but nothing life-threatening. His is a terrific story, to be sure. But the greatest comeback ever? Not even close.
And, finally, if the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t win a playoff game vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, did their record-breaking season really happen?
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and, as Cactus Jack used to say, it turned out nice again…
There are two things I really like about Patrik Laine: 1) his shot; 2) his age.
I’d probably like him as a person, too, because he strikes me as a nice young man with wry humor and a blunt honesty that’s uncommon among play-for-pay jocks. He seems like a cool kid.
But I’m here today more to discuss Puck Finn the hockey player, not the cool kid and his passion for PlayStation and whatever other techno gizmos and gadgets that have caught his fancy and keep the Winnipeg Jets winger occupied when he isn’t lighting lamps at one end of the freeze and handing out free pizzas at the other.
I recognize some Kent Nilsson in Laine, on and off the ice.
Kenta was as laid back as a Sunday afternoon in a one-horse town. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor. (Nilsson once sneaked up behind a scribe tapping away at his computer keyboard in the Calgary Saddledome press box and said, “How could so much shit come out of such a little machine.”)
In terms of pure skill, though, there’s no comparison between Laine and Nilsson. I maintain to this day that no one who’s worn Jets linen was, or is, more gifted than the slick Swede. Not the Golden Jet, Ulf or Anders. Not Ducky. Not the Finnish Flash. If you’d like to debate the issue, consider that Wayne Gretzky once said Nilsson “might have been the most skilled hockey player I ever saw in my career.” That’s good enough for me.
In the mood, Magic Man Nilsson was a maestro. The game was played at his tempo. On his terms. It was best to toss a second puck onto the ice so the other 11 guys had something to play with.
Trouble is, Kenta was an enigma. That is, engaged one minute, disinterested the next. And the rabble recognized both his other wordly talent and his indifference.
When Nilsson scored 131 points for the Calgary Flames in 1980-81 (fewer than only Gretzky and Marcel Dionne), expectations became heightened to the point of delusional. The faithful assumed there would be more of the same. There wasn’t. The best Nilsson could do for an encore was 104 points, ninth in National Hockey League scoring, and that just wasn’t up to snuff for the Flames faithful. Those 104 points would have/could have/should have been 134.
“If only he applied himself all the time like Gretzky,” they would moan.
In that sense, Puck Finn is a Nilsson doppelganger. He introduced himself with 36- and 44-goal seasons, so he’s boxed himself in at those numbers. Anything less and frustration and much braying ensues.
At present, Laine’s sitting on 25 snipes, best among les Jets. But you’d swear he’s stuck on 10 goals.
Trade him! Ship him to the farm! Stick him with the fourth-line sluggos! Get him a skating coach! Take his Fortnite game away! Oh, yes, the lunatic fringe is in full throat.
Let’s call a timeout on that, though.
I mean, it’s fair to be critical of Laine. Been there, done that. But give the kid a new postal code? Send him down the hall at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie and tell him to suit up with the Manitoba Moose? Sure, and maybe we should think about bringing Pokey and the Bandit back to stand in the blue paint.
Let’s get a grip here, people.
Yes, Laine is seriously lacking in certain essentials. There’s very little lickety-split in his stride, he’s prone to boneheaded blunders, and he’s been known to zone out mentally. And, like Nilsson, he’s maddeningly frustrating because there isn’t a fire burning in his belly at all times. Those flaws are easy to overlook or forgive when he’s scoring. When not, the rabble feels cheated.
But repeat after me: Puck Finn is 20 years old. That isn’t an excuse. It’s a fact.
Nilsson produced his benchmark season at age 24. Teemu Selanne delivered his at age 22. Mario Lemieux had his most productive year at age 23. Gretzky topped out at age 25.
I say we give Laine a chance to grow his game before heaving him onto the dung heap.
I found Brian Burke’s take on Puck Finn’s game interesting. In a chin-wag about Laine’s earning potential once he becomes a restricted free agent, Burke had this to say on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central at Noon: “I’m not as big on Patrik Laine as a lot of people are. I don’t like his 5-on-5 game. Wonderful goal scorer and I’d have him on my team in a heartbeat, but there’s some holes in his game, too. Now, we know we pay goal scorers. We can find guys to offset those deficiencies. I can find a winger to play with Patrik Laine, to do the backchecking, do some of the things he’s not proficient at. But it’s gonna be north of ($9 million), it’s gonna start with a one. We have always paid snipers. We have always paid snipers. I can bitch all I want about certain deficiencies in his game…he can play on my team tomorrow. I do think he’s a good kid…I do feel when he’s not scoring he’s a liability.” I’d say that’s spot on.
