Top o’ the morning to you, Mike McEwen and Jason Gunnlaughson.
I’m guessing you boys noticed that Kerri Einarson and her gal pals won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts on Sunday night.
Yup. Took out Rachel Homan in the final, and I’d say they’re starting to make a habit of it.
That’s two straight national curling titles for the Gimli Gals and a personal three-peat for second Shannon Birchard, who doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a Scotties. She’s been there three times and she’s collected three gold medals, twice with Einarson and once with Jennifer Jones.
Hopefully you took note of all that, fellas, because you’ll soon be off on your own curling bubble adventure at the Brier in Calgary, and I trust you both realize that you’ve been letting the side down.
It’s not just you two, mind you. It’s all the Buffalo Boys.
Manitoba outfits used to win the Brier as often as McDonald’s sold a Big Mac. Now you win as often as…well, that’s the beef. You don’t win.
You’ve had five cracks at a national men’s curling crown, Mike, and you’re 0-fer. The best you’ve managed is to return home with a bronze trinket. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to devalue your parting gift from the 2017 Brier in St. John’s. You were magnificent. Hopes were high. And a favorable rub here or a fortuitous tick there might have turned that bronze into silver or gold.
As for you, Jason, you were a Brier neophyte a year ago and put a good foot forward until the games mattered most, which is to say in the championship pool. You went 0-fer.
I suppose that might have been the product of inexperience, or perhaps jitters on the big stage, or maybe the considerable burden of expectation carried by any curler wearing the buffalo on his back.
That weight might not be fair, fellas, but you can blame it on guys like Gordie Hudson and Howie Wood and Ken Watson and Ab Gowanlock and Billy Walsh and Bronco and the Snake and Dugie and the Big O and Mike Riley and Jeff Stoughton and Kerry Burtnyk and Vic Peters and a couple others. They spoiled us.
Twenty-seven times the Tankard has been hoisted by Buffalo Boys, but here’s the glitch: 26 of those victory laps came in the 20th century.
That’s right, we’re 1-fer in the 21st century. One. As in Jeff Stoughton, circa 2011.
Burtnyk, Mark Lukowich, John Bubbs, Brent Scales, Randy Dutiaume, Rob Fowler and Reid Carruthers all went as skips, but did not conquer.
That will never do, not when Alberta teams have been padding their stats with 10 Brier championships since Y2K.
I don’t know about you, boys, but I’m tired of hearing those uppity mooks in Wild Rose Country telling us that Alberta is the epicenter of Planet Pebble. Maybe that doesn’t bother you, boys, but it bugs the bejeebers out of me, and I have zero appetite for calling up the Edmonton Sun and reading a fresh serving of smug blah, blah, blah in a Terry Jones column.
Frankly, I’m shocked that Jonesy hasn’t already penned a piece to remind us that Einarson third Val Sweeting lives and works in Edmonton. I expected him to somehow twist the plot into a made-in-Alberta storyline.
At any rate, this isn’t about Jonesy and his delusions, boys.
My point is this: You can’t continue to let the ladies do all the heavy lifting, which is exactly what they’ve been doing since Y2K. There have been eight Scotties titles between Jen Jones and Kerri Einarson, and it doesn’t matter that three times they were cloaked in the colors of Canada. A ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team is a ‘Toba team.
There are certain things Manitobans have come to expect, boys: High water in the spring, large skeeters in the summer, good grub at the Sal’s, and our curlers winning.
The Buffalo Girls have showed you the way, boys. Again. So it would be nice if you held up your half of the bargain.
Rather than the usual Sunday morning smorgas-bored, I give you the top 50-plus movers and shakers in Good Ol’ Hometown over the past half century.
This isn’t one of those hum-drum, greatest-athlete lists. We’re talking positive impact, what a sports figure did to enhance the local sporting landscape, whether that meant the wow factor of Teemu Selanne’s 76-goal rookie season or Harvey Warner keeping the ponies at a full gallop out at Assiniboia Downs.
And, while our play-for-pay jocks tend to gobble up the big headlines on a day-to-day basis, it’s often the owners and managers and coaches and administrators who make things happen when we aren’t staring at the scoreboard, and that also means our amateur playing fields, where we have a rich tradition of magnificence and the impact has been significant.
So here’s the list of the 50-plus most-impactful movers and shakers in Winnipeg sports dating back to 1970, and I should warn you that this list includes jock journos, because once upon a time before the Internet, 24-hour TV and social media, there was a gadget called the radio. Not every game was televised or live streamed. We needed our newspapers and radios to take us to the action.
One final note: Remember, this is only one person’s opinion, so don’t get your knickers in a twist if you don’t see the name of one of your faves.
1. Ben Hatskin: Well, this is the ultimate no-brainer. It’s like naming Pope Francis to an all-Catholic team. I mean, Benny didn’t just bring the Winnipeg Jets and the World Hockey Association to Good Ol’ Hometown in 1972, he hijacked Bobby Hull from the Chicago Blackhawks in a shocking coup that reshaped the shinny landscape. Without Benny’s derring-do, there would have been no National Hockey League Jets 1.0 and no Jets 2.0.
2. Mark Chipman: The Puck Pontiff filled the void left by the 1996 departure of the Jets to Arizona, but his Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League and the American Hockey League were just the appetizer. Aided by billionaire David Thomson’s bulging bankroll, there was an NHL rebirth in River City in 2011, with the Atlanta Thrashers moving north. Oh, and did I mention that along the way Chipman and Thomson built a downtown arena?
3. Bobby Hull: The Golden Jet informed Hatskin and the other WHA renegade owners that it would take $1 million dollars for him to leave the Blackhawks and pull on a Jets jersey in ’72. Done deal. The Hull signing legitimized the WHA, and other top-level players soon followed. And, remember, Robert Marvin was also part of the ownership group that took the Jets into the NHL.
4. Michael Gobuty/Barry Shenkarow: I know, I know. Michael is the guy who let Wayne Gretzky get away. Mook. But don’t hold that against him. Michael and his ownership group kept the Jets afloat in the late 1970s, allowing for one final, rewarding whirl in the WHA by purchasing the contracts of a group of Houston Aeros, including Terry Ruskowski, Morris Lukowich, Rich Preston and Scott Campbell. He also recruited John Bowie Ferguson, and Michael offered a loud and influential voice in the NHL’s decision to absorb the Jets and three other WHA franchises in 1979. As for Barry, talk about shooting the messenger. By the time the whole thing went south for Jets 1.0, he was front man for the ownership group that sold the club to American buyers, who then loaded up the truck and bugged out to Arizona, lock, stock and jock. So Barry became the fall guy. But it’s a bad rap. No locals were willing to dig into their deep pockets to purchase the franchise and lose millions of dollars every year, so he/they really had no choice.
5. Cal Murphy: Cantankerous, curmudgeonly and very funny, Cal ruled the Winnipeg Blue Bombers roost with an iron fist from 1983-96, as either head coach or general manager. Along the way, there were three Grey Cup championships, one heart transplant, and one human rights kerfuffle over female news snoops in the locker room. He also brought the Grey Cup game to Good Ol’ Hometown for the first time, and became a vocal advocate for organ donations. Today there’s a pigeon perch of Kindly Cal outside Football Follies Field In Fort Garry.
6. Wade Miller: The leader of the Canadian Mafia inherited a Sad Sack, laughing stock-level Bombers team and the longest title drought in the Canadian Football League when he was anointed CEO in 2013. He was more like the CE-D’oh! in the early years, but Wade ignored the wolves howling at his door and stuck by his fellow hosers, GM Kyle Walters and sideline steward Mike O’Shea. Today the Bombers reign as Grey Cup champions, with money in the bank, and only the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed Miller down.
7. Dr. Gerry Wilson/Billy Robinson/Don Baizley: No North American shinny side tapped into the European hockey market as swiftly, deeply and as eagerly as the Jets, and it was this trio of forward-thinkers that brought the first wave of Scandinavians to Good Ol’ Hometown in the mid-1970s. Dr. Wilson caught the first glimpse of Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson and alerted Robinson, the Jets main bird dog. Robby scampered across the big pond to Sweden and liked what he saw, signing both players pronto. Lars-Erik Sjoberg and Curt Larsson came along for the ride, and player agent Baizley took them under his wing. Championship parades ensued.
