The River City Renegade


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Are they gaining traction or spinning their wheels one year after Matt Nichols became the starting QB?

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

We still don’t know if Mike O’Shea had an awakening or if someone whacked him upside the head, but he was compelled to take the football from Drew Willy and hand it to Matt Nichols a year ago this very day.

That decision saved what looked to be another sorry season for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and, quite likely, O’Shea’s job.

Mike O’Shea

The Bombers, 1-4 at the time of the quarterback switcheroo, beat lightning, thunder, a lengthy weather delay and what had been a marauding Edmonton Eskimos defence in Nichols’ baptism as Winnipeg’s starting QB, and he’s engineered another dozen Ws since. That’s against six losses.

I’m still inclined to believe that an interloping party from on high instructed O’Shea to change starters, because this head coach wears his stubbornness like an extra layer of skin. He knows special teams and defence but diddly about QBs and offence, and only the jaws of life or an executive order was going to pry the ball out of Willy’s hands. It might have been Wade Miller, who occupies the top perch in the Canadian Football League club’s pecking order. It might have been Kyle Walters, the general manager who often can be found on the sidelines looking over O’Shea’s shoulder.

Whomever, the call to punt Willy and put Nichols behind centre is about the best example of trading places since the whiny Diane Chambers walked out the doors at Cheers and Rebecca Howe walked in.

Nichols orchestrated his 13th victory as the Bombers’ trigger man on Thursday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, a 41-40 verdict over the Montreal Alouettes that featured a most unlikely finish thanks, in part, to an astonishingly compliant Als defence and an atrocious roughing-the-passer call on Chris Ackie of the Larks.

Having said all that, here’s what I find myself wondering on the one-year anniversary of Nichols’ first start: Are the Bombers actually gaining traction in their quest to satisfy a championship hunger that now is measured by the quarter-century?

Not really.

Matt Nichols

To date, the Bombers have mostly beaten up on the Sad Sacks from the East Division and the free space known as the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Nichols, as terrific as he’s been, is 10-1 against the four eastern outfits and Gang Green, but only 3-5 vs. the Calgary Stampeders, Eskimos and B.C. Lions.

That, kids, is not how the West can be won.

I suppose O’Shea would pooh-pooh those numbers, because he looks at historical data the same way Donald Trump looks at news scavengers. He’d point out that faces and names change, so what does it matter that the Bombers haven’t rung up a W against the Stampeders in a meaningful match since the leather-helmet era? To a degree, he’d be correct. Yesterday’s team is not today’s team.

One thing has been constant for three-plus crusades, though: O’Shea.

During his watch, O’Shea is 1-8 vs. the Stamps and 1-6 vs. the Eskimos. It doesn’t matter who’s been coaching in Calgary—John Hufnagel or Dave Dickenson—or in Edmonton—Chris Jones or Jason Maas—O’Shea can’t beat them. And if you can’t beat Calgary or Edmonton, you don’t get home playoff dates. If you don’t get home playoff dates, you have to win twice in hostile territory just to advance to the Grey Cup game, let alone win it.

So, until O’Shea can devise a scheme to outwit Dickenson or Maas, the Bombers are spinning their tires. No matter who’s at quarterback.

Blame it on geography. If the Bombers were still in the East, they’d be the beast. Here’s the local lads’ East-West record since O’Shea rolled into River City:

2014: 5-3 vs. East        2-8 vs. West
2015: 1-7 vs. East        4-6 vs. West
2016: 6-2 vs. East        5-6 vs. West (including playoff game)
2017: 2-0 vs. East        1-2 vs. West
Total: 14-12 (.538)      12-22 (.352)

What’s that you say? The Bombers will be better off if they earn a crossover playoff spot this season? Don’t even go there. West Division crossover teams are 0-for-life trying to get to the Grey Cup through Ontario and/or Montreal. The Eskimos discovered last year how difficult a chore it is. If I’m O’Shea, I’ll take my chances with the land mines in Saudi Alberta.

Yikes! Exactly when did O’Shea piddle in Paul Wiecek’s breakfast Cheerios? I mean, it’s one thing for the Winnipeg Free Press columnist to take the Bombers coach to task for some of his dunder-headed decision-making, but pointing an accusing finger at him for the empty seats at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry is a bit extreme. Seriously. O’Shea’s short pants are an issue? Wiecek’s latest attack piece reads mean, with gusts up to nasty.

Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun comes dangerously close to cheering in the press box with this line in his gamer following the Bombers’ 41-40 victory over the Als: “They might not be able to stop the opposition, but as long as they score one more point than the other team, who really cares?” That’s cringe-worthy.