Andrew Berkshire doesn’t share my thoughts on Burke’s assessment of Laine. In the Drab Slab, he writes: “Former NHL executive and current Hockey Night In Canada/Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke has said Laine gives you goals, but nothing else. Goals are pretty significant in the NHL, and I would say that statement is remarkably harsh.” Harsh? You want harsh? The headline on Berkshire’s piece labeled Laine “a D-zone disaster” and the stats geek described Puck Finn’s work in the defensive zone as “disastrous.” Now that’s “remarkably harsh.” Again, why the Winnipeg Free Press runs Pie Chart Boy’s graphics is a mystery to me. He simply uses them to confirm what a lot of us already know. Bring back Scotty Campbell.
Speaking of the Drab Slab and its stable of scribes, I guess it’s official that Mike McIntyre is the new sports columnist. I wish him well, because it’s a tough gig and the rabble is never shy about reminding you that you’re a total moron.
For those of you scoring at home, McIntyre is the fifth sports columnist at the Freep this century, the others being Scott Taylor, Randy Turner, Gary Lawless and Paul Wiecek. Over at the Winnipeg Sun, meanwhile, they’ve had one—Paul Friesen. You might not find the turnover rate at the Drab Slab interesting, but I do.
Is there a goaltending controversy with les Jets? Well, yes, in the stands, in watering holes and among news snoops. But until I hear it from the inner sanctum (read: head coach Paul Maurice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman), it doesn’t exist. Connor Hellebuyck is their guy, and Laurent Brossoit is the other guy.
So, there won’t be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020. Such a shame. I was really looking forward to ignoring it.
Interesting to note that Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols has cut cheeseburgers and other greasy grub from his diet. Does that mean the Calgary Stampeders will continue to eat his lunch? Is he still the Bombers’ meal ticket? Is he going to lay another egg? Whatever the case, it’s food for thought and gives us something to chew on. OMG! I just overdosed on really bad, cornball clichés/puns. Someone slap me silly so I’ll stop.
If Rachel Homan isn’t the best female curler on the planet, she’s definitely the best pregnant curler. Rachel’s down there in Glitter Gulch today, helping the North American side attempt to subdue the World group in the Continental Cup, and she’s very preggers. Her due date is June 14 and here’s what I’m wondering: If Rachel wins the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the world championship while pregnant, will news snoops give her the same over-the-top, “mother of all mothers” glorification that they heaped upon tennis player Serena Williams? I very much doubt it. After all, most news snoops ignore the Pebble People until an Olympic year arrives. A real shame that.
And, finally, it’s a big day for one of the truly good guys in Good Ol’ Hometown—Joe Daley. He’ll be honored this afternoon at my old stomping grounds, Bronx Park Community Centre, when mucky-mucks unveil a mural featuring the former Jets goaltender. Such a nice tribute to a nice man. Really pleased for him.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, remember, I’m not responsible if you share my opinions with others and they slap you upside the head…
Okay, to review, Jamie Oleksiak and Dustin Byfuglien collide. The earth shakes. And Big Buff becomes 265 pounds of wobbly.
He staggers to the Winnipeg Jets bench like a guy who’s just sucked back an entire two-four of Budweiser. He’s directed to the changing room, whereupon a medic presumably asks him what day it is and how many fingers he’s holding up. Buff sees four digits but correctly guesses two. Yup, he’s good to go. So, with the two tree trunks that are his legs no longer a pair of noodles, he’s back on the bench, then rejoins the fray vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Apparently, his brain, which clearly had been scrambled, is no longer scrambled.
But wait. One day later, Big Buff experiences a “symptom.” His brain is, in fact, scrambled. He’s concussed. Better tell him to stay home. Actually, let’s put him on injury reserve. Keep him in the repair shop for a week, or however long it takes for his grey matter to settle.
Clearly, then, the National Hockey League’s in-game finger-count protocol has failed.
Yet there was Paul Maurice on Thursday, expressing “complete faith” in a system that is obviously flawed and places concussed players in peril.