8. Anders/Ulf/the Shoe: It’s no exaggeration to suggest Anders and Ulf revolutionized the game once in partnership with Hull. They made magic with their swashbuckling, freestyle frolicking on the local freeze, but it was Sjoberg—the Shoe—who stirred the drink from the back end. Together, they dominated the WHA and—damn them!—also provided Glen Sather with the blueprint for his Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
9. John Ferguson: So, here’s the irony—he was the cad who lured the ultra-popular Hedberg and Nilsson away from Portage and Main to make them stars on Broadway, then the Rangers fired Fergy and he joined the Jets to oversee their final WHA title and aid the entry into the NHL. Go figure. Full of bluster and occasional rage, Fergy made certain that life around the Jets camp was never boring, which sometimes meant kicking holes in walls and dumping buckets of ice on the opposing team’s bench. As Jets GM, he assembled a string of formidable NHL outfits during the 1980s, even if he couldn’t quite get them over the hump. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Teemu Selanne, David Babych, Thomas Steen and Dave Christian were drafted during his watch, and we won’t talk about Jimmy Mann.
10. Clara Hughes: When they name parks, playgrounds and schools in your honor, and when they put your pic on a postage stamp, you know you’ve done something right. Clara is a two-sport Olympian—speed skating and cycling—and the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the Summer and Winter Games. But it’s her advocacy on behalf of mental health and children’s sports/recreation that makes Clara truly impactful. She’s a leading voice in the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and she’s donated/raised many thousands of dollars for various causes.
11. Cindy Klassen: She has as many shiny Olympic trinkets as Clara Hughes (six), including one gold medal, so Clara’s two-sport bona fides is all that separates the two world champion speed skaters.
12. Chris Walby: If ever there’s been a larger-than-life athlete, it was Bluto—all 6-feet, 7-inches and 300-plus pounds of him (give or take a Big Mac and a six pack). Bluto grabbed grass and growled for the Bombers from 1981-96, collecting three Grey Cup rings, nine CFL all-star nods, two top O-lineman awards, and a bust in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just what he did on the field and his size that made Bluto stand out. He was among the great characters in Rouge Football, a good-time Charlie and a deliverer of delicious quotes. No surprise he became a talking head on CBC’s football coverage, even if English sometimes seemed to be his second language.
13. Dale Hawerchuk: He came to the Jets as a freshly scrubbed 18-year-old from Cornwall, and much was expected of Ducky. He delivered. Winnipeg HC went from the free space on the NHL’s bingo card to the best shinny outfit this side of the Edmonton Gretzkys, and Ducky was the centrepiece.
14. Jennifer Jones: The only thing Jennifer hasn’t won is the Brier, and that’s only because the boys won’t let her play. There’s never been a finer female curler in our country, even if some in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia might want to point to Sandra Schmirler and Colleen Jones and debate the issue. Well, let ’em hash it out. We know they’re wrong.
15. Jill Officer: It will be interesting to monitor how Jennifer gets along without Jill throwing second stones. They were together almost as long as Mick and Keith, but Officer retreated from competitive curling in 2018. Jill’s haul is the same as Jen’s: An Olympic gold, two world championships and six Scotties titles in her trophy case. Also one park named in her honor.
16. Teemu Selanne: Like Anders and Ulf, the Finnish Flash wasn’t in Good Ol’ Hometown for a long time, but it sure was a good time. Those 76 goals in his freshman NHL crusade had the burg in a buzz, and it’s a record that will stand as long as there are frozen ponds for kids to skate on. Teemu might have been the most popular Jet ever, give or take Ducky.
17. Don Duguid: The Digit toddled off to two world curling championships as a skip and never lost a game. Yup, 17-0. Dugie then thought it would be a swell idea to go on TV and tell the rest of us how to curl, which he did for 29 years until someone at the CBC had a brain fart and let him go. And just the other day he was made a member of the Order of Canada for his wonderful work as a curler and teacher of the game.
18. Ray Turnbull: His friends called him Moosie, and he had scads of friends in and beyond the curling community. A true visionary, Moosie’s impact began at the Mother Club on Granite Way, but his influence spread across the globe when he buddied up with Don Duguid for instructional clinics to curling curious nations beginning in the 1970s. So he’s largely to blame for the rest of the world catching up to us on pebbled ice. A broadcasting icon with TSN from 1984 to 2010, Moosie coached no fewer than 17 world champions.
19. Frank McKinnon: Those who knew him best would probably tell us that Frank never slept, because he didn’t have time for zzzzzzs. How busy was he? Let me count the ways: Five years president and 20 years on the executive board of Hockey Manitoba; 10 years commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League; founding father of the Centennial Cup tournament and the inaugural World Junior championship; first chairman of the board of Hockey Canada; two years director Sports Federation of Canada; four years vice-president Canadian Olympic Association; founding member of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association. Frank was based in Carman, but he spent enough time in Good Ol’ Hometown to qualify for this list.
20. Donny Lalonde: The Golden Boy was in the ring with Sugar Ray. Yes, that Sugar Ray, as in Leonard. He even put the boxing legend on the canvas—one of only two men to do so—scoring a fourth-round knockdown in their 1988 bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Alas, Sugar Ray ruled the day, battering Lalonde about the ears in the ninth round and scoring a TKO. But it’s enough that the Golden Boy went from working out in the old firehall gym on Talbot Avenue in Elmwood to champion of the boxing world’s light heavyweights.
21.Jeff Stoughton: It’s easier to break out of jail than win the Manitoba men’s curling championship, but Jeff wore the Buffalo on his back 11 times. Crazy, man. A two-time world champion and three times the best at the Brier, Jeff also has two Canadian Mixed titles on his resume. Once he retired his tuck delivery and his spinorama showtime shtick, he took to coaching and administration, first helping Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris strike gold in Mixed Doubles at the Seoul Olympics, and he’s now coach and program manager for the national men’s team.
22. Coleen Dufresne: When you spend 17 years coaching and another 15 as athletic director at the University of Manitoba, you’ve had an impact on more young people than you can count. Coleen, who wore the Maple Leaf as a player at the 1976 Olympic Games, coached U of M Bisons women’s basketball teams to three national championships and five Great Plains Athletic Conference titles. She is a member of the Basketball Manitoba Hall of Fame in three categories—builder, coach and player—and the Canada West Hall of Fame.
23. Garth Pischke: Tom Hanks talked to a volleyball in the movies, but Garth made people talk volleyball in real life. Nobody put the W in the word “win” like Garth. He won a staggering 1,353 games in his 38 seasons as mastermind of the U of M Bisons men’s volleyball team, losing just 414 times. Chew on that and digest it—1,353-414. Who does that? Only Pischke, the winningest coach in collegiate V-ball history, on either side of the border. A two-time Olympian and six-time MVP at the Nationals as a player, Garth coached the Bisons to nine national titles and was named the Manitoba amateur athlete of the 20th century.
24. Brian Dobie: If this was just about being a nice guy, the U of M Bisons football coach would be at, or near, the top of the heap. Lovely man. He’s been sideline steward of the Herd since 1996, a gig that came on the heels of a 21-year watch with Churchill Bulldogs in high school grid. Do the math. Coach Dobie has been impacting the lives of teenagers and young men for close to half a century. Oh, and he’s also a five-time Canada West coach-of-the-year and a USports coach-of-the-year, plus he brought the Vanier Cup to the Fort Garry campus in 2007.
25. Vic Pruden: There was no women’s or men’s intercollegiate basketball program at the University of Winnipeg (nee United College) until Vic came along, so all the hoops glory stems from there. The annual Wesmen Classic was Vic’s brain child, ditto the Fort Garry Invitational. The Wesmen Classic became such a landmark event that it had to be shuffled from Riddell Hall to the Winnipeg Arena, and was televised nationally. Vic was also founder and first president of the Manitoba Basketball Coaches’ Association.