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


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About Steve Mason and platooning puck-stoppers…a coach’s wish list…the Maple Leafs and Oilers supposedly all-in…the Oilers and Connor McRichkid…hocus-pocus from the CFL commish…and a bummer for the Bombers

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

Steve Mason vows that he’ll play nice. It sounds like the Winnipeg Jets newly minted goaltender is a team-first dude who’s keen on sharing the blue ice with Connor Hellebuyck.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Steve Mason

In a conference chin-wag with newsies scant minutes after he had agreed to accept a two-year contract from the Jets, Mason talked a good game, suggesting he’ll happily work with incumbent Connor Hellebuyck and the two men would be “pushing one another” in the name of the greater good.

That, however, isn’t what he was saying in Philadelphia. In the world according to Steve Mason, there’s room for only one main man in the blue ice. Him. The other guy is his caddy.

Every single team needs a defined starter and backup goalie,” Mason told csnphilly.com in April, at which time he still harbored hope, albeit faint, for a contract offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s shown throughout the league, (job sharing) doesn’t work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. You can’t be in and out, in and out. You have to have the flow. I believe, given that flow, I’ve done well with it.”

So there.

Don’t run off with the notion that the Jets will enter the 2017-18 National Hockey League fray with a No. 1 and No. 1A puck-stopping platoon. The new kid on the block expects to play Batman to Hellebuyck’s Robin. He’s Johnny Carson. Hellebuyck is Ed McMahon.

If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice try to sell it any other way, pay attention to their noses. They’ll be growing.

We never really talked about what the work load is going to be,” says Cheveldayoff.

Really? You make one of your rare expeditions into the NHL free-agent market to address your outfit’s most-glaring flaw and you forget to mention to Mason that he’ll be expected to handle the heavy lifting?

Not only is Cheveldayoff’s nose longer than a telephone wire, his pants are on fire.

It’s a load of rubbish because Mason wasn’t lured to River City with the promise of playing wet nurse to Hellebuyck. Barring something freakish this summer—or a massive brain fart from Coach Potty-Mouth—Mason will be in the blue ice Oct. 4 when Auston Matthews and his supporting cast with the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. He’ll start 60 games. Minimum.

There can be no other way.

Last week I mentioned that Maurice was sitting on the hottest seat in Jets Nation. Either the local lads qualify for the Stanley Cup derby next spring or he’s looking for work. In case there’s any doubt, consider this comment about the Jets defence from Cheveldayoff: “All the things on a coach’s wish list are there.” Well, Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would be on my wish list, but I hear what Chevy is saying. Translation: Coach Potty-Mo has run out of wiggle room.

Connor McDavid

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek on the Jets, Maple Leafs and the Edmonton McDavids. The Winnipeg Free Press scribe laments Chevy’s roster tinkering, describing the acquisitions of Mason and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov as “modest moves” compared to the bold strokes of his counterparts in the Republic of Tranna and the Chuck. “To use a baseball analogy,” he writes, “the Oilers and Leafs have decided to swing for the fences in 2017-18, while Cheveldayoff is squaring up to bunt.” Well, I’m not a Chevy apologist. I find his methods—mostly management by paralysis—irritating and frustrating in the extreme. I’d much rather he be more Jim Nill and less Kevin Cheveldayoff. But, hey, he needed a starting goaltender. He got one. He needed a defenceman who shoots from the left side. He got one. He needed to unload a truckload of deadwood. He did it. Aside from botching the entry draft, he’s done what was required this off-season to get the Jets back into the playoff discussion.

I’m not convinced that Chevy is afraid to use bold strokes. I submit that when it comes to lavish spending and derring-do on the trade market, the GM doesn’t make the call. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, does.

So here’s what I find myself wondering in the wake of that $100 million McWhopper contract the Oilers gave Connor McDavid: Will the Puck Pontiff and his deep-, deep-, deep-pocketed partner, David Thomson, be willing to part with that kind of coin were they to land a generational player of the McDavid or Sidney Crosby ilk?

Sorry, but I don’t see how Edmonton signing Connor McRichkid to an eight-year contract is a special stroke of genius. It’s more like, well duuuh. I mean, the Jets did the same thing last summer with their franchise centre, Rink Rat Scheifele, securing him for eight years at the bargain-bin price of $49 million. And, given that McDavid will still be working at his original rate of pay come October, I fail to see how a contract that doesn’t kick in until the autumn of 2018 means they’re all-in for 2017-18.

Nice to see someone from Good Ol’ Hometown get the top job in the Canadian Football League, but, unless Randy Ambrosie is holding back on administrative skills that include hocus-pocus, I don’t see how anything short of hypnosis can convince folks in the Republic of Tranna that the Argonauts are a good buy. Right now, the Boatmen are No. 6 on the pecking order in the Centre of the Universe, behind the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC and Drake, and it shows in the pews. When the soccer side plays, BMO Field is alive and full. When the Argos are the main event, it becomes Empty Seats Stadium.

