It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Not at age 57.
Dale Hawerchuk should have been allowed to grow very old and grey and gather his grandchildren around the fireplace, where he could tell them tall but true tales about the good, ol’ days in the ol’ barn on Maroons Road.
Or how he helped gut the Russians in the 1987 Canada Cup final, winning a faceoff in the defensive zone then hooking one of the Ivans to the freeze, allowing Mario Lemieux an unopposed path to the decisive score in a 6-5 victory.
But Ducky won’t be doing that. He left his bride, Crystal, and their children—Eric, Ben and Alexis—and the rest of us on Tuesday, a victim of cancer, and if you feel the urge to give the year 2020 a good, swift kick to the groin be my guest.
While you’re at it, you can also wrap a black arm band around Good Ol’ Hometown, because Ducky’s death will produce long faces from South St. Vital to West St. Paul, from Transcona to Headingly. And, if you look closely enough, you’ll probably catch the glint of a teardrop in the Golden Boy’s eyes up there atop the Legislative Building.
Actually, I’m selling Ducky short. We need a much larger black arm band, something we can stretch around the entire province. From Churchill in the north to Emerson on the Manitoba-U.S. Border.
It’s not that Ducky was our first shinny superstar. Bobby Hull, Ulf, Anders and the Shoe, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, were there before him, albeit in a different league and, ironically, playing a brand of hockey that Slats Sather would copycat in Edmonton and use to torment Ducky and some very good Winnipeg Jets outfits in the 1980s.
But he might be our most enduring shinny superstar, in part because he was the leader of a gang that just couldn’t quite finish the job.
Once into the National Hockey League, you see, the Jets repeatedly were confounded by those damned whirling dervishes known as the Oilers. Six times the two Prairie sides met in the Stanley Cup tournament, and six times it was the Albertans grinning in the handshake line at the end of the night. Try as they might—and no one was more determined than Ducky—the Jets never managed to wipe the smug look off Edmonton coach/GM Sather’s face, a reality that still rankles to this day.
But nobody’s holding that against Ducky, the captain of those Winnipeg HC sides. Not today. Not ever.
Nor was/is there bitterness about his exit following the last of those half dozen spring disappointments. Ducky had served his time admirably and became an adopted son. He took Crystal, a country girl from Arborg, as a bride and they made their home on a spread outside the city. He toured the province during the off-season, playing in charity slo-pitch and golf events, always smiling, always glad-handing, always obliging in his aw-shucks, country boy manner. He and Crystal maintained a cottage in Gimli once they had moved on.
Few, if any, wanted Ducky to leave after watching and enjoying him in Jets linen from 1981 to ’90, but the winds of change forced his hand.
Out was the man who had brought him to Portage and Main as a freshly scrubbed teen of 18 years, general manager John Bowie Ferguson, and in was Mike Smith, a book-wormish oddball with a degree in Russian studies, a fondness for any hockey player with a Moscow postal code, and a very different way of doing things.
Suddenly, Ducky didn’t fit in. His ice time was cut back by head coach Mud Murdoch, and negativity at the rink and in the media wore him down (more than once he called my scribblings “crap” and I can’t say he was wrong).
“I’m tired about reading bull in the papers,” he said in 1989. “I’m tired of coming to the rink with a negative-type attitude here. Maybe it’s best for the hockey club to get a few players for me. That’s not saying I want to be traded.”
There was talk of a Ducky-Denis Savard swap with the Chicago Blackhawks, but that’s all it was, talk between coaches Murdoch and Mike Keenan that was meant to be hush-hush. The Philly Flyers were said to be interested. But it was the Buffalo Sabres who pitched the right kind of woo, and Smith dispatched Ducky to upstate New York at the 1990 NHL entry draft, accepting Phil Housley, Scott Arniel, Jeff Parker and a first-round pick, Keith Tkachuk, in barter.
The Ducky-less Jets were never quite right again. Murdoch was fired a year later. Comrade Mikhail Smith received his walking papers in 1994. And the franchise was playing in an Arizona desert by ’96. Talk about curses.
Ducky’s shadow has stretched across the path of every player who’s skated in Jets livery since his departure. It still does to this day, which explains the hosannas raining down since word of his death began to spread on Tuesday.
He left Good Ol’ Hometown many years ago, but he’s never been gone. Not really.
And, the way current team co-bankroll Mark Chipman tells it, there’ll eventually be a permanent reminder of Ducky, a statue outside the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in downtown Winnipeg.
Anyone have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.
A Monday smorgas-bored…and farewell to September; we hardly knew ye…
There’s a ring of truth to the insulting mantra “no one wants to go to Winnipeg,” although it has nothing to do with wonky wifi and it doesn’t exactly make Good Ol’ Hometown unique.
I mean, I haven’t noticed a squadron of high-profile free agent jocks galloping to Edmonton or Ottawa, and the mighty Republic of Tranna is such a desired destination that Kawhi Leonard hopped on the first stagecoach out of Dodge, despite the deity status bestowed upon him by the rabble and his rapper groupie.
Oh, sure, the Tranna Maple Leafs landed John Tavares last year, and that was a good get. But it was more about pajamas and bed linen than The ROT being hockey heaven, and I’m guessing that if little Johnny had tucked himself under a San Jose blankie as a sprig he’d be a Shark today.
So, there are a myriad of reasons why jocks do and don’t want to work in specific locales and, as much as River City is often cited as a no-play zone, it’s important to remember that the most significant free-agent signing in hockey history occurred at the intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street. That’s where Robert Marvin Hull became Clarence Campbell’s worst nightmare, by fleeing the Chicago Blackhawks and the National Hockey League for an upstart operation flying by the seat of its pants and propped up by overextended credit cards.
I’ve often wondered what Hull truly felt about Good Ol’ Hometown, because he was slick in front of microphones and notepads and always gave the rabble what they wanted to hear. Fact is, though, the Winnipeg Jets lured the NHL’s main glam guy (give or take Bobby Orr) to the World Hockey Association in 1972, and he stuck around for six of our cold, harsh winters, only leaving because he had heavy off-ice issues and he didn’t appreciate John Ferguson’s bedside manner.
It’s dreaming in technicolor to think that the present-day Jets would ever land a fish the size of Hull (fresh from his fifth 50-goal season when he arrived at Portage and Main) because an armpit-of-the-NHL stigma exists.
But is Good Ol’ Hometown really an armpit?
Well, Evander Kane certainly thought so. He began looking for an escape route the moment he arrived with the Atlanta caravan in 2011 and, over time, he decided that any hostility he felt from the rabble was all about the color of his skin and not his inability to produce 30-goal seasons.