26. Coach Tom Kendall/University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen: Few took notice of women’s hoops back in the day, but then along came coach Kendall and his fabulous University of Winnipeg Lady Wesmen who, from October 1992 to November 1994, never lost a game. Eighty-eight teams tried to topple them, and 88 teams failed. Even fabled UCLA coach John Wooden was talking about the Lady Wesmen. Under Kendall’s watch, the Lady Ws went 101-2, with three national titles.
27. Coach Mike Burchuk/U of W Lady Wesmen volleyball team: The U of W women’s hoopsters received the 250-point newspaper headlines for their 88-game winning streak, but the women on the volleyball court trumped them with 123 consecutive Ws from January 1987 to January 1989. That included a 58-0 record in 1987-88 and, along the way, the ladies won six consecutive national titles and beat the NCAA champion Texas Longhors and a pro team, the Minnesota Monarchs.
28. Jennifer Botterill: It should be enough to say that Jennifer is the only female player ever inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, but we’ll also mention that she’s a three-time Olympic champion, five times a world champion, two times the Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the top player in U.S. women’s college hockey, twice the MVP at the world championship, and she once had an 80-game scoring streak (beat that, Connor McDavid!). If young girls are looking for a role model, Jen’s it.
29. Paul Robson: Can a sports list be complete without a guy named Mad Dog on it? We think not. So come on down, Mad Dog Robson, architect of the Winnipeg Football Club’s return to glory in the 1980s, a Lazarus-like rebirth that included the 1984 Grey Cup championship crusade, the first in 22 years. His handiwork as assistant GM/GM included going stealth to lure Chris Walby out of Montreal, hiring Cal Murphy as sideline steward, and engineering the Dieter Brock-for-Tom Clements trade. Paul was also once publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, but we won’t penalize him for that.
30. Harvey Warner: It’s probably safe to say the ponies wouldn’t be galloping at Assiniboia Downs if not for Harvey and his Manitoba Jockey Club. Harvey is a founding father and current president of the MJC, which took possession of the Downs in 1993. It’s never been an easy ride for Harvey and cohorts like Darren Dunn and Sharon Gulyas out at the racing oval on the western edge of Good Ol’ Hometown, but they’ve managed to keep the barns open and the horses fed and watered. So, yes, the reins have been in the right man’s hands for 27 years.
31. Mike Riley: When Leo Durocher coined the phrase “nice guys finish last,” he certainly wasn’t thinking of a guy like Mike Riley. Aside from bringing the Grey Cup home twice in his four years as sideline steward of the Bombers, Mike might be the most decent man to ever coach a pro team in Good Ol’ Hometown (John Paddock would be second in line), and that counts for something on my scorecard.
32. Milt Stegall: The Turtle Man would be higher on this list, except for one thing—every time I look at his hands, I don’t see any Grey Cup rings. For all his personal accomplishments—all-time TD leader in CFL history with 147 and a Most Outstanding Player award—the Bombers had just four winning seasons in his 14 crusades. No player ever looked better while mostly losing, though, and he’d be the first to tell you that. Milt continues to be a Bombers booster as one of the gab guys on TSN’s CFL coverage, and that’s always a good thing.
33. Sam Katz: Full disclosure—I’m not fond of Sammy. I think him to be a snake oil salesman. If he told me today is Sunday, I’d double check the calendar. But he brought professional baseball back to Good Ol’ Hometown, and the Winnipeg Goldeyes frolic in a beautiful, downtown ballyard thanks to Sammy.
34. Andy Van Hellemond: Whistleblowers don’t always get respect, but Andy Van did. The kid weaned on the frozen ponds of Isaac Brock was, arguably, the best man to ever pull on a striped shirt, and he was also a trend-setter, becoming the first on-ice official to wear a helmet, in 1984. The NHL made lids mandatory for the zebras four years later (a grandfather clause allowed some to officiate sans head protection until 2006-07). Andy Van refereed 1,475 regular season games, 227 in the playoffs and 19 Stanley Cup finals, all records. He was named Manitoba’s referee-of-the-century.
35. Sylvia Burka: Before Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen and Susan Auch, there was Sylvia Burka, three times a world speed skating champion. She has held over 40 Canadian speedskating records, and once set a world indoor cycling mark at one kilometer. She won 12 national cycling titles. But her true legacy can be found in the skate marks she left for others to follow.
36. Dawn McEwen: I suppose you could say Dawn is to Team Jennifer Jones what Ringo Starr was to the Beatles. She seems content in the background while Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer and Cathy Overton-Clapham attracted most of the attention, but without her lead stones and robust sweeping they wouldn’t have become the finest female outfit in Canadian curling history. Dawn has an Olympic gold medal, two world titles and five Scotties crowns in her trophy case, so don’t even think of her as a spare part.
37. Kaitlyn Lawes: She branched out from throwing third stones for Jennifer Jones to strike Olympic gold with John Morris in the debut of mixed doubles at the Winter Olympic Games. So she has a nice collection of two gold trinkets, a world championship and a Scotties title.
38. Susan Auch: Although never making it to the top level of the Olympic podium, Susan made speed skating front page news in Good Ol’ Hometown with two silver medals and a bronze in the Winter Games, three gold in World Cup racing in 1995, three Manitoba athlete-of-the-year honors and a Canadian athlete-of-the-year salute. There’s a Susan Auch Oval out at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex and a Susan Auch Park in Transcona, and she’s now CEO of Speed Skating Canada.
39. Troy Westwood/David Asper: Board member Asper came up with the concept and gave the Banjo Bowl it’s name, but it was the spinoff of a quote from Ol’ Lefty, the former Bombers place-kicker who, in an interview prior to a 2003 playoff skirmish, called Saskatchewan Roughriders fans “a bunch of banjo-picking inbreds.” Much caterwauling from the Flattest of Lands ensued, and the Banjo Bowl was born in 2004. It’s the most-anticipated event on the local sports calendar every year, and it’s been strictly SRO since 2005. When he wasn’t trash talking Flatlanders, Ol’ Lefty was hoofing more field goals (617) and more points (2,745) than anyone in Bombers history.
40. Connie Laliberte: They called her the Ice Queen, but underneath that cucumber-cool exterior burned a competitive bonfire. Connie gave every female curler in Manitoba something to aim for when she became the first Buffalo Girl to win the world crown, in 1984. She also won three Scotties titles and today is the high performance director for Curl Manitoba.
41. Sandy Riley: The former sailor (1976 Olympic Games) and former president of the Manitoba Sports Federation served as chair of Winnipeg’s 1999 Pan American Games, an event that helped revive the sagging spirit of a city that had lost its NHL franchise only three years earlier. As a bonus, it attracted the attention of Ol’ Cigar Breath, Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, who used his Revolution Day address to go on a mini-rant about mysterious “traps and tricks and schemes and filth” that encouraged his athletes to clamber over the wall to freedom. Cuban defectors aside, the Pan Ams were an artistic and financial success. More latterly, the Riley family donated $500,000 toward construction of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
42. Dayna Spiring: It doesn’t matter that Dayna wasn’t on the receiving end of any passes, nor did she hoof any field goals or tackle any running backs. The lady was a champ in her first year as Chair of the Blue Bombers board of directors, and she became the first woman to have her name engraved on the Grey Cup. For young girls and women, that makes her Dayna Inspiring.
43. Desiree Scott: A former star and coach with the U of M Bisons, the lady they call The Destroyer joined our national women’s soccer side in 2010, and she’s now just one of five to have earned 150 caps. Along the way, she’s collected two Olympic bronze medals and participated in three World Cup tournaments. Away from the competitive pitch, Desiree is heavily involved with soccer camps for KidSport and she’s an ambassador for the Homeless World Cup.
44. Bill Wedlake: A head coach for 32 years, first at St. John’s High where he won two provincial titles, then 16 years at the U of W, Bill was also athletic director at the downtown campus for eight years. A co-founder of the Winnipeg Invitational tournament, he’s written three books on coaching and is a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
45. Mo Glimcher: If you think it’s tough dealing with teenagers these days, consider Mo Glimcher’s gig—he had 30,000-40,000 kids under foot every year between 1975 and 2016. Mo retired after 41 years as Executive Director of the Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association, and I’d say he’s earned a master’s degree in babysitting.