Matt Nichols

Quick thoughts on the heels of the 29-10 paddywhacking the Calgary Stampeders delivered to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: Bombers running back Andrew Harris insisted that he and his mates in blue-and-gold “are better than this.” Okay. Prove it…Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea is “not interested in historical data of whatever number in a row.” We are, Mike. Like, Winnipeg has been a Grey Cup-free zone for 26 years in a row. Do something about that and the rest of us will ignore historical data, too…Oh no. Is Matt Nichols becoming the new Henry Burris without the Grey Cup rings? You know, Good Hank, Bad Hank? I mean, what we saw Friday night definitely was Bad Matt. Really Bad Matt. End zone interception and pick-six Bad Matt. You aren’t going to beat anyone, let alone the Stampeders, with that level of quarterbacking.

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 jocks jumping the MRI queue…those “coddled” millionaire Winnipeg Jets…a dude named Dart Guy…it isn’t The Forsberg…giving the Soviets the finger…Centre of the Universe snobbery…and Gomer Pyle sings the anthem

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

Okay, hands up anyone who is genuinely shocked that professional athletes pulling in great gobs of American greenbacks have been allowed to jump the MRI queue in Canada?

Seriously. If word that play-for-pay jocks receive “preferential treatment” is a revelation to you, then you’d probably be interested in knowing that a guy named Trudeau is prime minister in the True North but his first name isn’t Pierre. I mean, hellooooo. How long have you been napping?

Pro athletes and “preferential treatment” have been hand-in-glove since David threw down on Goliath. You think David ever had to buy his own pints and chow after scoring that upset?

But, hey, what’s happening in Manitoba isn’t about free bar or restaurant tabs, is it? It’s about health care and the deified, millionaire members of the Winnipeg Jets and the regular Joe-salaried workers with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. According to the provincial auditor general, 59 jocks were allowed to jump the MRI queue for 149 scans in an eight-year period (2008-2016). Allow me to do the math: That averages to less than one athlete and 1.5 scans per month.

Frankly, I’m surprised the numbers are so low.

Look, I don’t blame anyone for being PO’d if they’ve been on a wait list for four months only to see Jacob Trouba or Matt Nichols limp in and go directly to the scanner. It isn’t fair. But in Winnipeg, that’s the way it has to be if you want a National Hockey League and Canadian Football League franchise.

In the interests of full disclosure, I had an MRI scan done on my brain slightly more than a year ago. The good news is, they found a brain. The bad news is, results showed soft tissue in my grey matter, the result of the combined nuisances of multiple concussions (10) and aging. Hopefully, that explains a lot of things, if not everything.

This whole MRI thing has really gotten up Paul Wiecek’s nose. His pallor surely must be as ashen as his hair, because the Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist has called out Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman for the Winnipeg Jets owner’s silence on the issue, and he describes the local hockey heroes as a “tiny cadre of coddled millionaires.” Coddled? Coddled? You want to talk about coddled? During my time in the media we received free beer, free food, free books, free music, free tickets, free clothing, free merchandise, free access to back-stage gatherings, free access to doors that were closed to the regular rabble, free everything. And, hey, some might even have been pushed to the front of the queue at the doctor’s office. I can’t say what, if anything, has changed, but it’s my guess that the media Gravy Train is still chugging along.

Unlike Wiecek, I’m not interested in what Puck Pontiff Chipman has to say about MRI scans. I’m more interested in what he thinks about his general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not being able to accomplish in six years what Peter Chiarelli of the Edmonton McDavids and Lou Lamoriello of the Toronto Maple Leafs have done in two years.

Dart Guy

This spring’s Stanley Cup skirmishing has been strange. How strange? Well, let’s put it this way: The Chicago Blackhawks are out of the playoffs after only four games and Dart Guy is still in them.

I don’t know what to make of this Dart Guy dude. I mean, he has a Maple Leafs logo painted on his face, he sticks an unlit cigarette between his lips and he becomes some kind of cult figure in the Republic of Tranna? Sometimes I wish Andy Warhol hadn’t been right about those 15 minutes of fame.

Why do broadcasters and writers insist on describing a goal with a one-handed deke “the Forsberg?” I know for certain that I saw Alexei Zhamnov of the Jets perform that very move, more than once, before I ever saw Peter Forsberg do it. I also saw Kent Nilsson do it before Forsberg.

This from Don Cherry during one of his Coachless Corner segments on Hockey Night in Canada last week: “The last Coach’s Corner, I said to you kids, ‘Don’t taunt or laugh when you’re winning.’ I said, ‘Never do that, kids.’ Kids, it’s not the Canadian way. You never laugh or taunt your opponent.” Grapes is right. The Canadian way is to give them the middle-finger salute, like Alan Eagleson and Frosty Forristall did to the Soviets in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series. We don’t taunt them when we’re losing, either. We break their ankles (hello, Bobby Clarke).

Guaranteed to happen in life: 1) Donald Trump will tweet; 2) Adam Sandler will make bad movies; 3) a Bruce Boudreau-coached team will be eliminated from the Stanley Cup tournament.