We all know Jacob Trouba wanted out, and it doesn’t matter if you buy his reasons or not. He’s gone.
Even the great Dale Hawerchuk got itchy feet, although it had nothing to do with locale. He simply grew weary of GM Mikhail Smith’s hair-brained, make-work-for-Russians scheme, also the naysaying of news snoops, so Ducky begged for a new postal/zip code.
Basically, though, once the lads spend a proper amount of time in the city, Good Ol’ Hometown becomes much like Sally Field at the Oscars: “You like me. Right now, you like me.”
Evidence of that can be found in the recent signings of Josh Morrissey and Kyle Connor. If Winnipeg is such a hellhole, why would they choose to lock in for eight and seven years, respectively, rather than vamoose at the earliest opportunity?
Why would any of the Jets? But they do. Here’s what they’ve reupped for:
Josh Morrissey: 8 years.
Rink Rat Scheifele: 8 years.
Kyle Connor: 7 years.
Twig Ehlers: 7 years.
Connor Hellebuyck: 6 years.
Blake Wheeler: 5 years.
Bryan Little: 5 years.
Dustin Byfuglien: 5 years.
Really, the only core players Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff haven’t locked down for the long haul are Patrik Laine, Adam Lowry and Andrew Copp, but that appears to be more about salary cap restraints than River City.
So, like I said, there’s a ring of truth to the “no one wants to go to Winnipeg” mantra, but it’s also true that those who land on the frozen tundra tend to like the lay of the land.
Now that all the boys are back on board, perhaps someone at the Drab Slab can tell us once again how the Jets dressing room was/is “rotten to the core.” As if. Chevy, Connor and Puck Finn had gab sessions with news snoops Monday morning, and it was a 1960s love-in:
Chevy: “Signing (Connor, Laine) is a high point, and signing Josh to the contract he did really shows the commitments that these players have and the belief that they have in this room.”
Connor: “I couldn’t be more excited to join this team. Long term was definitely my preference, wanted to be here, love this team.”
Laine: “Super excited and happy to be here. My summer’s way too long.”
Asked if someone had to squirt a bit of air freshener in the dressing room, Laine added, “I don’t think so. I’m happy to be here and I think everybody seems to be happy that I’m here, so that’s it. New season…it’s awesome to be here, see my teammates, coaches, staff, everybody, you guys…ya, right.”
And this is what Morrissey had to say after agreeing to his new contract at the start of training sessions: “I love playing here. The term excited me. To be here and playing in Winnipeg from day one is kinda what I’ve always said I wanted to do.”
Ya, that’s a team in turmoil, and I pranced down the Yellow Brick Road with Judy Garland.
Speaking of the Drab Slab and its fiction writers, here’s a Sunday tweet from Mad Mike McIntyre: “Question for #NHLJets fans: Does the Jacob Trouba trade, which seemed to be instantly panned by many as terrible for Winnipeg, look different now that you’ve seen Neal Pionk and Ville Heinola (the return) play and what Trouba ultimately signed for (7 years, $56-million)?” He cannot be serious. He’s asking that based on a handful of dress rehearsals against AHL-quality foes? The mind boggles.
Good grief. Will the Maple Leafs put a ‘C’ on someone’s sweater already? Not since E.J. Smith rammed his big boat into an iceberg has so much been said and written about a captaincy.
I see old friend Evander Kane is acting out again, shoving a linesman and getting punted from a San Jose-Vegas Golden Knights skirmish. Anyone in River City miss him at all? Didn’t think so.
This isn’t good: In a recent match, the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers paddywhacked Minnesota Whitecaps of the National Women’s Hockey League 5-1, and they outshot the pros—wait for it—57-12. Allegedly, that is not a typo. As much as I hesitate to put a negative spin on women’s shinny, it isn’t exactly a selling point for Ponytail Puck when the defending NWHL champions are rag-dolled by a bunch of college kids. It doesn’t do much, if anything, to attract fans or sponsors in their quest to earn a “living wage.”
Remember how a lot of us tsk-tsked the Yankee Doodle Damsels for their excessive celebrating in a 13-0 romp over Thailand at the women’s World Cup in June? Well, that wasn’t nearly as odious as Major League Baseball outfits busting out the bubbly to celebrate a wild-card playoff berth. Seriously, champagne and caviar because you’re the fourth or fifth qualifier in a bloated post-season structure? Will the survivors of the wild-card games have another champagne shower? Honestly, I can’t think of anything dumber in sports. Well, okay, most everything that falls out of Don Cherry’s gob is dumber, but that’s about it. Put a cork in it, boys. Literally.
Now that I’ve mentioned the Yankee Doodle Damsels, if you’re wondering what they’re up to, they’re still scoring goals, celebrating and doing boffo business at the box office. Not that anyone would notice. Like most female sports, they’re out of sight, out of mind for mainstream media, but the American women have been attracting large numbers for their Victory Tour kick-abouts. Here are the head counts:
37,040 v. Ireland at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena (3-0 win);
49,504 v. Portugal at Lincoln Field in Philly (4-0 win);
19,600 (sellout) v. Portugal at Allianz Field in St. Paul (3-0 win).
And, finally, look who’s become a street person—the Digit, Don Duguid. Dugie’s always been one of my favorite people, and it’s nice to know that folks in high places haven’t forgotten the guy who brought two world curling championships home to roost at the Mother Club at One Granite Way. A portion of the road will be known as Honorary Don Duguid Way for the next five years, and I only hope city workers in Good Ol’ Hometown fill all and any potholes before the official unveiling. I’d hate like heck for the little guy to get lost in one of them.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and no ifs, and or buts about it, this is an iffy post…
It’s an untruth that there are four seasons. There are five, the fifth being the If Season.
It’s a time of unharnessed blah, blah, blah, of great optimism and of exaggerated worth, when pundits hither and yon and fore and aft squint into the autumn-colored tea leaves and see Neal Pionk not only leaping over tall buildings, but also winning the Norris Trophy as the National Hockey League’s finest defender.
Connor Hellebuyck, they’ll inform us, isn’t really as iffy a goalkeeper as last winter, and Eric Comrie has a shot at the backup job if either Hellebuyck or Laurent Brossoit fall down an elevator shaft. Bryan Little will fill that No. 2 centre slot for the Winnipeg Jets just fine, thank you, if he becomes his former 28-year-old self instead of his soon-to-be 32-year-old self. And, hey, what about that large broth of a lad Logan Stanley? He’d be a prize catch, if only he didn’t have two left feet.
If Season has already begun, in case you hadn’t noticed, with Murat Ates of The Athletic delivering a snippet that has more ifs than the Kardashians have K girls.