“I’m a hundred per cent fine with it, I really am,” les Jets head coach said two days after Byfuglien had lost his entire bag of marbles. “I think the most important thing is it’s not subjective where you say clearly he’s got a concussion so he shouldn’t come back in the game. That has absolutely no value to what we do here. Put him through the system, trust it.”
“Does it not say those tests aren’t enough?” a probing Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun asked.
“Were you asking for perfection? That happens at the hospital every day, right?” came Coach PoMo’s rather flippant, if not smarmy reply. “It’s the best tests that we have and it’s the best system that we have. I’ve got complete faith in it.”
Hmmm. This might explain some of Maurice’s coaching strategy over the years. I mean, he had unwavering faith in Chris Thorburn and Ondrej Pavelec, too. Where did that get him?
Let’s be clear. Maurice doesn’t take the rap for sending Big Buff back into the skirmish last Tuesday. If the medics tell him his worker is good to go, he’s good to go. It doesn’t matter how many fingers Byfuglien sees or how loudly the bells between his ears are ringing. Have at it. But for Coach PoMo to unblushingly endorse a system that is as flawed as Connor Hellebuyck’s goaltending…well, that tells me he’d have us believe the dish really did run away with the spoon. The guy’s either totally lost the plot or he’s playing news snoops and the rabble for fools.
Quiz me this, kids: Among the top 50 point-collectors in the NHL, who averages the least amount of ice time and is also the only player given fewer than 20 shifts per game? If you answered Patrik Laine, move to the head of the class. So is Coach PoMo under-using Puck Finn by limiting the league’s leading goal-scorer to 17:09 on the freeze and sending him over the boards just 19 times per game? Not if you’ve seen him play without the puck.
Laine’s scoring line for the month of November: 18-1-19. That one assist looks more out of place than anything I’ve seen since Michael Jordan gave pro baseball a try. Or at least since Hollywood put a bird on Johnny Depp’s head and told him he was Tonto.
So, Puck Finn lights the lamp five times vs. the St. Loo Blues and Chris Haley scores a $1.1 million windfall in a grocery store Score & Win contest. What’s his reaction? “I’d like to thank God for this,” said Haley, a part-time pastor in River City. “I believe this is a gift from God.” So that’s what we’re calling Laine now? God? Sorry, but that name’s already taken. I prefer Finn Almighty.
You’ll have to excuse Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman if he calls up his shaggy-haired, billionaire co-bankroll with les Jets, David Thomson, and says, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”
I mean, if Willy Boy Nylander is worth $10.3 million in signing bonuses and $45 million over six years to the Tranna Maple Leafs, what’s the sticker price for Finn Almighty? Consider: Willie Boy has never scored more than 22 goals in an entire NHL season. Laine has 21 in just two months. By your basic, unfancified numbers, Willie Boy isn’t in the same league as Laine.
Laine: 180 games 101 goals 158 points
Nylander: 185 games 48 goals 135 points
Then there’s Kyle Connor. He’s already delivered a 30-plus goal year to Winnipeg HC, and he’s on his way to another. He’s played 64 fewer games than Willie Boy but has lit the lamp just five fewer times.
Certainly Laine is destined to become the highest-paid worker with les Jets and, depending on the final goal tally this crusade, we might be talking about an eight-figure wage. Let’s ballpark it at $10 million. Meanwhile, if Connor produces a second 30-goal year, surely the bankroll buddies can’t pay him less than Willy Boy. So we’re talking about $17 million for two players. Ouch.
Oddball comment of the week was delivered by Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic. Noting that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux each had scored 11 goals in a four-game run during their hall-of-fame careers, he wrote: “That was at a time when goalies either had zero clue what they were doing or very little idea.” Excuse me? The Great Gretzky and Super Mario played in the 1980s and ’90s. Dominik Hasek didn’t have a clue? Martin Brodeur didn’t have a clue? Patrick Roy didn’t have a clue? Ed Belfour? Well, someone doesn’t have a clue, and it isn’t any of those ‘tenders.
Really strange headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after les Jets lost to Pittsburgh last week: “Penguins ground high-flying Jets.” High-flying? Winnipeg HC had lost two of three games leading to the skirmish vs. Sid and Co.
Those third Jets jerseys really have to go. Someone at True North needs to suck it up and admit those logo-less threads are the biggest miss since Sergei Bautin. And for those of you not familiar with comrade Sergei, be advised he was GM Mikhail Smith’s idea or Bobby Orr, only he turned out to be more like SpongeBob.