P.K. Subban is still playing hockey (suprise, surprise). Shea Weber isn’t. Does that mean the Nashville Predators got the better of the Montreal Canadiens in their exchange of all-world defenceman? No. It isn’t Weber’s fault the Habs’ forwards score less often than the Pope swears.

Postmedia scribe Steve Simmons, whose work often appears on the sports pages of the Winnipeg Sun, has provided us with a tweet that serves as a shining example of the self-absorbed, Centre of the Universe mentality that exists in the Republic of Tranna: “An absolutely stacked Canadian Sports Hall of Fame class is introduced on the wrong day. Not their fault. Toronto is Leafs consumed today.” In other words, the rest of the country be damned. Stevie says any national news of significance must be put on hold whenever Auston Matthews and pals are playing a hockey game in the 416 area code. All you good people in Winnipeg, you can wait a day to learn that your speedskating golden girl, Cindy Klassen, is among the 2017 CSHofF inductees. Ditto for you fine folks in Hanna, Alta. We’ll fill you in on native son Lanny McDonald after Auston and pals have had their fun. I must say, for a guy who once called Calgary home and ought to know better, the ego-fuelled Simmons has developed into a first-class Tranna snob.

In the week’s social news, Serena Williams announced she’s preggers and Ronda Rousey announced she’s engaged. The nerve of those women. I mean, don’t they realize the Maple Leafs are still playing hockey? Nobody wants to hear about a mommy bump or a diamond ring unless Auston Matthews happens to be the father or fiance, right Stevie?

Barney, Andy and Luke Bryan.

Well, golleeee and shezam! I finally figured out who country guy Luke Bryan sounds like when he tries to sing—Gomer Pyle. I swear, when I heard Bryan perform the American anthem prior to a Nashville Predators-Blackhawks skirmish, the first thing I thought of was good, ol’ Gomer Pyle pumping gas and visiting Andy and Barney at the sheriff’s office in Mayberry. How Bryan became one of the giants of the country music industry is as much a mystery as how Donald Trump got the keys to the White House.

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 a Hall pass for “hell-ya!” girl Hayley Wickenheiser…keeping it behind closed doors for the Winnipeg Jets…fickle fans…and a new turn for the CFL quarterback carousel

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

I suppose the manner in which Hayley Wickenheiser walked away from hockey says something about the women’s game, if not her: Under-stated. Under the radar.

Hayley Wickenheiser

Hayley Wickenheiser

There was no ballyhoo. No emotion-charged, tear-jerker live press gathering on TV or streaming across the Internet. Just a simple tweet from Wickenheiser at 4:02 in the afternoon on a Friday the 13th , stating, “Dear Canada. It has been the great honour of my life to play for you. Time to hang ’em up!! Thank you!”

In the world’s greatest hockey nation, that’s how the greatest of all our female players bid adieu. A 22-word tweet, almost one for each of the 23 years the product of Shaunavon, Sask., wore the Maple Leaf with Canada’s national women’s team. As farewells go, you can’t do it at a lower volume than that, unless you say nothing at all.

That’s the nature of the beast, though.

I don’t believe I’d be off the mark were I to submit that female hockey operates under the radar three out of every four winters. We get geeked up about the girls’ game only when the Olympics arrive. Then it roars into our consciousness, like a hell-bent Hayley Wickenheiser dropping a shoulder and driving to the net against those always troublesome American girls.

Think Sochi 2014. Anything at those Games more dramatic, breath-halting and inspiring than the finish to the women’s gold-medal game? Nope. At least not for us. Our neighbors to the south, no doubt, don’t share such romantic sentiments.

The point is, we genuflect in the direction of the women’s game during the five-ring circus that is the Winter Olympics, otherwise it’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind venture.

The two main organizations in North America—the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the National Women’s Hockey League that operates in the northeastern U.S.—basically function in anonymity. I mean, until the Wickenheiser tweet on Friday, the only headlines in female shinny this season were the coming out of Harrison Browne, a transgender forward with the Buffalo Beauts, and the Edward Scissorhands-like slashing of NWHL salaries.

Not many people were shocked to read about a transgender hockey player or a 50-per cent cut in wages—they were gobsmacked to learn that something called the NWHL actually existed.

I doubt many are aware that the CWHL, in which players are not paid, is enjoying its 10th season.

All hail Hayley.

All hail Hayley.

So, Wickenheiser doing her thing on the down low was rather in lockstep with the women’s game, but no doubt any and all tributes that accompany her into retirement won’t be so muffled.

Wickenheiser is deserving of fanfare, not merely because of the unprecedented numbers (168 goals, 379 points in 276 games with the national side) or the gold trinkets she collected at the Olympics (four) and world hockey championships (seven). Most significant, it’s about what she has done for girls and women who wish to play hockey without being viewed as freakish or not quite right.