“If Laine and Connor sign in time for the start of the season and if a young defenceman like Pionk or (Sami) Niku has a breakout season and if Bryan Little or Adam Lowry can provide a second line centre solution and if Hellebuyck returns to the top tier of NHL goaltending, Winnipeg is a formidable team,” he writes.
Yes, and if Jacob Trouba wasn’t sweet on Kelly Tyson he’d be skating beside Josh Morrissey today.
The thing you have to remember, kids, is that these people are not experts. They’re paid to fill space and air (much of it hot) during the Jets’ month-long training exercises, but they really don’t know much more than a lot of the lumps sitting on bar stools. Or me, for that matter. I’m just not as loud, drunk and obnoxious as the lumps on bar stools. Well, okay, maybe I’m every ounce as obnoxious. Point being, the basic difference between news snoops and the rabble is this: They get to ask players, coaches, etc. dumb questions and we don’t.
Other than that, your (bad) guess is as good as theirs.
For evidence, consider their exhaustive natterings and jottings on Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, who remain in shinny limbo. It’s mostly been pure conjecture and iffy speculation, because GMs and player agents don’t make a habit of inviting news snoops into their private tete-a-tetes, and they also clear the room of any flies they find on the wall.
So my advice is to take what the scribes scribble and talking heads say during training camp with a grain of salt.
Just to be clear, I think Murat Ates does a terrific job covering Winnipeg HC (see his excellent piece on the Andrew Copp arbitration as an e.g.), even if he has an annoying habit of letting pie charts, numbers and graphs clutter up his fine way with words. And, to be fair and for the record, he views les Jets as a “wild-card team capable of swinging wildly in either direction instead of a legitimate contender…the Jets are on the playoff bubble.” No ifs there, and I’m inclined to agree with him. A lot of the lumps likely do, too.
Murat’s revealing yarn on Copp’s experience with the NHL arbitration process is an example of what The Athletic brings to the table. It’s something you won’t see in either of the two dailies in Good Ol’ Hometown, because they’re stuck in the 20th century. And, yes, that probably reads like a sales pitch for The Athletic. So sue me.
I empathize with the boys and girls on the hockey beat. I truly do. Training camp can be a total drag. It’s long days of trying to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, because there are a limited number of interesting storylines and, in the case of the Jets, they’ve already been exhausted. Big Buff’s taken leave. Blake Wheeler had his say. Paul Maurice went zen master about his “sparrows.” Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are in RFA limbo. What’s left to write and talk about? Line combinations, blueline pairings and depth forwards don’t do it for me, nor does head coach Paul Maurice trying to convince us that Logan Stanley doesn’t really have two left feet. That’s not what I’d call must-read material.
There’s been some talk about the temperature of the seat Maurice is sitting on, but, again, it’s nothing but iffy yadda, yadda, yadda. As in, if les Jets soil the sheets in the early skirmishing, is Coach Potty Mouth’s job in jeopardy? Don’t even go there, because Maurice ain’t going anywhere. I don’t care if Pauly has one, five or 10 years remaining on his contract, you don’t fire the coach when the two main puppeteers, Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, hurl half of his blueline into the dumpster. And we can’t forget that Coach PottyMo has 34 goals sitting in Michigan (Kyle Connor) and another 30 in Switzerland (Patrik Laine). He can’t take the rap for that, either.
The Tranna Maple Leafs are in St. John’s for their training exercises, and a few of the boys were Screeched In on the weekend, a ritual on the Rock that includes puckering up and planting a kiss on a cod. This is noteworthy because it usually isn’t until the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs when the Leafs get the ol’ kiss off.
When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers salute Bob Cameron by adding his name to their Ring of Honour on Sept. 27, it will be only right if Ma Nature is in full bluster. I mean, outside of those weather whackadoos who run around chasing tornadoes, I can’t think of anyone who’s spent more time and did better work in the wind than the Acadia Rifle, so I think a robust breeze is the ticket. I don’t know how many J5Vs and Wilsons he launched into a stiff Winnipeg breeze during his 23 years with the home side, but I do know Bob kept doing it until age 48 and he only quit because numerous renovation projects needed his attention a lot more than the Bombers needed his right leg. And, from a media perspective, he was one of the great go-to guys for a usable sound bite.
If you’re interested in a retro look at punter Bob’s time kicking hither and yon in the Canadian Football League, you’ll want to check out Ed Tait’s yarn at bluebombers.com. Young Eddie’s got all the good stuff, and Cameron’s trip in the wayback machine makes for a fun read.
Terrific joust between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Larks on Saturday. It was especially thoughtful of the CFL to let them actually play all 60 minutes this time around.
The official head count for the Bytown RedBlacks-B.C. Leos skirmish on Friday night in Vancity was 15,000 and 52 stragglers who wanted to come in from the rain, prompting this tweet from former Canadian Press scribe Jim Morris: “It’s raining outside. So far the crowd inside at BC Place could fit under one umbrella.” Ouch.
Old friend Ed Willes of Postmedia Vancity writes this of the Leos: “Whatever else they are, the Lions have been a vital part of this city’s and this province’s sporting life for 65 years. They deserve more support.” A 2-10 record says otherwise, but I’m on the same page as Willes. I was born four years before the Leos and grew up watching Willie The Wisp, Peanut Butter Joe Kapp, By Bailey, Nub Beamer, Norm Fieldgate, Sonny Homer et al, so it pains me that they’ve become an after-thought on the Left Flank. Commish Randy Ambrosie tells news snoops that there are people willing to take the Leos off bankroll David Braley’s hands, and maybe someone, or a group of someones, can create a buzz and renewed interest in the Leos. But 2-10, 15,000 fans and a $2.9 million quarterback is like trying to sell another week of rain on the Wet Coast.
Those Harvey’s commercials during CFL broadcasts make me want to run out and buy a (real meat) cheeseburger with mustard, relish, tomato and pickle, but those ads the Conservative Party has been running don’t make me want to run out and vote for Harper Lite, otherwise known as shifty-eyed mama’s boy Andrew Scheer. Mind you, I’m not keen on Trudeau Lite, either. Could be we’ll see a breakthrough for the Green Party next month. Especially if leader Elizabeth May plops a watermelon on her head. That would guarantee her the Saskatchewan vote, no? (I’m patti dawn swansson, and I approve this message).
We now return to regularly scheduled sports natter, and I must say there are many reasons to like our tennis darling Bianca Andreescu, this being one of them: When asked a question, she doesn’t read from a script. Bianca is so wide-eyed refreshing in her new, pinch-me world that everything gushing from her is totally unrehearsed and genuine. Pity if some PR hack gets hold of her and trains her in robospeak.