Apparently, Auston Matthews rejoined the Maple Leafs this past week. You never would have known it by the Sportsnet website. I mean, there were only 14 Leafs-centric stories/videos about Matthews and his playmates the morning after his triumphant return from the repair shop. Yes, 14. My goodness, had prodigal winger Willy Boy Nylander come crawling back the same night, I’m sure Sportsnet would have blown up the internet. Seriously. Why don’t they just change the website name to LeafsNet and get on with it?
After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Bytown RedBlacks slip and slide all over the Commonwealth Stadium skating rink last Sunday, I’m fully on board with the Canadian Football League bumping up its schedule by three weeks. The Grey Cup game should be played no later than the first weekend in November. And make it a Saturday skirmish.
The football operations salary cap coming to the CFL is totally dumb. It won’t do anything to level the playing field. It just puts good people out of work.
So, the Argonauts have invited Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to the Republic of Tranna for a chit-chat about their head-coaching vacancy. And they’ve already done the chin-wag thing with DeVone Claybrooks, defensive guru with the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders. Sorry, but I fail to see how either of these career assistants is an improvement over the guy the Boatment just booted, Marc Trestman. But, then, a lot of what the Argos do makes little sense. Not that anyone in The ROT notices.
Was running back Kareem Hunt fired by the Kansas City Chiefs because he shoved and kicked a woman, or because he lied about shoving and kicking a woman? Either way, he’s out of the National Football League for the remainder of this season, and perhaps forever. Not to worry. I’m sure there’s room for him in commish Randy Ambrosie’s CFL. Hey, here’s a thought: Hunt can join noted woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the Montreal Alouettes backfield. They can compare TMZ videos.
And, finally, the River City Renegade has reached a high-water mark this year, surpassing 21,700 reads. If you’re among those who’ve stopped by for a visit on Sunday and/or Monday mornings, my thanks. After all, if not for this blog I’d have little else to do and likely would be a hermit-like old lady living with a dozen cats.
Every now and then, a news snoop from the Republic of Tranna gets distracted or lost and mistakenly wanders into the colonies, whereupon he feels obliged to remind the locals that they suck.
Damien Cox is one such news snoop.
Apparently, Cox took a wrong turn on the way to another Auston Matthews revival meeting last week, and he found himself in the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on the occasion of the Winnipeg Jets commencing the home-ice portion of their National Hockey League crusade.
This, be advised, is known in his trade as “slumming it,” because no one from The ROT considers a trip to the frozen tundra a plum assignment, even if the tundra has not yet frozen over. So the Sportsnet scribe/gab guy must have lost a bet or wet the bed in order to draw such an odious chore. In either case, he made a whistlestop in River City, no doubt holding his nose while going about the business of informing the nation that Peggers have been root, root, rooting for a batch of Sad Sack athletic outfits lo these many years.
“There’s a thirst for a championship here,” he advised his vast audience.
That simply isn’t true. How can Winnipeg “thirst” for anything when it’s the Slurpee Capital of the World? Nineteen years running, no less! That, my friends, is literally the ultimate in thirst-quenching titles.
Alas, like so many before him, Cox ignored our 19-year world domination in sucking up sugary slush, focusing instead on how our football and hockey heroes suck. He noted that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have come up empty every year since their Grey Cup-winning crusade of 1990, while les Jets are oh-fer-the NHL.
“It’s been a while since they held a parade in these parts,” he added.
Well, excuuuuuuse us all to hell just because we don’t bust out the floats and marching bands every time one of our jocks or teams brings a title home. If we did that, we’d have no time to shovel the sidewalks or swat mosquitoes.
But Cox wants championships? I’ll give him championships:
Olympic curling: 2
World curling: 5
Canadian curling: 13
Olympic speed skating: 2
World speed skating: 6
CIS football: 1
CIS basketball: 5
CIS hockey: 1
Professional baseball: 4
Slurpee Capital of the World: Nine-freaking-teen!
All that since the Bombers last ruled the Canadian Football League.
But, hey, no parades. And if a championship isn’t parade-worthy apparently it’s like that tree falling in the forest—it doesn’t really happen if no one is there to suck down a Slurpee at the same time.