It wasn’t so long ago when boys wore the black skates and girls wore the white skates with the toe picks. It was considered the natural order of things. Any deviation was viewed with cynicism, if not open ridicule and bullying. Indeed, Wickenheiser speaks of her early days on the frozen ponds of Western Canada, when she felt obliged to conceal her identity in order to play hockey.

I remember when I was a kid, I hid in the bathroom and tucked my hair up so no one would know I was a girl,” the 38-year-old told Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press. “I just went through hell really, to play. Girls don’t have to go through hell anymore to play hockey.”

No they don’t. And much of that is Hayley Wickenheiser’s doing.

Does she belong in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Hell ya, girl! And that will be worth more than a 22-word tweet.

I’m not sure what’s worse, being paddywhacked 7-4 by the Montreal Canadiens or surrendering four first-period goals to the Arizona Coyotes. I mean, the Desert Dogs are the only National Hockey League outfit that has yet to reach double digits in wins this season. They’ve collected nine Ws in 41 assignments. But here’s the deal: The Winnipeg Jets, in dropping a 4-3 verdict to the ‘Yotes on Friday night, now have 22 losses for their 2016-17 crusade. Only one club, the Colorado Avalanche, has more Ls. Grim.

So, the Jets were late in allowing news snoops to enter their inner sanctum at Gila River Arena on Friday, because they thought it would be a swell idea to discuss their misgivings amongst themselves before captain Blake Wheeler surfaced to share a terse bon mot with the media. Next up was a chin-wag with head coach Paul Maurice on Saturday morning in Tinseltown. It’s official, then: The Jets have had more emergency meetings than wins this week.

It has come to my attention that there are those among us in Jets Nation who believe much-maligned goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is the remedy for what ails the local hockey heroes. Yes, oh ye fickle fans, and Donald Trump will fix the great racial divide in the U.S.

Oops newspaper headline of the week comes from the Winnipeg Sun: “Jets catching Canadiens at right time.” D’oh. I’m guessing Paul Maurice would disagree, since coach Potty-Mo has expressed nothing but four-letter displeasure in the wake of the 7-4 wedgie the Habs gave the Jets at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie on Wednesday night.

I note there might be a starting quarterback vacancy in Saskatchewan, where Roughriders’ chief cook and bottle washer Chris Jones parted company with Darian Durant by dispatching him to the Montreal Alouettes for a song. One line of logic suggests this is an opening for Matt Nichols, potential free agent QB. That might make sense if not for the fact Jones tossed Nichols into the dumpster when they were both with the Edmonton Eskimos. Once the Canadian Football League QB carousel stops spinning, I believe you’ll find Nichols where he was last year—behind centre with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

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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Sports Santa delivers the goods to the naughty and nice in toyland

santa-crapping-2016Sports Santa is back in town and the jolly, ol’ boy isn’t so jolly this year. He’s actually in a bit of a snit. So tell us, Sports Santa, what do you have for the girls and boys in the toy department, a large lump of coal or a nice gift for those who scored big in 2016?

COAL: Mike O’Shea. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach deserves the entire coal bin, not just a lump or two. Where do we begin? It took him five games to realize that Drew Willy was a complete washout as a starting quarterback, he shows nothing but contempt for the media, he made an epic, boneheaded blunder that cost the Bombers any chance of winning the only Canadian Football League playoff game he’s coached in three seasons, then he went on record as saying he’d make the same epic, boneheaded blunder again if given the opportunity. Sigh.

GOAL: Justin Medlock. The guy hoofed 60 field goals, a CFL record, but he’ll be remembered as the victim of O’Shea’s playoff brain fart. Asked to kick a 61-yard FG in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium to preserve the Bombers’ Grey Cup aspirations, his attempt fell seven yards short of the target. He doesn’t take the rap, though. O’Shea does for asking his kicker to do the impossible.

GOAL: Matt Nichols took the ball that O’Shea was ordered to hand him and ran and passed it all the way to the playoffs, putting together a 10-3 record after taking over from Willy as the starting QB.

COAL: I put plugs in my ears, so someone please tell me that Paul Maurice has finally stopped squawking about the Winnipeg Jets’ schedule. The head coach provided his workers with a built-in excuse for failure with his constant, oh-woe-is-me carping about the grind foisted upon them by National Hockey League schedule-makers. Coach PoMo’s pity party was pathetic.

GOAL: What’s not to like about the Jets’ Lickety-Split Line of Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and Mark Scheifele, or as I call them Puck Finn, Twig and Rink Rat? The Lickety-Split Line should be terrorizing NHL defenders and goaltenders for the next dozen years. Mind you, with Maurice pulling the strings behind the bench, forward combinations last about as long as a Grade One kid’s attention span. He might have them split up before New Year’s Eve.