Kim Clijsters is returning to the women’s tennis tour at age 36, and I say good for her. Kim’s one of only three women to win a Grand Slam tournament as a mother, and she’s done it thrice. That includes a win over neighborhood bully Serena Williams, who had one of her epic temper tantrums and came completely undone in their 2009 U.S. Open semifinal. Kim’s also the only mom to reach world No. 1, so bet against her claiming another major title at your own risk.
The great galloping Justify failed a drug test prior to winning horse racing’s 2018 Triple Crown, which explains all those ‘wired’-to-wire wins.
This was one case where the winning jockey, Mike Smith, really did have to get down off his high horse.
Like everyone in sports caught cheating, Justify the Junkie’s trainer Bob Baffert has gone into denial mode. Swears on a stack of Daily Racing Forms that he never sprinkled performance enhancing oats into the champion thoroughbred’s feedbag. Must have been a contaminated hay bale, says he. So I guess authorities are now looking for a needle in a haystack. Literally.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the curling season is upon us and our Jennifer Jones has yet to lose. Jen and gal pals Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman and Dawn McEwen went 7-0 to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., on the weekend, and I’d say that’s serving official notice to all other female Pebble People that there’s no letup in the great skip’s game. I realize some folks are tired of seeing Jen win, but many among the rabble grew weary of Meryl Streep winning Oscars and Golden Globes every year. So deal with it.
So, unless I’m missing something, this is the blueprint for creating one viable women’s professional hockey operation: 1) The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceases operation; 2) approximately 200 of the world’s elite players boycott the National Women’s Hockey League; 3) members of the Swedish national side refuse to play; 4) the Swedish Ice Hockey Association cancels the Four Nations Cup; 5) a group of players band together and make plans for faux exhibition matches. Ya, that’ll get the rabble rushing to the box office and earn the women a living wage. Not.
This is comical in its absurdity: Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna calls Mitch Marner “the winner by knockout or unanimous decision” in his contract throwdown with Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas. “The deal is done and Marner will be paid $65+ million over the next six years.” Well, okay, young Mitch wins big. Agreed. But then Simmons craps all over Marner’s dad and agent. “For his next act of magic, Dubas will make Paul Marner disappear,” he writes. Then this: “How did a star like Marner end up with a less-than-star player agent like Darren Ferris? Cut rates, I’m told.” So, Marner wins by “knockout or decision” and becomes the NHL’s highest-salary player because he listened to his dad and/or agent, but one needs to be punted and the other isn’t worthy of quality clients. Does that make sense to anyone other than Simmons?
While we’re on the subject of my favorite “D’oh!” boys in the media, Mad Mike McIntyre of the Drab Slab wrote this about the NHL’s changing contract landscape on Sept. 11: “Good luck signing a star player for the maximum team-friendly term of eight years.” Apparently Mad Mike didn’t notice that Clayton Keller signed one of those maximum team-friendly eight-year contracts on Sept. 4. And Josh Morrissey did the same on Sept. 12. Sigh.
And, finally, the official soundtrack of today’s post was provided by The Beatles and featured the classic albums Rubber Soul and Revolver, a collection of 28 tunes recorded and released when the lads were really starting to hit their creative stride. Tomorrow Never Knows is an astonishing song for the era.
Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and life is a pitch sometimes, especially when our soccer ladies are playing…
One Canadian. The Cherry-ites must be choking on their maple syrup.
But should the rest of us care that Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Winnipeg Jets bird dogs basically ignored their own back yard during the weekend grab bag of teen hockey talent in Vancouver?
I mean, it’s not exactly a throwback to the days of Mikhail Smith, who attempted to morph the late-1980s/early-1990s Winnipeg HC into the Central Red Jets with his failed make-work-for-Russians project.
If you weren’t around to scratch your head over Comrade Mikhail’s handiwork, be advised that he fancied Russkies the way a farmer likes good weather. A rumpled man with a Doctorate in Russian Studies, the Jets general manager surrounded himself with more Ivans, Viktors, Vladimirs and Sergeis than Leonid Brezhnev. If your last name ended with the letters ‘ov’, there was a very good chance he’d stand up at the National Hockey League entry draft and give you a shout-out.
Oh, it began innocently enough, and some of us thought it mildly amusing when Mikhail commenced to collecting comrades the way some kids collect bubble gum cards. First he grabbed two. Then two more. Then four. But in 1992, he went completely coocoo, using his one dozen shout-outs to land half the Russian politburo. He took nine of them—count ’em, nine! When he snatched up five more in ’93, we wondered if the team’s marketing department would add the hammer and sickle to the logo. Russian was about to become the official language of the changing room.
Alas, Mikhail’s master plan crumbled like both the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union when he was asked to leave in January 1994, freeing les Jets bird dogs from Red Square and allowing them to return home to the Red River Valley.
In sum, Mikhail recruited 22 Russkies in his five years as overlord of les Jets’ draft table, and only six of them played more than 100 NHL games.
So now we have Kevin Cheveldayoff in the GM’s chair, and you might be asking yourself is he and his scouts have developed a fondness for Finns, Swedes and Americans. Or, more to the point, do they harbor an aversion to good Canadian boys?
In Chevy’s first three summers at the wheel, 15 of his 23 shout-outs at the NHL entry draft were homebrews. Since then, it’s 12 of 40.
Chevy returns home from this weekend’s fun in Vancouver with a pair of Finns (Ville Heinola, Henri Nikkanen), a Swede (Simon Lundmark), an American (Logan Neaton) and a kid born in Britain but raised in Regina (Harrison Blaisdell). Not since 2013 has he claimed more than three homebrews at the garage sale of freshly scrubbed teens. That was also the last time he used his No. 1 shout-out to claim a hoser, Josh Morrissey.
Add to that his last two free-agent signings—a Finn, Joona Luoto, and a Russkie, Andrei Chibisov—and I think we can see a trend.
Do you have a problem with that?
The Cherry-ites, of course, bellow about the necessity of good, bent-nosed Canadian boys. Can’t win without them. That’s true and the St. Louis Blues would be Exhibit A in that argument. The St. Loo roster that just won the Stanley Cup had more Canadian passports than any one of our overseas embassies.
But…the Boston Bruins reached the final with just a handful of Canucks. When the Washington Capitals copped the Cup a year ago, their top six scorers were Euros and Americans.
So, no, I don’t think Chevy and his bid dogs have gone off their nut and adopted an anti-Canadian bias like the aforementioned Comrade Mikhail Smith. You need a happy mixture and, in case you haven’t noticed, the Finns are bloody good at hockey.