46. Bob Picken: There are three major sports operatives in Good Ol’ Hometown—the Jets, the Blue Bombers, and curling. Yes, curling. Our Pebble People don’t make the big bucks like the Jets and Bombers, but they don’t want for media exposure, due in large part to jock journos like Pick. Pebble People have never known a better media friend than Pick, whose magnificent pipes blessed the airwaves of CJOB, CKY and the CBC for half a century. He played the game, served as president of the Manitoba Curling Association, worked with both the Canadian Curling Association and the World Curling Federation, and there’s a bonspiel at the Thistle named in his honor. Pick made certain that curling was never back-page news or filler at the end of a sportscast.
47. Jack Matheson: Admittedly, there’s bias in this choice, because Matty gave me my start at the Winnipeg Tribune, but his sassy and brassy sports column was the only absolute must-read in town during the 1970s. And when Furnaceman fired him up for his daily rants on CJOB, it was must-listening. Matty set an incredibly high bar as a sports scribe, and no one has come close to reaching it since the Trib folded.
48. Friar Nicolson: There’s no way of knowing how many young men and women went into broadcasting because of the curmudgeonly Friar, but I’d suggest the number is closer to 50 than one. The longtime play-by-play voice of the Jets, Friar is the man who lured Knuckles Irving to CJOB in 1973, and he also gave one-time do-everything CKY/CTV voice Peter Young his start in the gab game. That’s serious impact.
49. Bob Irving: When Knuckles became the voice of the Blue Bombers, Don Jonas and Chuck Ealey were the starting QBs and Dieter Brock was a little-known rookie who answered to the name Ralph. Bud Riley was the head coach, and there have been 14 more since Knuckles moved in behind the mic. So he goes back some, and he’s still going. At least he was until COVID-19 interrupted regularly schedule play-by-play. We assume (hope) the well-liked and highly respected Knuckles will be back for a 46th season once the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.
50. Don Wittman: How versatile was Witt? Well, we know he covered the CFL and the NHL and tennis and the Olympics and world-class track and top-flight curling during close to half a century with the CBC, but he also broadcast cricket. Ya, cricket. Witt traveled the globe and was on site to call the Ben Johnson race in Seoul and Donovan Bailey in Atlanta, but home base was always Winnipeg.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and I don’t see my name on TSN’s Trade Bait Board, so I guess I’m not going anywhere…
How can you tell that Hockey Day on Planet Puckhead is a big deal?
Because it isn’t every weekend that Sportsnet dispatches octogenarian gasbag Donald S. Cherry and his setup man, punster Ron MacLean, to the frigid flatlands.
Normally, of course, the Yin and Yang of Saturday shinny are confined to quarters, which is to say they’re tucked away in a cozy, modest Hockey Night in Canada studio in the Republic of Tranna, far removed from the frost-bitten colonies.
But there they were Saturday on location in Speedy Creek, which, according to the tiny town’s tourism spin meisters, is “where life makes sense.”
It certainly made sense that Saskatchewan and, specifically, Speedy Creek would serve as the centrepiece for Hockey Day, because it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than pucks, prairie and a wind chill reading of minus-30.
Speedy Creek is Prairie-speak for the wonderfully named Swift Current, a welcoming, convenient stopping-off point just a hop, skip and a slapshot west of Pile O’ Bones (that’s Prairie-speak for Regina) and east of the wonderfully named Medicine Hat. It has been the breeding ground for numerous National Hockey League luminaries, such as Patrick Marleau, Adam Lowry, Bryan Trottier, Tiger Williams, Joe Sakic, Terry Ruskowski, Sheldon Kennedy, Geoff Sanderson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz.
So, ya, it was a great fit and Hockey Day seemingly had it all, including the on-site star power of Don and Ron, Canadian television’s longest-running bromance since Wayne and Shuster.
There was, however, one notable exception—the package did not include our best women in action. And that made no sense on a show from a town “where life makes sense.”
Oh, sure, there were numerous references and interviews about the distaff side of our great game during the 12-hours marathon on CBC and Sportsnet, and they parachuted Olympian Cassie Campbell-Pascall into Speedy Creek for some glad-handing and chin-wagging during the four-day festival. But that carried the waft of forced tokenism and nothing more.
Hockey Day is supposed to be our annual celebration of all things puck, and the women’s game is supposed to be a happening “thing,” especially given the upbeat chatter since Kendall Coyne Schofield’s jaw-dropping skedaddle a fortnight ago at the NHL all-star showcase. So how could they leave the Canadian Women’s Hockey League out in the cold, figuratively if not literally?
It was a glaring, inexcusable omission. Kind of like organizers of the Grammy Awards telling female singers they’re welcome to attend the show but they can’t perform. Stay in your lane, ladies.
I don’t know what, if any, obstacles prevented Sportsnet from including the Tranna Furies-Montreal Canadiennes afternoon skirmish, but I do know they should have moved mountains to get that game on air.
That snub aside, Hockey Day delivered some truly wonderful, Kleenex-worthy stories, and it reminded us how good Ron MacLean is. I’m quite uncertain how he isn’t anointed our country’s top broadcaster every year, because nobody does it better. Not even James Duthie. It was also nice to hear the legendary Dick Irvin’s voice. I’ll go to my urn convinced that Irvin and Danny Gallivan were the best hockey broadcasting tandem ever.
Tough viewing choice for the afternoon game, Habs vs. Leafs or Connor McDavid flying solo vs. the San Jose Sharks. I started with McDavid, but quickly switched to Montreal-Toronto because the Edmonton Oilers are a total fire drill.
The Great Wall of China has been a work in progress for more than 2,000 years, only a week or two longer than the Oilers rebuild.
There’s nothing wrong with the Oil that someone like David Poile or the Winnipeg Jets’ scouting staff couldn’t cure. Trouble is, Poile already has a job. Ditto les Jets bird dogs. So the Oilers are stuck with Bob Nicholson and Keith Gretzky. Good luck with that.
With so many NHL outfits about to enter salary cap hell, I’m inclined to suggest they ought to scrap the thing. I mean, why should a club like les Jets be penalized just because they have better talent snoops than most? Alas, there’d be no franchise in Good Ol’ Hometown without a salary ceiling, so it stays.
Bytown Senators bankroll Eugene Melnyk vows to spend close to the cap between 2021 and ’25. Until then, he’ll continue to squeeze nickels, tell fibs and order his players to stay away from Uber.
Anyone still believe there’s a goaltending controversy with Winnipeg HC? Didn’t think so. After watching Laurent Brossoit give the royal wave at pucks with his left hand in les Jets’ 5-2 loss to the bottom-feeding Senators in Bytown, I’m convinced he has a hole in his catching mitt. Apparently the Senators are, too.
There’s no danger of les Jets missing the Stanley Cup runoff, but there is a danger of them failing to secure home-ice advantage. And I don’t see them going the distance without an extra game at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in every playoff series.
Mike McIntyre and the Drab Slab’s obsession with Patrik Laine continues without any signs of a retreat. In the past two weeks, Mike M. and Jason Bell have combined to scribble seven stories on the Jets bewitched, bothered and bewildered winger, none of which told us anything we don’t already know. Yo! Boys! It’s no longer news that Puck Finn isn’t scoring. It’s only news the next time he makes the red light flash.
Mike M. described Puck Finn’s playmaking skills vs. the Senators as “impressive.” I must have nodded off when that happened. I mean, other than a nifty pass to set up Bryan Little for a score, Laine handled the biscuit like it had cooties.
Some deep, penetrating analysis (not!) on Laine’s struggles from Donald S. Cherry and Mike Johnson. The Lord of Loud used his HNIC pulpit on Saturday to tell us this: “Somebody better give Laine a smack. This is his contract year. Get going kid! I know ya got 25 goals, but he’s done nothing. Give him a smack.” Earlier in the week, TSN’s Johnson advised us that Puck Finn has to start “moving his feet.” Oh, please. “Moving his feet” has become the worst cliché since “our backs are against the wall.” Phil Esposito scored 76 goals one season without moving his feet. Difference is, Espo was willing to go into the dirty area in front of the net and gobble up Bobby Orr’s leftovers. Laine, meanwhile, plays on the periphery and Dustin Byfuglien is no Bobby Orr.