Having outriders come to town and point out flaws is bad enough, but they really get up my nose when they don’t do their homework. For example, Cox included this in the first of two dispatches from Winnipeg: “Not since the Avco Cup days of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson have the Jets been as serious a contender for a championship as they are now.” Totally wrong. Hedberg, Nilsson and Hull weren’t in the vicinity when les Jets won their third, and final, World Hockey Association title in 1979. The Swedes were in Gotham and Hull had retreated to a cattle ranch. Thus, les Jets haven’t been a “serious contender” since the Avco World Trophy days of Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston, Kent Nilsson, Morris Lukowich, Willy Lindstrom, Peter Sullivan, Scott Campbell, Suitcase Smith et al.
Cox also suggests that June 2019 would be the “perfect time” to hold the next championship parade in River City. Wrong again. Late next month would be the perfect time. That would mean the Bombers have won la Coupe Grey. A Stanley Cup parade in June would be the cherry on the sundae.
Loved the Hometown Hockey feature on No. 4 Bobby Orr on Sunday night. You can have Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux or Gordie Howe, but I’ll start my team with Bobby Orr every time. I still get goosebumps watching film of that man skate and sift through foes like they’re pylons.
Fashion note: My goodness but that Jets third jersey is a dreadful garment. Winnipeg HC broke out the new threads vs. the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, and they actually look worse than I had imagined. Seriously, is it too late for a do-over?
What exactly does Puck Finn of les Jets do when he doesn’t have the puck? Not a whole lot, it would appear. What does Twig Ehlers do when he has the puck? Again, a whole lot of nada. And these guys play on the same line?
If goaltender equipment is supposedly getting smaller, why does Laurent Brossoit of les Jets look like he has a sofa bed stuffed under his uniform?
If you listen to Greg Millen long enough, you’ll become convinced that everything that happens in a hockey game is “unbelievable!” It’s kind of “unbelievable” that he’s still on the air.
Yes, the hype machine in the Republic of Tranna is operating at peak volume now that the Maple Leafs are playing hockey like it’s the 1980s.
Auston Matthews has scored 10 goals in the first two weeks of the NHL season, so surely he’s better than Connor McDavid. And, hey, while we’re at it let’s mention him in the same sentence as Wayne Gretzky (yikes!). Then there’s defenceman Morgan Rielly, mentioned in the same breath as Bobby Orr (double yikes!) because he has 13 points half a dozen games in.
I agree, the east media’s rush-to-greatness for the Leafs and their star performers is a tad over the top.
If nothing else, though, the silliness spawned a giggle-worthy, east-west Twitter to-and-fro between two longtime shinny scribes—the aforementioned Cox of Sportsnet/Toronto Star and Jim Matheson of Postmedia E-Town.
Matheson: “Typical Toronto bias that anybody would think Matthews is as good as McDavid. Did I miss the two scoring titles that Matthews has won? Can we just put a halt on the hysteria surrounding Matthews and Rielly here, besting Gretzky and Orr feats. We’ve played two weeks of the schedule folks. If Matthews gets 216 pts in a season call me. If Rielly gets 47 goals in a season call me.”
Cox (being smarmy, of course): “Now if they played for Edmonton, hysteria would be understandable and sensible.”
Debating the best in shinny is nothing new. When I was a kid, the argument centred on Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull. It became a Gretzky-Mario Lemieux discussion for the next generation. Then Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. Some pundits still believe that Denis Potvin was better than Orr (as if).
Best lip service of the week was delivered by Lars Eller of the Washington Capitals, who had this take on les Leafs. “We were just playing against (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin, so everything kind of drops off from there,” he told the Washington Post following a loss to Tranna. “It’s not that special, to be honest. It’s a good team, like a lot of others. They’ll probably be a playoff team, I would think.”
Bravo to Bob Irving of CJOB. The broadcasting legend called his 800th Bombers game on Saturday when the local lads gave the Saskatchewan Roughriders a 31-zip wedgie. I don’t think I’ve done anything 800 times, except maybe go for pints.