COAL: When Jacob Trouba and his agent went public with their trade request and the young defenceman chose to stay home rather than attend Jets training camp, teammate Mathieu Perreault branded him “selfish.” Perreault should flap his gums less and do more of what he’s paid to do—produce points. The overpaid and underachieving forward has a whopping seven points (two goals). Stop my beating heart.

christmas-stocking-coalCOAL: He’s among my favorite scribes, but Paul Wiecek of the Winnipeg Free Press totally lost the plot with what came across as a personal attack on Trouba, rather than reasoned analysis. Among other things, Wiecek called him a “malcontent” and “impetuous” and “the biggest loser” and chided him for his “petulance” in requesting a trade and holding out. Well, excuse me, but Trouba was merely exercising his bargained-for right as a restricted free agent. It’s fair to question his decision, but we can do without the schoolyard insults. Wiecek is better than that.

GOAL: I’m told Kirk Penton is riding off into the sunset. The best CFL beat guy in the country, Penton leaves the Winnipeg Sun at the end of the year, and that’s a huge blow to the tabloid. No word on where Kirk is headed, but he’ll be a success wherever he lands.

GOAL: He didn’t appear in the Sun sports pages often enough, but the now-retired Cam Cole of Postmedia will be missed. His copy was golden.

COAL: Postmedia has ransacked the sports writing biz in Canada, with its non-stop stream of force-outs and buyouts of people like Cole, Penton and George (Shakey) Johnson, among others. Postmedia has also left the country with exactly one two-newspaper town west of the Republic of Tranna. That would be Winnipeg, where the Sun and Freep still try to beat the other guy to the story.

COAL: Steve Simmons of Postmedia said Kevin Durant had “no spine” and it was “gutless” of him to sign with the Golden State Warriors. He told both pro golfer Brooke Henderson and Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman to “grow up.” He repeatedly has called people “idiots” and engaged in childish hissing contests on his Twitter feed. Seems to me that there’s a soon-to-be 60-year-old sports scribe who should take his own advice and “grow up.”

GOAL: Bravo Desiree Scott. The Winnipeg-born midfielder.made her 100th appearance for Canada in international soccer in February (the 15th woman to do so) and she helped our Olympic side earn a bronze medal at the Rio Summer Games. Desiree and her gal pals beat Germany, France, Australia and Brazil, all ahead of them in the world rankings.

GOAL: Executive director Mo Glimcher retired after 41 years with the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. I remember dealing with Mo when I worked at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. Great guy.

GOAL: Although she was wearing Alberta colors, Chelsea Carey did Manitoba proud when she skipped her Wild Rose Country team to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts title. Chelsea, the daughter of Dan Carey, was groomed on the curling rinks of Winnipeg.

COAL: Evander Kane simply cannot stay out of trouble. Or court.

christmas-stocking-goodGOAL: A tip of the bonnet to the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, for bringing the Heritage Classic to Winnipeg and linking the current Jets franchise to the roots of professional hockey as we know it in River City.

COAL: The Puck Pontiff blew it when he didn’t make original Jets franchise founder Ben Hatskin the first inductee to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame. The late, great Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who wore the C during the Jets glory years in the World Hockey Association, also should have been among the first group to be enshrined.

COAL: Bobby Hull refused to join Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson at a ceremony to salute the first three members of the Jets Hall of Fame. What a drip.

GOAL: Kyle Walters did boffo business in the CFL free-agent market, purchasing seven free agents at the opening bell. Justin Medlock was the pick of the litter.

GOAL (posthumously): We lost curling champion Vic Peters in March. A wonderful person.

GOAL: Old friend Ed Tait bolted from the Winnipeg Free Press toy department to the Blue Bombers, where he’s made the CFL club’s website sing with his fine prose.

GOAL: Mr. Everything with the Brandon Wheat Kings, Kelly McCrimmon, moved to Las Vegas, where he sits at the right hand of general manager George McPhee with the NHL expansion outfit.

GOAL: Winnipeg Goldeyes are rulers of all they survey in baseball’s American Association. The local nine has brought two titles to River City this decade.

COAL: Goldeyes owner Sam Katz took a cheap shot at the Bombers and Jets for their lack of success. Such a shame to know you’re still a total drip after all these years, Sammy.

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


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Meet Mike O’Shea, Coach-for-Life of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have given head coach Mike O’Shea a new set of downs (three years worth) and general manager Kyle Walters is good to go for another four Canadian Football League seasons. To discuss this development, I bring in my two Gridiron Girls who, when last seen, were at the Grey Cup game in the Republic of Tranna but disappeared somewhere into cyberspace.

Take it away, ladies…

gridiron-galsLady Blue: Well, I guess it’ll be a very merry Christmas in the Walters and O’Shea households this year now that they’ve got those spanking, new contracts.

Lady Gold: Nobody should be surprised that the Bombers have re-upped both the head coach and general manager, because the club showed substantial improvement in the final two-thirds of this past season. But giving O’Shea three years instead of two? What’s that all about?