Alexander Ovechkin is now the highest-scoring Russian in NHL history with 1,182 points, which works out to a 1.119 per-game average for the Washington Capitals captain. Coincidentally, 1.119 was also Ovie’s blood-alcohol reading during his summer-long Stanley Cup celebration.
I don’t know if Mike Reilly is an adventurous guy, but if he’s looking for a challenge—and if he doesn’t mind playing in front of empty seats—he’ll sign with the Tranna Argonauts when the Canadian Football League livestock auction begins on Tuesday. But word from the left flank of the nation suggests the Edmonton Eskimos quarterback is heading for Lotus Land and all those empty seats in B.C. Place Stadium. If true, it isn’t surprising on a number of levels, not the least of which is Vancouver’s proximity to Reilly’s offseason home in Seattle. It is, however, shocking that GM Ed Hervey has convinced Leos skinflint bankroll David Braley to part with $700,000. It must have taken the jaws of life to pry Braley’s wallet that wide open.
Will Reilly’s return to B.C. translate into ticket sales in the Great Wet West? I have my doubts. I live in Leos Land and I hear more chatter about the Seattle Seahawks than three-down football.
Another busy week of global hobnobbing for CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who now has signed more treaties than the Sioux Nation. For those of you scoring at home, Commish Randy has crawled into bed with Mexico, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France and Finland, and it’s believed his menage-a-gridiron will soon include Dutch Holland and the gang that organizes the annual New Year’s Day Toilet Bowl at Blossom Park in River Heights. Those boys are in their 80s now, but Commish Randy expects them to attend the Foreign Flag Combine in March.
So what do we call three-down football now? The CMGASND2FFL? And if gay guy Michael Sam makes a comeback with the Gentille Alouettes, does it become the CMGASND2FLGBTQFL?
I don’t know about you, but I’d feel a whole lot better about Commish Randy’s off-season handiwork if it included the letters CBA, as in Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Old friend Mike Riley is coaching San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football, and Dan Barnes tells us all about the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers sideline steward in an excellent piece for Postmedia. Mikey says he “loved” Good Ol’ Hometown, but that didn’t stop him from abandoning the Bombers after their most-recent Grey Cup conquest (if you can call more than a quarter of a century ago “recent”). Those 29 years without a CFL title? I blame it all on Mikey for getting out of Dodge.
And, finally, I note that the jersey toss is once again in vogue in Edmonton Oilers country. Wouldn’t white towels be more appropriate?
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and as Peter Warren used to say when his voice was the loudest on local radio, “Let’s get right down to business…”
So what’s your definition of progress? Winning one playoff game?
If so, you don’t dismiss Mike O’Shea. You bring him back for the final year of his existing contract as sideline steward with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And I suspect that’s exactly what bulldog CEO Wade Miller and his accomplice, general manager Kyle Walters, will do.
So save your breath if you’re among the rabble inclined to call for Coach Mikey’s ouster.
Unless I miss my guess (that’s been known to happen), here’s what you can expect to hear from Messrs. Miller and Walters in the wake of Winnipeg FC’s elimination from the Canadian Football League fall frolic: They’ll agree that garbage bag day has arrived too early. Yet again. They’ll agree that there’s considerable heavy lifting still to be done, and they’ll vow to keep plugging away until they get it right. But, while acknowledging that the local lads have been found wanting for a 28th consecutive crusade, they’ll point to a big W in the West Division semifinal. In Saskatchewan no less. Surely that must count for something, right?
Well, no, it doesn’t. Not if your definition of progress considers the larger picture.
A year ago, the Bombers were 12-6 in regular-season skirmishing. That earned them second place and a playoff date at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry, which O’Shea frittered away with dopey coaching.
This year, they were 10-8 and required to hit the road for the entirety of their Grey Cup chase, which featured the win over the Green People in Regina and concluded with Sunday’s tank-on-empty, 22-14 loss to the Stampeders in the West Division title joust at McMahon Stadium in Cowtown.
Is that one step forward or one step back? Is it the spinning of wheels?
O’Shea has had the head-coaching gig for five years. He’s 45-45, 1-3 in the games that matter. That’s hardly grounds for dismissal. Unless it is. I mean, the Argonauts just told Marc Trestman to get lost, less than a year after a happily-ever-after ending in the Republic of Tranna. The guy brings the Grey Cup to The ROT, then goes 4-14 because his quarterback had the bad manners to grow old and fragile, and they kick him to the curb faster than you can say “Popp is the weasel.” But that’s Tranna, where folks are too busy worrying about Auston Matthews’ shoulder and William Nylander’s contract standoff to notice there’s a football team in town.
In River City, the rabble notices. They know the only three men to bring the Grey Cup to Good Ol’ Hometown since the 1950s are named Grant, Murphy and Riley. There are statues of two of them on Chancellor Matheson Road.
Does O’Shea’s record warrant another opportunity to join that select company?
I say, sure, let him stay. If, however, garbage bag day arrives before the final Sunday in November next year, it’ll be time to move on.
While watching the Bombers’ inept offence vs. the Stampeders’ stout defensive dozen, I couldn’t help but wonder if this result will cost O-coordinator Paul LaPolice a head-coaching gig. There are openings in the Republic of Tranna and B.C., but do the Argos or Lions want the overseer of a group that failed to get the ball into the end zone in a playoff game?
Anyone out there still want to fire D-coordinator Richie Hall? The defence gave Winnipeg FC a chance to win on Sunday. The offence didn’t.
TSN has its turning point during a game, I have my WTF moment, and Calgary coach Dave Dickenson wins first prize in WTF-ism for his bizarre anti-Canada rant when his universe wasn’t unfolding as it should on Sunday. No Stampeders’ game is complete, of course, without Dickenson pitching a pathetic hissy fit aimed at the zebras. And, sure enough, TSN’s mics caught John Hufnagel’s yappy, little lap dog barking angrily after one of his choir boys had been flagged for a foul. “Why are all the penalties in front of Mike O’Shea? Fucking Canadians!” shouted Coach Chihuahua. WTF is that supposed to mean? Is he calling us a nation of fornicators? If so, he’s correct. After all, there are 37 million of us, so we’ve definitely been bumping uglies. But what we really like to do is screw American coaches who can’t find work in the U.S. It doesn’t do much for our population growth, but that’s okay. Dickenson is proof that we already have one too many buttheads up here.
If Jonathan Rose of the Bytown RedBlacks is allowed to participate in the Grey Cup game, CFL commish Randy Ambrosie has totally lost the plot. Rose gooned a game official in the East Division final and was instructed to take the remainder of the day off. But it can’t end there. He must be suspended.
Snippets from another day on the couch watching three-down football: TSN chin-waggers Rod Black and Duane Forde copped out in describing Rose’s assault. Black called it an “emotional mistake” while his sidekick Forde said the Bytown defender “kinda lost it.” Kinda? He totally lost it. It was left for Milt Stegall to tell the truth. Turtle Man called it flat-out “dumb.”…Is there anyone in Canadian sports broadcasting as good at his/her craft as TSN gab guy James Duthie? I can think of only two—Ron MacLean and Scott Oake…Did I hear some of the rabble shout “true north!” during the singing of O Canada at McMahon Stadium? Good grief…What’s up with CFL teams and rasslers? The Hamilton Tiger-Cats trotted out Nature Boy Ric Flair to arouse the rabble for their East Division semifinal a week ago, and they propped up a cardboard cutout of the Nature Boy outside their changing room in Bytown on Sunday. Not to be outdone, the Stampeders dredged up Bret (The Hitman) Hart as a motivational tool in advance of their skirmish with Winnipeg FC. Can we expect to see Sweet Daddy Siki at the Grey Cup?…Saw a commercial for a new Rocky movie. How many is that now? Ten? Twelve? And will I be missing something if I give it a pass?…Head coach Rick Campbell and his Bytown RedBlacks refused to touch the East Division championship trophy following their 46-27 rag-dolling of the Ticats. “Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it!” players cautioned one another, as if the thing had cooties. Not so with the West-winning Stampeders, who hoisted their trinket and passed it around, albeit tentatively. I’ve always believed the “no touching the trophy” thing to be a silly superstition in sports, but whatever floats your boat…Brad Sinopoli of the RedBlacks or Andrew Harris of the Bombers for top homebrew this season? Tough call…Good thing the votes for most outstanding player were in and tabulated before Sunday’s skirmishes, otherwise QB Jeremiah Masoli of the Tabbies would have no hope.