River City is the last place I’d expect to hear yelps of protest about an abundance of Finnish and/or Swedish players. Anyone who was around in the 1970s will tell you that les Jets’ rise to shinny prominence was the product of a Scandinavian invasion, with Anders and Ulf and the Shoe and Veli-Pekka and Hexi and Willy and Kenta, among others, coming on board to claim three World Hockey Association titles. That winning legacy should be enough to silence the most leather-lunged of critics.
A quick aside to the anti-Jacob Trouba element among the rabble: Give it a rest. Trouba didn’t do anything to warrant the high level of hostility that accompanied him on his way out of town. Asking for a trade? Happens all the time (see Zaitsev, Nikita; Puljujarvi, Jesse; Kane, Evander). His holdout three years ago? He was exercising his rights. Signing a bridge deal? Again, his right. Going to arbitration? Yup, his legally bargained-for right. Did he ever say anything nasty about Good Ol’ Hometown, like the zoo sucks. Not that I heard or read. Did he lie about his reasons for wanting out of Dodge? Perhaps. But everybody in hockey lies. Trouba served les Jets well, so the anger is misplaced.
One of the many knows-everything natterbugs on TSN, Dave Poulin, continues to confound and confuse. Last year, he left NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid off his all-star ballot. This year, when McDavid didn’t win the scoring title, he voted him the all-star centre. Go figure. Poulin also told us in February that “there’s not going to be eight-year deals anymore.” Mark Stone, Jeff Skinner and Erik Karlsson have since inked eight-year deals, with William Karlsson on the way. I believe it’s time to remove the ear buds whenever Dave Poulin begins to talk.
The Professional Hockey Writers Association mostly gets it right in balloting for various NHL trinkets and all-star honors, but some among the rank and file lose the plot along the way. The news snoops listed below were the most heinous of offenders this year, and all are accused of the same crime: ‘Abuse of Voting Privilege’:
* Bill Hoppe, Olean Times Herald (New York): Apparently, the name should be Rip Van Hoppe, because he slept through the entire season. How else to explain voting for Patrick Kane as the all-star right winger instead of Nikita Kucherov, who performed well enough to win the Ted Lindsey Award (most outstanding player), the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) and the Art Ross Trophy (scoring leader)? Hoppe doubled and tripled down on his sleep-induced voting by giving Johnny Gaudreau the nod as league MVP and Rasmus Dahlin as top rookie. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Voting privilege revoked. * Arthur Staple, The Athletic: He voted Rink Rat Scheifele of les Jets as the all-star centre. Yup. Staple reckons our guy Rink Rat had a better season than McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Nathan McKinnon et al. Staple also voted Miro Heiskanen the top rookie. No surprise, though. Last year, Staple left McDavid completely off his all-star centre ballot. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: As a repeat offender, his voting privilege is revoked. For-freaking-ever.
* John Vogl, The Athletic Buffalo: Nick Bonino the best defensive forward in the NHL? Seriously? Ya, and Looch Lucic is Barbara Ann Scott. Verdict: Guilty as charged.Sentence: Vogl can keep his voting privilege. Living and working in Buffalo is punishment enough.
* Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News: Voted Patrick Kane the all-star left winger. Kane is a right winger. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must attend a summer-long series of lectures on right wingers and left wing pinkos delivered by Don Cherry.
* Seth Rorabaugh, The Athletic: Voted Johnny Gaudreau as MVP and Marc-Andre Fleury the all-star goaltender. Wrong, just wrong. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must undergo thorough eye examination. * Iain MacIntyre, Sportsnet Vancouver: Gave Roberto Luongo a vote for Lady Byng Trophy. Luongo is a goaltender. Voting for a goalie in this category isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must spend a year at hard labor—covering the Canucks.
* Russ Cohen, Sportsology: He must have been drinking the Kool-Aid they were serving in the Republic of Tranna, because his first-team all-star centre was John Tavares of les Leafs. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must wear Tavares’ Maple Leafs pajamas in public.
* Eric Engels, Sportsnet Montreal: He voted Carey Price as first-team all-star goalie, even though les Canadiens keeper was outside the top 10 in save percentage and goals-against average and 10th in shutouts. Verdict: Guilty as charged. Sentence: Must take mandatory course in Journalism 101—No Cheering In the Press Box.
On the subject of D’oh! Boys, it’s about the Tranna Argonauts. Here’s what the Canadian Football League club served up in an effort to wins friends and influence people at their home opener on the weekend: 7,000 Derel Walker bobblehead dolls, $5 beer and $3 hot dogs. Then they trundled onto BMO Field and promptly soiled the sheets, dropping a 64-14 squeaker to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Won’t that make for boffo box office in the future. The head count was 16,734 on Saturday, so I’m thinking the over-under for their next home date should be 10,000. And I’ll take the under.
The Argos want to sell more tickets? Simple. Have a Kawhi Leonard bobblehead doll night. And have the man himself attend the game.
And, finally, if the Tranna Jurassics truly are “Canada’s team,” why would the hoops champions even contemplate the notion of a visit to the Trump household at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? The only connection Canada has to the White House is the torch job the British did on it in 1814.
Another Sunday morning smorgas-bored…and, remember, I’m not responsible if you share my opinions with others and they slap you upside the head…
Okay, to review, Jamie Oleksiak and Dustin Byfuglien collide. The earth shakes. And Big Buff becomes 265 pounds of wobbly.
He staggers to the Winnipeg Jets bench like a guy who’s just sucked back an entire two-four of Budweiser. He’s directed to the changing room, whereupon a medic presumably asks him what day it is and how many fingers he’s holding up. Buff sees four digits but correctly guesses two. Yup, he’s good to go. So, with the two tree trunks that are his legs no longer a pair of noodles, he’s back on the bench, then rejoins the fray vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Apparently, his brain, which clearly had been scrambled, is no longer scrambled.
But wait. One day later, Big Buff experiences a “symptom.” His brain is, in fact, scrambled. He’s concussed. Better tell him to stay home. Actually, let’s put him on injury reserve. Keep him in the repair shop for a week, or however long it takes for his grey matter to settle.
Clearly, then, the National Hockey League’s in-game finger-count protocol has failed.
Yet there was Paul Maurice on Thursday, expressing “complete faith” in a system that is obviously flawed and places concussed players in peril.
“I’m a hundred per cent fine with it, I really am,” les Jets head coach said two days after Byfuglien had lost his entire bag of marbles. “I think the most important thing is it’s not subjective where you say clearly he’s got a concussion so he shouldn’t come back in the game. That has absolutely no value to what we do here. Put him through the system, trust it.”
“Does it not say those tests aren’t enough?” a probing Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun asked.
“Were you asking for perfection? That happens at the hospital every day, right?” came Coach PoMo’s rather flippant, if not smarmy reply. “It’s the best tests that we have and it’s the best system that we have. I’ve got complete faith in it.”