Lady Blue: Beats me. The guy in the short pants is 23-31, so I guess his first two seasons on the sideline were like the tree falling in the forest—it didn’t really happen. It’s like Walters and CEO Wade Miller based everything on the final 13 games of the 2016 crusade, when the Bombers went 10-3. They conveniently ignored the first 41 games of O’Shea’s sideline stewardship, when he was 13-28.

Lady Gold: I’m okay with O’Shea coming back, but if 23-31 and losing your one and only playoff game—after leading by 19 points!—is worth a three-year reward and probably a raise in pay, what do they give him if the Bombers actually accomplish something worth shouting about? You know, like ending a 26-year Grey Cup drought.

Lady Blue: I guess he’ll get a lifetime contract and a statue right beside the bronze Bud Grant outside Football Follies Field in Fort Garry. I wonder if the guy who sculpts the O’Shea statue will have him wearing short pants.

Lady Gold: Wouldn’t they make quite the pair? A bronzed Bud Grant in his trademark trench coat and O’Shea right beside him in a pair of baggy, bronze shorts. I know which one I’d poop on if I was a pigeon.

Lady Blue: Ouch. That’s a low blow.

Lady Gold: I guess it was. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. It’s just that I don’t understand how O’Shea’s record warrants a three-year contract. Seriously, if 23-31 and no playoff victories earns you that kind of security, the guy basically has become the Bombers coach-for-life. I agree with you that Miller and Walters based everything on 13 games and turned a blind eye to O’Shea’s most glaring gaffes.

Lady Blue: Like starting the wrong guy, Drew Willy, at quarterback. Like not starting Taylor Loffler at safety until injuries forced his hand. That’s brutal player evaluation.

Mike O'Shea: A do-over? I don't need no do-over.

Mike O’Shea

Lady Gold: And let’s not forget the lamentable 61-yard field goal attempt that ended the Bombers’ season in Vancouver. And to think, given the same scenario, O’Shea says he wouldn’t do anything different. He’d still put his team’s fate on the left leg of Justin Medlock, knowing full well that no one has ever hoofed a 61-yard field goal in B.C. Place Stadium. He’d do the same dumb thing.

Lady Blue: That decision rated a 10 on the dumb-o-metre. Dumbest call ever. Ever.

Lady Gold: Worse than what Dave Dickenson did in the Grey Cup game? I mean, the Calgary Stampeders were two yards away from winning and he takes the league’s Most Outstanding Player, Bo Levi Mitchell, out of the game and puts the ball in a rookie, third-string quarterback’s hands. And he doesn’t give it to the league’s leading rusher, Jerome Messam. That’s a massive brain fart.

Lady Blue: I still say O’Shea’s decision to attempt a 61-yard field goal rather than gamble on third-and-four was the dumbest coaching decision ever. Except maybe Marc Crawford’s refusal to tap Wayne Gretzky on the shoulder to take part in the shootout at the Nagano Olympic Games.

Lady Gold: Pete Carroll’s call that cost the Seattle Seahawks the 2015 Super Bowl was epicly dumb, too. O’Shea’s not the only coach to ever wear a dunce cap.

Lady Blue: What bothers me most is that O’Shea didn’t learn anything by his mistake. He’d do it again. Isn’t that the definition of insanity?

Lady Gold: Something like that. But let’s move on to another pertinent issue: Matt Nichols. Do the Bombers bring him back at any cost?

Lady Blue: Did you hear Walters’ answer to a variation of that question at the presser on Friday? It took him half a dozen seconds of silence before he managed to mumble, “Um.” He says he’s “cautiously optimistic” that Nichols will re-up, but he also says there are Plans B-C-D…all the way to Plan Z if Nichols bolts. The head coach has already proven to be quarterback blind, so I shudder to think what Plan B is and I’m horrified at the thought of Plan Z. That might include 81-year-old Kenny Ploen or a Ouija board to summon the spirit of Jack Jacobs.

A couple of Winnipeg scribes believe the Blue Bombers and quarterback Matt Nichols would be better off finishing fourth.

Matt Nichols

Lady Gold: I can’t imagine there’d be much of a market for Nichols.

Lady Blue: Toronto needs a starting quarterback because Ricky Ray has become as brittle as burnt toast and Drew Willy is a washout. Montreal is still looking for the heir to Anthony Calvillo’s throne. But the coaching/management situation in both those towns is iffy. Nobody knows who’ll be minding the store. If Nichols arrives at free agency, those are his likely landing spots. Saskatchewan might need a QB, but I doubt Chris Jones would be interested in him. He didn’t want him in Edmonton, why would he want him on the flatlands?

Lady Gold: What about the cost, though? He’s asking for $450,000. That’s a stiff sticker price for a guy who hasn’t won anything.

Lady Blue: It’s either that or they break out the Ouija board and talk to ghosts. Pick your poison.