This week’s CFL power rankings…
1. Calgary (12-3): Cracks beginning to show.
2. Winnipeg (9-7): From the dregs to the playoffs?
3. Saskatchewan (10-6): Have to do it on D or won’t get it done.
4. Edmonton (8-8): Finally righted the ship.
5. B.C. (8-7): Hard to believe they’re still alive.
6. Hamilton (8-7): Team to beat in the East.
7. Ottawa (8-7): Still can’t get a handle on them.
8. Toronto (3-12): Blah, blah, blah.
9. Montreal (3-12): Worst starting QB in the league.
And, finally, pot becomes legal in Canada this week. Might try some of that whacky tobbacky to dull the noise the next time TSN broadcasts a Johnny Manziel game. Actually, no. Didn’t do weed in the 1960s, not going to go there now.
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.
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.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.
But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.
Right to the very last drop.
Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”
In fact, it almost certainly was not true.
Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.
Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):
Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90 King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96 All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95 Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17 Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars—15.
Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17 Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93 All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80 Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17 Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.
We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.
Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.
But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.
This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.
Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.
So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.
Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.
If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.
I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.
How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.
Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Okay, let’s ask the Tranna Maple Leafs if they’d like a do-over.
That is, given the opportunity to revisit the 2016 National Hockey League entry draft, would les Leafs still use their first shout-out to select Auston Matthews? Or would they choose Puck Finn, more commonly known as Patrik Laine?
Matthews and Laine went one-two, respectively, in the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers in ’16 and, almost two complete crusades into their NHL careers, a case can be made that the Leafs chose the wrong guy. Laine, after all, has lit more lamps this winter than anyone other than Alex Ovechkin and a Kentucky coal miner. He’s just 10 shy of a 50-goal season as a sophomore. Only two players in history, Jimmy Carson and Dale Hawerchuk, scored more often as NHL teens.
In short, Puck Finn has come as advertised.
Matthews has as well, though, and going by the numbers the difference between the Leafs centre and the Winnipeg Jets winger is just six games, eight goals and a horrible mess of scraggly chin whiskers that make Laine look like an Amish bread, butter and egg man (worst…beard…ever). Matthews is 135-68-51-119; Laine is 141-76-51-127.
So, would the Leafs do things differently? Nope. Would the Jets want them to do things differently? Hell no.
I recall being puzzled by the results of a Postmedia preseason poll, whereby 25 NHL players were asked to read the tea leaves and predict the winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy, which goes to the league’s top sniper. Eight players were mentioned, not one of them named Patrik Laine. They were, in order, Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Vladimir Tarasenko, Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel. (Seriously, Jack Eichel?) What is it, I wondered, that the players didn’t see in Laine? I mean, they’re on the ice with him. They have intimate knowledge of the shot that Puck Finn snaps off faster and is more lethal than a Donald Trump tweet. Surely they know more about pure talent than us lumps on bar stools. Guess not.
Speaking of lumps on stools, I direct your attention to The Quiz boys on TSN—Jeff O’Dog, Dave Poulin and Bob McKenzie. Quiz master James Duthie asked the three wise men to choose between Ovechkin (598 hockey goals) and Lionel Messi (600 soccer goals) as the greatest sniper of this generation.
O’Dog: “I’m going to pick Alex Ovechkin due to the fact I’ve never seen Messi play one second of a competitive soccer match…is that what they call it, the match?”
McKenzie: “I will go with Ovechkin. I’ve gotta go with the hockey answer simply because, as O said, I don’t have the context to provide for soccer. Don’t follow it close enough, so, I realize how great Messi is, but…”
Duthie: “You’re basically saying that you’re both ignorant to soccer.”
McKenzie: “That’s correct.”
O’Dog: “Don’t care about it either.”
Only Poulin got it right.
“Six hundred goals in soccer is like two million goals in hockey,” he advised the two blockheads sitting to his left.
Poulin’s point is well taken, even if his math is suspect. The difference between soccer snipes and hockey goals is probably more like dog years to human years—seven to one. Thus, Messi’s 600 is the equivalent of 4,200 hockey goals. You’d think someone named O’Dog would know about dog years.
There must be some Arctic air flowing into hell, because I’m going to agree with Damien Cox. The Toronto Star scribe is calling out the Hockey Hall of Fame for appointing “another older, white male” to replace legendary coach Scotty Bowman on its selection committee. “What was the hall thinking?” he asks. “What was (chairman Lanny) McDonald thinking?” They “blew it.” Cox figures the HHOF would be more in tune to the times had it chosen a woman or “person of color” to fill the vacancy, rather than broadcaster Pierre McGuire. He believes diversity and gender equality are “critical issues.” Hard to disagree. It is, mind you, odd to hear a Canadian sports scribe calling for “diversity” when his own business is largely old, white, male and exclusively heterosexual.