Hmmm. This might explain some of Maurice’s coaching strategy over the years. I mean, he had unwavering faith in Chris Thorburn and Ondrej Pavelec, too. Where did that get him?
Let’s be clear. Maurice doesn’t take the rap for sending Big Buff back into the skirmish last Tuesday. If the medics tell him his worker is good to go, he’s good to go. It doesn’t matter how many fingers Byfuglien sees or how loudly the bells between his ears are ringing. Have at it. But for Coach PoMo to unblushingly endorse a system that is as flawed as Connor Hellebuyck’s goaltending…well, that tells me he’d have us believe the dish really did run away with the spoon. The guy’s either totally lost the plot or he’s playing news snoops and the rabble for fools.
Quiz me this, kids: Among the top 50 point-collectors in the NHL, who averages the least amount of ice time and is also the only player given fewer than 20 shifts per game? If you answered Patrik Laine, move to the head of the class. So is Coach PoMo under-using Puck Finn by limiting the league’s leading goal-scorer to 17:09 on the freeze and sending him over the boards just 19 times per game? Not if you’ve seen him play without the puck.
Laine’s scoring line for the month of November: 18-1-19. That one assist looks more out of place than anything I’ve seen since Michael Jordan gave pro baseball a try. Or at least since Hollywood put a bird on Johnny Depp’s head and told him he was Tonto.
So, Puck Finn lights the lamp five times vs. the St. Loo Blues and Chris Haley scores a $1.1 million windfall in a grocery store Score & Win contest. What’s his reaction? “I’d like to thank God for this,” said Haley, a part-time pastor in River City. “I believe this is a gift from God.” So that’s what we’re calling Laine now? God? Sorry, but that name’s already taken. I prefer Finn Almighty.
You’ll have to excuse Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman if he calls up his shaggy-haired, billionaire co-bankroll with les Jets, David Thomson, and says, “Buddy, can you spare a dime?”
I mean, if Willy Boy Nylander is worth $10.3 million in signing bonuses and $45 million over six years to the Tranna Maple Leafs, what’s the sticker price for Finn Almighty? Consider: Willie Boy has never scored more than 22 goals in an entire NHL season. Laine has 21 in just two months. By your basic, unfancified numbers, Willie Boy isn’t in the same league as Laine.
Laine: 180 games 101 goals 158 points
Nylander: 185 games 48 goals 135 points
Then there’s Kyle Connor. He’s already delivered a 30-plus goal year to Winnipeg HC, and he’s on his way to another. He’s played 64 fewer games than Willie Boy but has lit the lamp just five fewer times.
Certainly Laine is destined to become the highest-paid worker with les Jets and, depending on the final goal tally this crusade, we might be talking about an eight-figure wage. Let’s ballpark it at $10 million. Meanwhile, if Connor produces a second 30-goal year, surely the bankroll buddies can’t pay him less than Willy Boy. So we’re talking about $17 million for two players. Ouch.
Oddball comment of the week was delivered by Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic. Noting that Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux each had scored 11 goals in a four-game run during their hall-of-fame careers, he wrote: “That was at a time when goalies either had zero clue what they were doing or very little idea.” Excuse me? The Great Gretzky and Super Mario played in the 1980s and ’90s. Dominik Hasek didn’t have a clue? Martin Brodeur didn’t have a clue? Patrick Roy didn’t have a clue? Ed Belfour? Well, someone doesn’t have a clue, and it isn’t any of those ‘tenders.
Really strange headline in the Winnipeg Free Press after les Jets lost to Pittsburgh last week: “Penguins ground high-flying Jets.” High-flying? Winnipeg HC had lost two of three games leading to the skirmish vs. Sid and Co.
Those third Jets jerseys really have to go. Someone at True North needs to suck it up and admit those logo-less threads are the biggest miss since Sergei Bautin. And for those of you not familiar with comrade Sergei, be advised he was GM Mikhail Smith’s idea or Bobby Orr, only he turned out to be more like SpongeBob.
Apparently, Auston Matthews rejoined the Maple Leafs this past week. You never would have known it by the Sportsnet website. I mean, there were only 14 Leafs-centric stories/videos about Matthews and his playmates the morning after his triumphant return from the repair shop. Yes, 14. My goodness, had prodigal winger Willy Boy Nylander come crawling back the same night, I’m sure Sportsnet would have blown up the internet. Seriously. Why don’t they just change the website name to LeafsNet and get on with it?
After watching the Calgary Stampeders and Bytown RedBlacks slip and slide all over the Commonwealth Stadium skating rink last Sunday, I’m fully on board with the Canadian Football League bumping up its schedule by three weeks. The Grey Cup game should be played no later than the first weekend in November. And make it a Saturday skirmish.
The football operations salary cap coming to the CFL is totally dumb. It won’t do anything to level the playing field. It just puts good people out of work.
So, the Argonauts have invited Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice to the Republic of Tranna for a chit-chat about their head-coaching vacancy. And they’ve already done the chin-wag thing with DeVone Claybrooks, defensive guru with the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders. Sorry, but I fail to see how either of these career assistants is an improvement over the guy the Boatment just booted, Marc Trestman. But, then, a lot of what the Argos do makes little sense. Not that anyone in The ROT notices.
Was running back Kareem Hunt fired by the Kansas City Chiefs because he shoved and kicked a woman, or because he lied about shoving and kicking a woman? Either way, he’s out of the National Football League for the remainder of this season, and perhaps forever. Not to worry. I’m sure there’s room for him in commish Randy Ambrosie’s CFL. Hey, here’s a thought: Hunt can join noted woman-beater Johnny Manziel in the Montreal Alouettes backfield. They can compare TMZ videos.
And, finally, the River City Renegade has reached a high-water mark this year, surpassing 21,700 reads. If you’re among those who’ve stopped by for a visit on Sunday and/or Monday mornings, my thanks. After all, if not for this blog I’d have little else to do and likely would be a hermit-like old lady living with a dozen cats.
Another Sunday smorgas-bored and another couch potato day with pizza and three-down football on the menu…
No beating around the bush, kids. I’m going to come right out and say it: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers can make plans for an all-expenses-paid trip to E-Town. Call the travel agent. Now. No need to wait.
Yup, Winnipeg FC shall conquer the Calgary Stampeders.
It’s no small chore, of course, because the Stampeders are a more imposing outfit than the recently vanquished Saskatchewan Roughriders, who try to beat you with one arm tied behind their backs (read: no quarterback). Not so with the Cowtowners. They’ve got Bo Levi Mitchell and his gun-slinging right arm to fling the football.