Lady Gold: I’m guessing that Nichols re-ups. He’s got a good thing going here. He’d have to reinvent himself all over again in Montreal or Toronto.

Lady Blue: I hope you’re right. Anyway, time to go. Got some last-minute shopping to do.

Lady Gold: Okay. Happy Christmas and merry New Year.

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

 


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Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Yup, absolutely Mike O’Shea would make the same mistake again…and they’re going to give him a new contract?

I’ll say this for Mike O’Shea—he’s lost his mind but not his sense of humor.

The much-maligned man, whose moment of madness denied the Winnipeg Blue Bombers an opportunity to keep on trucking in this month’s Grey Cup tournament, took time out from player exit interviews on Wednesday to get up close but not personal with the very news snoops who had spent much of the preceding 48-hour period reminding the head coach that he is a complete bonehead.

That, mind you, is a reciprocal sentiment in the jock/media dynamic.

Mike O'Shea: A do-over? I don't need no do-over.

Mike O’Shea: A do-over? I don’t need no do-over.

Most, if not all, football coaches believe people with pens, notebooks and microphones to be complete boneheads who don’t know an X from an O or a corner route from a paper route. For evidence, look no further than Wally Buono’s chin-wag with the boys and girls on the beat after his B.C. Lions had taken their measure of the Bombers in their Sunday skirmish in Lotus Land. When old friend Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province apparently showed bad manners in suggesting that Leos quarterback Jonathon Jennings took a couple of missteps in the early going of their rousing, 32-31 victory, B.C. boss Buono bit back and launched into a good and proper rant.

Why do you always wanna find fault? I’m tired of you guys always looking for the negatives,” he snapped, at the same time positing that Willes’s comment very much reminded him of what comes out of the south end of a male bovine.

Bull shit,” Buono spat.

Fortunately, the to-and-fro between O’Shea and news snoops on Wednesday didn’t similarly slide off the rails. Although the coach made no attempt to disguise his distaste for the discussion, civility ruled the day and, indeed, there was a fleeting moment of jocularity during the 16-minute tete-a-tete.

When asked by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to place a priority on the re-signing of starting quarterback Matt Nichols, O’Shea quipped “higher than mine,” to the accompaniment of much tittering.

Well, yes, the Bombers would do well to get Nichols’ signature on a new contract, preferably prior to the opening bell on the Canadian Football League’s free-agent blitz, which was both frenzied and fruit-bearing for the locals last February.

It’s my guess, however, that the Winnipeg Football Club’s chief bottle washer and cook, Smilin’ Wade Miller, will deal with off-field matters first, meaning job-well-done pats on the back and a contract extension for his general manager, Kyle Walters, and a fresh set of downs for his beleaguered head coach, whose original three-year deal expires at the close of business this CFL season.

Smilin' Wade Miller

Smilin’ Wade Miller

Oddly enough—but perhaps not at all surprising—the stubborn O’Shea actually presented a strong case against himself on Wednesday.

Those assembled wanted to know if the coach would welcome a do-over. That is, if placed in the same predicament as Sunday afternoon in the dead air of B.C. Place Stadium, whereby his Bombers trailed by one point with just 36 ticks remaining on the clock in the West Division semifinal, would he gamble on third-and-four or would he turn to Justin Medlock and ask him to kick the most improbable field goal in more than 100 years of Canadian football?

You check your process to see how valid that was,” O’Shea said, as if reading from a prepared statement. “Is the process right, did I do the right things to arrive at that decision? As long as you’re doing that, hopefully you’re comfortable with the decision, which I am. Does that lead me to arrive at the same decision again. Yup, absolutely it does.”

So there you have it, kids. Mike O’Shea admits he will make the same mistake this time next year that he made this past weekend. He again would put his faith in Medlock’s inability to hoof a 61-yard field goal. Cripes, man, he might as well ask the guy to boot the ball clear across the Strait of Georgia, the body of water that separates Vancouver from Vancouver Island. The result would be the same.

And this is how O’Shea makes his case for a new contract? Smilin’ Wade might want a rethink on that.

That decision is not based on hope,” O’Shea went on to explain. “It’s based on the history we have with Justin, which says he makes those kicks in practice every single week.”

Chris Walby used to catch patches with one hand in practice.

Chris Walby used to catch patches with one hand in practice.

Yo! Mikey! I remember watching Chris Walby make a series of catches with just one of his gnarled hands in practice back in the day. That’s right. Chris Walby. Big-bellied O-lineman. Making one-handed catches. In practice. Somehow Cal Murphy always fought off the temptation to let Bluto play wide receiver, though.

Practice is like Las Vegas, Mikey…what happens in practice stays in practice. Tell us what a guy does in games.

I don’t know what’s become of O’Shea’s mind. Maybe it’s buried beneath that thatch of Papa Smurf chin whiskers he sprouted during the back half of the CFL season. Whatever and wherever, it’s on the lam.

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