And, finally, I like Bytown over Calgary in the Grey Cup game. I think every one of us 37 million effing Canadians ought to root, root, root for the RedBlacks.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
Here’s how positively delightful (that’s sarcasm, kids) it has been for me at my watering hole of choice in downtown Victoria during this 21st century of Sad Sackian Winnipeg Blue Bombers football:
“You’re from Winnipeg, aren’t you Patti?” one of the regular bar lumps would ask as I entered the room.
“That’s right,” I’d reply, knowing full well that the cad already was aware that I had strayed westward 17 years ago from the land of Slurpees, Sal’s cheese nips and skeeters the size of drones.
“Shame about your Bombers,” he’d then say as he strode away to see a man about a horse (what does that even mean, boys?) or to duck outdoors for a smoke, leaving an appropriate sprinkling of rude laughter for me to munch on.
I would offer no rebuttal. What was I to say? Tell him “Ya, the Bombers suck but, hey, I hear the Royal Winnipeg Ballet is having a boffo season?”
Didn’t want to go there, of course. I mean, mention ballet in a barroom full of boys and it’s seldom going to end well. Thus, there existed no possibility of me offering a vigorous defence for the Bombers. They had become bums. So I’d sit alone at my table in the corner of the room, detached from the barside banter, and silently curse Kenny Ploen and Leo Lewis and Chris Walby and James Murphy and Stan Mikawos for having the bad manners to grow old. And both Bud Grant and Mike Riley for skipping town. And kindly Cal Murphy’s first heart for failing him.
It got to the point whereby I would only visit my watering hole of choice after Bombers’ victories. Which meant I was on the wagon. Never drank a drop for pretty near two months this season. But just look at those Bombers now. Five successive Ws. And I don’t care if the last one was ugly. They’re in the Canadian Football League playoff conversation.
Another beer, barkeep! And get one for my favorite bar lump, too!
From where I sit, here’s the difference between the two men who have started five games each at quarterback for the Bombers in this increasingly optimistic crusade: Matt Nichols, currently behind centre, plays like he isn’t afraid to screw up. Willy did. Admittedly, that’s a simplistic analysis, but I believe that’s what basically separates the two. Nichols plays no-fear football.
I suppose there might have been some discussion among the tall foreheads in Bomberville about releasing Willy before the Bombers became obligated to pay their backup QB the remaining $200,000 of his season’s salary, but I like to think it was a brief chin-wag. Very brief.
My goodness, Winnipeg offensive lineman Travis Bond is an extremely large lad, isn’t he? Do the Bombers feed him a pre-game meal, or do they just tie him to a hitching post and let him lick a salt block?
Quiz me this, kids: Who was general manager Kyle Walters’ trophy catch when he went on his safari at the opening bell of the CFL free-agent hunt in February? All those who said Justin Medlock can move to the head of the class. Yes, running back Andrew Harris has been a major contributor, but the Bombers are in nowheresville without Medlock’s left leg. If you haven’t been paying attention, the Winnipeg offence has skidaddled crossed the enemy goal line twice in their past two assignments. That’s it. Just twice. Medlock, meanwhile, contributed 13 field goals to the cause. That’s 39 points in two games that were decided on, or very close to, the final play. We don’t need Einstein to work out the math. Without Medlock’s limb, the Bombers lose both matches. If Nichols isn’t your team MVP, the place-kicker is.
Since it’s Labour Day, we can begin to pay attention to the crossover standings, even if the league’s website wizards can’t be bothered to post them. Regardless what transpires when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts grab grass and growl this evening at Timbits Field in the Hammer, the Bombers will finish the weekend four points clear of the East Division’s third-place outfit. That’s good enough for a playoff position if their universe doesn’t unfold as it should the rest of the way in the West Division.
I look at the schedule and can’t help but think the Bombers’ post-season aspirations will be determined by two games—the October home-and-home exchange with the B.C. Lions. Win them both and they’re likely in. Lose them both and they’re talking crossover or going home early again.
My pick to come out of the East Division: Hamilton. The Tabbies have been rather dysfunctional this season, but I see them getting to the Grey Cup game as long as quarterback Zach Collaros doesn’t return to the repair shop. And he’ll be the MVP.
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.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
When, oh when, will people stop prattling on about the Winnipeg Jets’ five-year plan?
The latest to trot out this mouthful of mystical misinformation is Winnipeg Free Press sports columnist Paul Wiecek, who writes: “What was originally a five-year plan now looks more like a 10-year plan…”
I challenge Wiecek, or anyone for that matter, to produce a documented sound bite from either Jets co-bankroll Mark Chipman or his right-hand man, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, that confirms they had a self-imposed mandate of five years to develop a roster that would qualify for the Stanley Cup derby on an annual basis.
Sorry, but said sound bite does not exist. It is as fictional as Peter Pan, Harry Potter and Ondrej Pavelec’s Vezina Trophy-winning season (bet you never thought you’d see the names Ondrej Pavelec and Vezina Trophy in the same sentence).
Here’s what Chipman told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun in September 2013, scant seconds after he had bestowed a two-year contract extension on his GM, one year for each of Chevy’s first two failed seasons as steward of the National Hockey League club:
“We will have success. I’m convinced of that. I wish I could give you a date and a definition of what that is exactly, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
“I believe the path we’re on is the correct one. It’s difficult but I’m more than happy to be patient.”
So there. Don’t hold your breath, because Chipman isn’t.
As for Cheveldayoff, the best anyone has gotten out of him is, “We have a plan. It’s a process. We’re on the right path.”
So here’s the Jets’ plan in its simplest form: They will draft and develop, all the while hoping they draft and develop better than 29 other NHL outfits. They will arrive as a bonifide contender when they arrive, not a moment sooner.
It would, of course, be folly for Cheveldayoff to start his own clock, because he would be setting himself up for failure. That aside, though, this ongoing belief that there was a five-year plan is nothing but pink ponies and flying pigs, and a quality jock journalist like Wiecek ought to know better than to perpetuate the myth.
I suppose some found the chin-wag between the Official Paper of the Winnipeg Jets and Chipman interesting, but I thought it to be an exercise in blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. That’s because Tim Campbell of the Freep was playing lob ball instead of hard ball. Why he didn’t ask His Holy Hockeyness to articulate the depth of his involvement in roster decisions (trades, contract negotiations, team captaincy, etc.) is as much a mystery as Paul Maurice’s fixation for Chris Thorburn. Campbell didn’t have to go all Mike Wallace on Chipman, because they were, after all, talking hockey not ISIS, but it isn’t a provocative question. It’s a fair question. So ask it already.
I’ll say this for Paul Wiecek: He doesn’t shy from adopting an unpopular posture. It’s one of the reasons he’s among my favorite sports scribes. But to submit that Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea warrant rewards as GM and head coach, respectively, of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is, shall I say, ballsy in the extreme. As a tandem, they are 12-24 over two Canadian Football League seasons. It is a results-driven business, the sole measuring stick being wins-losses. You win, you stay. You lose, you get a new postal code. Yet here’s Wiecek on the not-so-dynamic duo: “The Bombers should also extend the contracts of general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea—and they should do it before the new season begins. (You read that right: a duo who missed the playoffs in their first two seasons should get contract extensions before we even get to see what they’ve put together for 2016. Yes, marijuana is basically legal at this point. No, I’m not smoking it by the bale.)” He might not be smoking weed by the bale, but Wiecek’s advocating that the Bombers reward colossal failure suggests he is, at the very least, sprinkling something more mind adjusting than sugar on his Corn Flakes.