In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day, Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet had a panel chin-wag with three female jock journalists—Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star, Rachel Brady of the Globe and Mail, and Christine Simpson of Sportsnet. I’d like to report that the women provided considerable anecdotal insight about the challenges they face in what remains very much a man’s world, but it wasn’t much more than bland generalities. That to-and-fro came on the heels of Bennett’s gab fest with David Amber, Morgan Campbell, Eric Thomas and Rosey Edeh in recognition of Black History Month. It leaves me to wonder if he’ll gather together three or four gay sports writers during Pride Month in June. Oh wait. Scratch that thought. There are no gay sports scribes in Canada.
I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would have been had John Epping and his Ontario team won the Canadian men’s curling championship on Sunday. Epping is the only openly gay man to skip in the Brier, and many kudos to TSN for acknowledging his husband, Thomas Shipton, during Ontario’s semifinal loss to Brendan Bottcher of Alberta. That recognition might seem trivial to most, but it carries considerable significant to many in the LGBT community.
Interesting gimmick the Southern Professional Hockey League is adopting for its playoffs this year. The first-, second- and third-place teams get to choose their opening-round foes. Yup. Disregard the standings. The top dog decides if it wants to face off against team No. 5, 6, 7 or 8. Then the next two outfits sift through the leftovers and choose. Seems to me that it’s a risky bit of business for the teams making the call. Totally insulting and the ultimate bulletin board material. Can’t see that ever working in the NHL. But, then, I never thought I’d see the day when an NHL player would be given a minor penalty for scoring a goal (hello Brian Dumoulin). So all bets are off.
So, Tiger Woods didn’t win another golf tournament. Same old, same old. Except, this time, Woods only missed it by that much. One less swing and he’d have been in a playoff with eventual winner Paul Casey at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla., on Sunday. Both Woods’ game and his body appear to be in fine fettle as we near the first tee at Augusta National. Ditto his attitude. I mean, is it my imagination or is Tiger smiling more? Is he interacting with his playing companions and the rabble more? It’s as if he’s adopted a “just happy to be here” mindset. He certainly seems less angry. It’s a good look.
And, finally, our Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna. This week we find our man Steve wondering where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin fit in among the NHL’s all-time best middlemen combos.
“Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier have been the gold standard for 1-2 punches playing centre for the same NHL team,” he writes.
“Oh, there have been other great combinations down the middle over the years. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg in Colorado. Mario Lemieux and Ron Francis in Pittsburgh. Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov in Detroit. Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito in Chicago. Jean Beliveau and Henri Richard in Montreal.
“Gretzky and Messier won four (Stanley) Cups together in Edmonton. Should Crosby and Malkin pick up a fourth Cup—and maybe more than that—they will slide neatly right behind Gretzky and Messier in a very special place in hockey history.”
Excuse me? Gretzky and Messier are the “gold standard” because they helped the Oilers win the Stanley Cup four times? As if. Believeau and Richard hoisted hockey’s holy grail 10 times together. They were winning the thing before Simmons was in his mother’s womb. They’d won it five times before he was out of diapers. The “gold standard” is 10, not freaking four.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
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.
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.
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.
Apparently, Donald S. Cherry has some long-term memory issues.
How else do we explain his most recent spewings on the Curmudgeon’s Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada, whereby he advised the people of Planet Puckhead that superstars duking it out in the National Hockey League ought to be a no-no?
“The stars are fighting because they can’t be protected,” Grapes groaned while we watched clips of Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews and other players of loft exchange bare knuckles with nettlesome foes. “They gotta drop their gloves and go. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Earth to Grapes! Earth to Grapes!
Stars scrapping is nothing new. Gordie Howe did it (just ask Lou Fontinato). Rocket Richard did it. Cherry’s beloved Bobby Orr did it. Mario Lemieux did it. Bobby Hull had his toupe ripped off in a fight. Phil Esposito fought. Even Mahatma Gretzky had a go, although he was so inept in his one-off dust-up with fellow pacifist Neal Broten that he made the wise decision to keep his gloves on for the remainder of his career.
Cherry’s was a lame lament and in conflict with history, yet not at all surprising given that he refuses to stray from his never-ceasing crusade to bring the goon back to hockey.
Patti 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.