This Bo knows winning. He does it more than any Canadian Football League QB between mid-June and the final Sunday in November. Ditto the chronically complaining sideline steward, Dave Dickenson.
From a distance, they come across as a rather snooty tandem. But, real or perceived, it is an earned arrogance.
The firm of Mitchell & Dickenson arrived first at the West Division finish line in each of their past three regular-season crusades, stacking up 41 victories against just 11 stumbles and a pair of stalemates, and there were two successive trips to the title skirmish. It is only in the championship match that the Stamps have received a comeuppance, two years ago due to some truly dumb coaching and last year when the football literally took an Argo bounce.
So here they are in the West Division final again, rested from a bye week and only the pesky Bombers left to disturb their march to another Grey Cup game.
What makes me think Winnipeg FC is up to the task of toppling the Calgary juggernaut? Running back Andrew Harris for one. Linebacker Beastmo Bighill for another. And QB Joe Ordinary has kicked the giveaway habit that brought him to his knees in early September.
There’s also the Stampeders’ psyche. I’m thinking it’s as fragile as sports scribe’s ego.
Oh, sure, the large lads in red still have plenty of swagger, but what happens if their universe isn’t unfolding as it should on Crowchild Trail this afternoon? If the Bombers bully the bully, do insecure thoughts begin to prey on the Stamps? Do the mishaps of recent Novembers begin to haunt them? Rattle them? Could happen.
It’s different for Winnipeg FC. The Blue-and-Gold expect to win, but they aren’t supposed to win. No reason to be antsy.
So I’ve sifted through the tea leaves, and here’s how it’s going to shake down: This game will be decided on a failed two-point convert. Bombers win and advance to the Grey Cup frolic on Nov. 25 in Edmonton.
Just wondering: Do you think anyone in the Republic of Tranna knows there’ll be two CFL games played today?
It’s about the East Division final between the Bytown RedBlacks and Hamilton Tiger-Cats: I really like the Tabbies, even without rassler Ric Flair stirring up the rabble. Mind you, I’d like them a lot more if Speedy B was available to play catch with Jeremiah Masoli. My initial instinct is to suggest it’ll be a good, old-fashioned shootout. But no. I’m afraid the RedBlacks possess too many offensive weapons. Bytown by two TDs. (Brief aside: One of my Gridiron Girls gazed into her crystal ball last June and saw a Grey Cup game featuring Hamilton and Winnipeg. I hate to go against her, but I must.)
The CFL will add an eighth on-field flag-thrower for each of today’s division skirmishes. It’s official then: CFL games now have more zebras than the Serengeti.
D’oh! D’oh! D’oh! Let’s just call the Winnipeg Sun sports front on Friday the greatest gaffe—ever.
If you missed it, some totally inept Postmedia editor has Andrew Harris and the Bombers playing the Tiger-Cats in the East Division final this afternoon. That isn’t just a minor typo. It’s Bill Buckner letting that ground ball dribble through his legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. It’s Jean van de Velde taking seven swings to score a triple bogey on the 72nd hole of the 1999 British Open and squander a three-shot lead.
We ought not be surprised, though. Colossal blunders like this occur when a newspaper’s page layout, design and editing is farmed out to someone in a distant locale. Someone who wouldn’t know Portage and Main from a port-o-potty. Someone who wouldn’t know Bud Grant from Bud Light.
But, hey, it’s not like quality matters to Postmedia. If it did, they wouldn’t have punted/bought out hundreds of quality journalists in the past few years.
I feel bad for the Sun’s three sports scribes—Paul Friesen, Ted Wyman, Ken Wiebe—because they’ll have to wear a stupid mistake made by someone sitting at a news desk in another part of the country.
Strangest headline of the week was delivered by the Winnipeg Free Press: “Bombers staying disciplined.” You simply do not write that header the same week three Bombers—Jackson Jeffcoat, Sukh Chungh, Pat Neufeld—are slapped with fines for goon tactics.
I’ve been calling it the Little Hockey House On The Prairie ever since the Winnipeg Jets set up shop in their Portage Avenue ice palace in 2011, but it turns out that the local freeze is also a Little Hockey House of Horrors for National Hockey League foes.
“It seems like you’re skating up ice the whole time,” Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche says of the Jets home. “It just seems tilted in their favor, and obviously the fans are a big part of that and the way they play as a team.”
According to a poll of 61 players, only one NHL rink is more difficult to play in—the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, where visitors to the Twang Town barn can be expected to dodge catfish.
So the local rabble can take a bow. They don’t toss catfish on the ice, but they toss some serious shade on the enemy.
Question 1 for Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists: Les Leafs are 14-6-0 without William Nylander. They’re 7-3-0 sans Auston Matthews.If AWOL Willy’s bargaining leverage for a new contract is weakened because les Leafs continue to win while he’s home in Sweden counting missed paycheques, does the same theory apply to Matthews, who’s been in the repair shop due to a wonky shoulder since Oct. 27?
Question 2 for Tranna Maple Leafs loyalists: Matthews missed 20 games last season and he’s already been in the repair shop for nine this crusade. When his entry level contract expires next spring, do they pay him John Tavares coin if he continues to be damaged goods?
When I examined the NHL scoring leaderboard this a.m., 41 players had more goals than Patrik Laine. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. Puck Finn is supposed to have more snipes than anyone not named Ovie. Yet there he sits, with just eight red lamps in 18 assignments. However, before anyone runs off with the notion that he’s underachieving, keep in mind les Jets have yet to arrive at the quarter-pole of their crusade. Another goal or two by the 20-game mark and we’re looking at a second successive 40-snipe season. Before he’s legal drinking age in the U.S. If that’s underachieving, I’m Melania Trump.
Speaking of the wives of loose cannons, what was it that Archie Bunker called his bride Edith? Oh, that’s right, Dingbat. Well, Edith was a regular Einstein compared to Damien Cox of the Toronto Star. In an exercise of blatant click baitism, Cox sent out this tweet about the Maple Leafs last week: “John Tavares is playing so well it makes you think; why not sign (Mitch) Marner and Nylander and trade Matthews for a whole pile of goodies? Not saying they would, but it’s not such a crazy idea anymore?” Not a crazy idea? The airplane wasn’t a crazy idea. The light bulb wasn’t a crazy idea. Eating what comes out of a chicken’s butt for breakfast wasn’t a crazy idea. But les Leafs trading Matthews for a “pile of goodies?” Totally crazy.
Old friend Troy Westwood of TSN 1290 tweets this: “I double dog dare ya to present to me a sports record that is more unbreakable than Billy Mosienko’s 3 goals in 21 seconds.” I’ll accept that challenge, Troy. Try Glenn Hall’s consecutive-game streak. Mr. Goalie started, and finished, 502 consecutive matches from Day 1 of the 1955-56 NHL season through the first 12 games of 1962-63. And the Detroit Red Wings/Chicago Blackhawks keeper did it all with his bare face hanging out. Yup, no mask. In order to break that record, a goaltender today would be required to start and finish every game for six-plus seasons. Never going to happen, kids.