In supporting his argument, Wiecek directs our attention to “long-term academic studies of college football, the NHL, and Italian soccer” that conclude switching coaches “does not measurably improve a team’s performance, it frequently makes it worse.” Really? Well, let’s see:
In 1957, the Bombers changed coaches (Bud Grant) and went to the Grey Cup game that year, then won the CFL title four of the next five seasons.
In 1983, the Bombers changed coaches (Cal Murphy) and won the Grey Cup in ’84.
In 1987, the Bombers changed coaches (Mike Riley) and won the Grey Cup in ’88 and ’90.
In 2007, the Saskatchewan Roughriders changed coaches (Kent Austin) and won the Grey Cup.
In 2008, the Calgary Stampeders changed coaches (John Hufnagel) and won the Grey Cup.
In 2008, the Montreal Alouettes changed coaches (Marc Trestman) and went to the Grey Cup game, then won the title in ’09 and ’10.
In 2012, the Toronto Argonauts changed coaches (Scott Milanovich) and won the Grey Cup.
In 2012, the Roughriders changed coaches (Corey Chamblin) and won the Grey Cup in 2013.
In 2013, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats changed coaches (Kent Austin) and advanced to the Grey Cup game that season and the next two.
In 2014, the Edmonton Eskimos changed coaches (Chris Jones) and reached the West Division final that year, then won the Grey Cup in 2015.
What does it all mean? Constantly changing coaches isn’t the reason the Bombers haven’t held a Grey Cup parade since 1990. It’s due to the fact they’re constantly hiring the wrong person.
Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun did the chin-wag thing with Kyle Walters, who, among other things, said: “I believe in Mike (O’Shea) wholeheartedly.” Apparently, wholeheartedly means letting O’Shea walk into the 2016 CFL season as a lame-duck coach.
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.
“I thought he was spectacular. To the very last second, 95 per cent of his players would have jumped on a grenade for him.”
“He was charismatic and fun to be around. It was fun for a year and a half. He made it interesting.”
“He made football exciting. I had the best time losing. He made it fun. Every day I looked forward to practice. The guy was something else. I enjoyed playing under him. He added excitement.”
The coach? Jeff Reinebold, who set about the task of almost flushing the franchise down the toilet during his brief, Bob Marley-fueled reign of error as sideline steward of the Canadian Football League club. The players speaking? Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron and Milt Stegall, in that order.
Reinebold’s record was 6-26 before being punted back to his surf board and sunscreen. His clubs failed to qualify for the Grey Cup tournament. O’Shea is 12-24 (7-23 after a 5-1 start in 2014) and, for a second successive season on his watch, the Bombers won’t be participating in the playoff hijinks.
But, hey, everybody likes Mikey.
Has losing become an accepted way of life in Bomberville? I ask that because I see a lot of “Oh, well, stuff happens” body language on the field, and I don’t hear a lot of anger in voices after losses. I mean, here’s what placekicker Sergio Castillo said after flubbing field goal and convert attempts in Winnipeg’s recent loss to the Ottawa RedBlacks: “God knows my misses and my makes already, so those two were going to be misses.” Holy jumpin’ Jesus! The guy gags on two kicks and he’s cool with it because that’s the way his God had it planned? Are you kidding me? Blessed aren’t thou among kickers, Sergio.
For all those who remain convinced that it takes more than a year or two to rebuild a train wreck of a CFL franchise, here are some sobering numbers for you to consider:
There’s one basic reason why the Bombers are unable to do what the Eskimos and RedBlacks have done: The board of directors keeps hiring the wrong people who hire the wrong players.
A quick thought on the Winnipeg Jets’ victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night: Anthony Peluso. Sigh. Yes, I realize he drew a helper on Andrew Copp’s initial National Hockey League goal, but I chalk that up to Blind Squirrel Syndrome. I’m sorry, but the guy belongs in the NHL like I belong in the centrefold of Playboy magazine (does Playboy still have centrefolds?), and that’s the naked truth. (Yes, I agree, that’s a bad pun, but it’s no worse than this headline from the Winnipeg Free Press on Copp’s first tally: Copp arrests goal drought. Groan.)
Tie Domi, author. Who knew? It’s true, though. The former NHL thug, who once dragged his bare knuckles along the ice surface of the old Winnipeg Arena as guard dog for Teemu Selanne, among others, has written a book, Shift Work. According to publishers Simon & Schuster Canada, the former Winnipeg Jets 1.0 ruffian begins a month-long promotional tour of Ontario on Monday and they’re billing it as the “ultimate fan experience.” It includes a 48-foot, double-expandable trailer brimming with memorabilia and “interactive” features, which I believe means Domi will punch out anyone who doesn’t buy his book.
Watched American Pharoah win the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Keeneland in Kentucky, and I must say that I haven’t been as enamored by a horse since Secretariat, who left hoofprints on my heart. Comparisons have been made between the two thoroughbreds, but, really, it’s a fool’s task to rate race horses of one era against another. No horse will ever surpass Secretariat for me, but Pharoah surely belongs in any conversation about the all-time greats.
These are not the best of times for old friend Mike Riley, first-year coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. More to the point, not many people are happy in Lincoln, where Big Red loyalists are yelping for Riley’s scalp following the Huskers’ embarrassing 55-45 loss to the woeful Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday. Nebraska is now 3-6 and in grave danger of being on the outside looking in when bowl season in American college football commences. As someone who remembers Riley fondly from his days as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, it’s painful to see a good man so maligned.
Truly terrific piece by David Sanderson in the Winnipeg Free Press last week on the Dragon Lady, Val Johnston. The old girl (she’s 70) is still teaching kids in Pegtown how to skate properly, and she’s still wearing the same pair of Wifa skates she had custom made more than 50 years ago. You go, girl!
Is it possible to watch Patrick Kane play hockey and not wonder if he raped a woman this past summer? I found it disturbing to see him in the Chicago Blackhawks lineup when they paid a visit to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie for their joust with the Jets last week. Just saying.
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.
It was 45 years ago this week when I first walked into a newsroom. It was 15 years ago when I last walked out of a newsroom.
Those who noticed the former were few. Those who noticed the latter were even fewer.
Somehow, though, I managed to sandwich a 30-year career in jock journalism between those two moments. I know I wasn’t the greatest sports scribe. Cripes, man, to this day I’m convinced I pulled a fast one on a whole lot of people because, with zero journalistic schooling and nothing but blind ambition as an ally, I managed to land gigs at the Winnipeg Tribune, the Toronto Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Star and the Winnipeg Sun. My copy appeared in every major daily in Canada, a handful in the United States and numerous magazines.
I worked as a color commentator on Winnipeg Jets radio and even hosted my own sports talk show on CJOB. Mind you, that only lasted about seven weeks. I quickly discovered that many of the people who call in to gab on jock radio need a life, which convinced me that I needed a life. So, shortly thereafter, I escaped from mainstream media. Full stop.
I point this out today for one reason: I have a regret.
I left quietly. Too quietly. It’s not that I desired fanfare and pomp and pagentry to accompany my exit, stage west. Quite frankly, I preferred my flee to freedom to be on the down low. That’s why I got behind the wheel of my 1991 Le Baron convertible one morning in early September 1999 and pointed her in the direction of the Pacific Ocean without alerting a soul.
I now, however, glance in the rear view mirror and regard that to have been an error in judgement. It would have been nice to clink some pint glasses together and perhaps shoot a game of pool with comrades while comparing battle scars.
So that’s what I’ll do today, 45 and 15 years after the start and finish lines.
(I should point out that I wasn’t a byline scribe from Day One. I began as the mail kid in the Winnipeg Tribune business office, then moved up to the fifth floor to run copy for the various departments in the newsroom. At the same time, I’d scribble non-byline pieces and rewrites for the boys in the sports department, just to get an early feel for the gig. It wasn’t until 1971 that my byline first appeared in print.)
These are my highs and my lows from 30 years of jock sniffing in Pegtown, plus another 15 as a freelancer/blogger on all matters of sports in River City. (I do believe that 45-year stretch means I have been scribbling about good, ol’ Hometown sports longer than any living creature.)
Best writer: Jack Matheson. Not even close. We all wanted to write like Matty. None of us ever did.
Best broadcaster: Don Wittman. Witt was more versatile than anyone in his biz. And very good at every sport he covered. On a personal note, while in high school I sent Witt a letter asking for advice on how to pursue a career in sports media. Imagine my shock when I answered the phone at home one afternoon and it was Don Wittman on the line, offering to meet me for coffee and a chin-wag. Those are the things you never forget.
Favorite broadcaster: Scott Oake. Scott is knowledgeable, glib and witty. He has fun. I like that.
Best pipes: Bob Picken. If Pick were in a room full of cackling hens, laughing hyhenas and braying jackasses, you’d still hear him above all else. His voice carried further than a telegraph wire.
Best play-by-play man: Friar Nicolson and Knuckles Irving. It’s sometimes hard for me to believe Knuckles is still broadcasting Bombers games. But he continues to do so with style, grace and know-how. And I understand his fear of flying is as intense as ever. As for Friar…I worked and travelled with him during the Jets final two World Hockey Association seasons and their first whirl in the National Hockey League. I was forever amazed how a man could lace his conversation with unvarnished profanity, yet never utter a four-letter word on air. I believe the closest he ever came to cursing on air was the night he called Peter Pospisil of Czechoslovakia “Peter Piss Pot.”
Most colorful person: John Bowie Fergsuon. Any guy who punches a hole in the wall of his press box bunker and hurls a bucket of ice on the visitors’ bench is either a nutbar or colorful. I choose the latter. Fergy and I had our battles, but I believe there was mutual respect.
Biggest blunder: I was instructed by Gus Collins to write a two-column brite to advise Trib readers that the Major League Baseball all-star game would be played the following evening. I referred to this mid-summer fixture as the “annual Fall Classic.” D’oh!
My favorite moment as sports editor at the Winnipeg Sun: Watching Judy Owen’s reaction when I assigned her the Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat. She was, as they say, over the moon. Some people believed I had lost my entire bag of marbles for putting a sports neophyte on a major beat, but Judy never let me down. I rate it as my most satisfying decision during two whirls as SE at the Sun.
Favorite beat: Local tennis. I covered every tournament at the Winnipeg Canoe Club and Winnipeg Lawn Tennis Club for the better part of a decade and grew very fond of the tennis crowd. Fun people. Obliging people. Appreciative people.
Favorite athletes: Chris Walby, Troy Westwood, Bob Cameron, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Terry Ruskowski, Vic Peters, Pierre LaMarche.
Least favorite athlete: Mario Marois of the Jets. Just a miserable, miserable man.
Favorite coaches: Tommy McVie, Mike Riley, Cal Murphy, Muzz MacPherson.
Tommy provided the finest moment of slapstick when, during the Jets initial season in the NHL, he attempted to attack Al MacNeil, his coaching counterpart with the Atlanta Flames. Livid that his players were being bullied by the Flames’ ruffians, the Jets coach assailed MacNeil verbally, then decided he would get physical. Before attempting to scale the glass partition between the team benches, however, he removed his wrist watch and tucked it in a jacket pocket. He then removed the false teeth from his mouth—yes, he took out his tusks—and tucked the faux fangs in a jacket pocket. He then removed his neck tie. He then removed his jacket and made an aborted bid to scale the glass barrier. Alas, his feet kept slipping down the glass. He looked like one of those cartoon characters whose feet move 100 mph but go nowhere.
Free Press writer I most respected: Reyn Davis, who worked the Jets beat. I admired his way with words.
Most talented scribes with whom I worked (excluding Matty): Ed Willes and George (Shakey) Johnson.
Most enjoyable place to spend a summer Sunday afternoon: Assiniboia Downs or the Ballyard by the Forks.
Favorite non-athlete: Lawyer/player advisor Don Baizley, a gentleman.
Seediest promotions guy: Boxing gasbag Tom Burns. I actually liked Tom, but didn’t trust him as far as I could toss Don Lalonde. Tom also wore the worst hair piece on earth.
Least favorite team owner: Sam Katz of the Goldeyes. Sammy spoke out of both sides of his mouth when dealing with the two newspapers. He would tell our beat writer one thing, then tell the people at the Freep the real thing. What a donut.
Favorite moment: The night the Jets beat the Soviet national side.
Favorite quote I: After the local hockey heroes had toppled the mighty comrades, Ulf Nilsson, a Swede who had absorbed so much abuse at the hands, sticks and elbows of Canadians in his first season with the Jets, told me: “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”
Most talented player to ever wear a Jets jersey: Kent Nilsson. He was in River City for a good time, not a long time, but nobody could match his skill set.
Best player to ever wear a Bombers jersey: Chris Walby. If someone asked me to describe what a Blue Bomber is supposed to play like, act like and talk like, I would point to Walby and say, “Like that big man over there.” It was rather odd that Bluto was a great quote, yet he seemed to speak a foreign language when doing color commentary on CBC. That aside, the big man was unparalleled.
Best chin-wags: Gab sessions in Cal Murphy’s office were special. The late Bombers coach/GM could be every bit the curmudgeon, but he was a funny, funny, dear man.
Worst moment I: Collapsing on an airplane while returning from Toronto with the Jets. It’s rather unsettling to be carted off a plane on a stretcher and whisked away to the hospital. The diagnosis was extreme fatigue. I survived to write another day, although many wish I hadn’t.
Most unusual reaction to a piece I’d written: After I had scribbled something about Winnipeg shinny fans showing extremely poor manners by booing during PA announcements made en francais during a Jets-Finland friendly, a man called my home the next day and threatened to “bomb” my house. Yup, the kook was going to “blow it up” real good.
Worst day: When the Trib shut down. I cried and got drunk. But that’s all I have to say about that.
Favorite desker: Dave Connors, aka Homer. I would tell him how I wanted the sports front or a feature spread to look and he’d make it so much better than I had imagined.
Top story: The Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main.
Top story maker: Ben Hatskin for signing Robert Marvin Hull.
Favorite group of athletes: Curlers, by far. I wish I had discovered curlers earlier in my career, but I spent enough time with them in the final decade to truly appreciate they’re a special bunch. Vic Peters was the best and Don Duguid was a close second.
Favorite event: The Brier. It’s a load of work, but a load of fun because of the people. It’s the only sports event I’ve covered since I left the every-day grind of journalism, and I did it twice as a freelancer.
Guys I cheered for (but not out loud): The boys from the Houston Aeros who joined the Jets for the final World Hockey Association season.
Worst moment II: Being at the L.A. airport with the Jets in the 1980s when a 6.something earthquake hit. There was serious panic in our terminal. Supposed tough guy John Ferguson was the first man out the door. Big sissy. Our flight to Vancouver was delayed, but not cancelled. If I remember correctly, it was the final flight out for the rest of the day.
Best quote II: I was sitting with Tom McVie during a Jets pre-season workout when Morris Lukowich burst in from the left wing and snapped a laser-like shot into the top corner.
“Watching that,” coach McVie told me, “is better than having sex.”
“Geez, Tom,” I responded, “that doesn’t say much for your wife.”
“Ya, but she didn’t score 60 goals last season.”
Oddball of oddballs: Mikhail Smith, general manager of the Central Red Jets. Mike was a hockey egghead, an intelligent, book wormish guy who had a different way of looking at, and doing, things. As GM of the Winnipeg Jets, he put in place a make-work-for-Russians project, whereby he seemingly sought to build a team comprised of nothing but comrades. It was an interesting time, but the Red Scare went unrewarded.
Most surreal event: The title fight between Don Lalonde and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. It didn’t seem real that Lalonde, a local kid, was actually in the ring with a legend like Sugar Ray Leonard. It actually happened, though. Lalonde even put Leonard to the canvas before losing by knockout.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.