And, finally, in a 53-47 per cent vote, the good people of Calgary have said “no” to the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in their city. In a non-related vote, 100 per cent of Calgary Flames fans said “no” to Mike Smith playing another game in goal.
Back in the day, when I was cheeky and totally irreverent, I would refer to Mike Smith as Mikhail due to his fondness and fascination for Russian hockey players.
Actually, it was more of an obsession for comrade Mikhail.
Considered something of an egghead in National Hockey League circles because he held a doctorate in Russian studies and wrote books (as if that’s a bad thing), Smith collected two things: Native American art and comrades. Under his watch as the mad scientist general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, he turned the town into Little Moscow. It was here an Igor, there an Ivan, everywhere a Vladimir. Trouble was, he didn’t always recruit the best of Mother Russia (hello, Sergei Bautin).
That didn’t prevent Smith from pumping their tires, though, and so it was one night in early October 1992 when the comrade and I were standing at the back of the Winnipeg Arena press box, in whispered conversation about two of the five rookies in his lineup.
“Selanne is a good one,” I submitted. “You guys didn’t make a mistake with him.”
“If you think Teemu is good,” Smith responded, “wait until you see what Alexei can do. He’s better than Teemu. He’ll win the scoring championship in this league one day.”
There’s no argument that Alexei Zhamnov was among the most skilled players to ever pull Jets linen over his head and shoulders. He was an artist and a wizard, a sometimes breath-taking magician of the Kent Nilsson ilk. But better than Teemu Selanne? Not so much.
The numbers tell the tale of the two players. Longevity tells the tale. One Stanley Cup ring tells the tale. Induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame tells the tale.
But it isn’t the goals, the dashing and daring, the trinkets that are what I remember most about Teemu Selanne. It’s the joy—unbridled, pure and wide-eyed—that he took from the ice to the people.
Selanne was seldom the biggest player in the room, but he was always the biggest kid in the room. Any room. That’s why we still hear stories about how he’d step outside and join the neighborhood kids in Winnipeg for a rousing game of road hockey. Imagine that. An NHL all-star goofing around on snowy streets and shouting “Car!” whenever they’d catch sight of a Buick, Chevy or Ford rumbling down the road toward goal posts made of the white stuff.
That was Teemu.
We called him the Finnish Flash because of the lickety-split in his stride and the electricity he brought to NHL rinks, especially the Jets’ old barn on Maroons Road, but we should have been talking about his smile. That was the real Finnish flash.
Selanne arrived in River City in 1992, 22 years old and with an innocence that I don’t think he ever lost. He took Jets Nation on a magic carpet ride that winter, scoring a mind-popping 76 goals to remove Mike Bossy’s name from the record book, a freshman achievement that has not been challenged, nor is it likely to be. His rookie points total, 132, is second to only one other first-year player. That guy’s name is Gretzky, Wayne. But, in the eyes of the NHL, No. 99 was an unrookie because he had spent one season getting his feet wet in the World Hockey Association. Thus, the frosh records belong to Selanne.
Now that he has earned entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’ll be mentioned that the Finnish Flash was but a passing comet in Winnipeg. Here for a good time, not a long time. And, yes, hockey fans down Disneyland way have every right to claim Selanne as their own, because he spent 15 of his 21 NHL crusades with the Anaheim Ducks compared to parts of four in Jets colors. They even had a special night in his honour, raising his No. 8 to the rafters during a 90-minute salute at the Honda Center.
But we know different. He was loaner. Teemu is ours.
That’s just how it is when a guy lights up all those cold, dreary nights on the frozen tundra with Herculean performances, and when he steps outside to play road hockey with a bunch of urchins who have posters of him taped to their bedroom walls. All the while flashing that smile.
Just like he did on Monday when he took a phone and received the glad tidings from Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald.
“I owe you big time beers, boys,” a beaming Selanne told McDonald.
Yup, that’s our guy Teemu. An absolute joy.
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.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
No, no, no, no, no. The idea isn’t to maintain the status quo. The idea is to improve. You know, address needs (hello goaltending, defence). Plug holes (hello goaltending, defence). Replace broken parts (hello goaltending, defence).
Not the Winnipeg Jets, though. While all hell is breaking loose in the National Hockey League, they say, “Oh, what the hell, we’ll just sit this one out.”
I mean, apparently Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and his point man, Kevin Cheveldayoff, are quite content with what they have, because the Jets’ co-bankroll and his co-general manager took extraordinary measures this week to preserve a roster that did not pass muster in its most recent NHL crusade.
Need I remind one and all that the Jets failed to qualify for Stanley Cup skirmishing this past spring? They fell short of the playoff line by seven points. And that’s the group the Puck Pontiff and Chevy don’t want to mess with?
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, though. I mean, at the close of business at their customary time of early April, head coach Paul Maurice was asked what the Jets would look like next October, and Coach Potty-Mouth replied: “It’s gonna look an awful lot like this team but five months older.”
Oh joy. Stop my beating heart.
Just to recap, here’s what the Jets did (or didn’t do, depending on your point of view) to prevent their non-playoff roster from being disturbed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the NHL expansion draft on Wednesday:
They asked Toby Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause so none of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, Tyler Myers or Andrew Copp (why, why, why?) would fall prey to the whims of Golden Knights’ scavenging GM George McPhee in the freshly minted club’s haul of mostly mediocre talent. Enstrom agreed (such a loyal foot soldier, our Toby).
They concocted a scheme whereby GM the GM in Vegas agreed to pluck a player not named Toby Enstrom from the list of available Winnipeg skaters/goaltenders. The cost: 11 places in the queue at Friday night’s NHL entry draft. The Jets swapped the No. 13 shout-out in the first round of the annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers for Vegas’ No. 24 call.
To summarize, the Jets ultimately surrendered 11 spots (13 through 23) in the entry draft for fear they would lose one—just one—of Perreault, Lowry, Armia, Myers, Copp, Enstrom or Dano to the Golden Knights. Excuse me, but those are the very guys who missed the freaking playoffs. What part of that do the Puck Pontiff and Chevy not understand?
The only way this makes any senseis if the Jets were convinced that the player they were poised to pluck at No. 13 on Friday night would be available at No. 24. Which means they were prepared to go way, way, way off the board. Sort of like the much-maligned Mikhail Smith did with Sergei Bautin oh so many head-scratching drafts and one failed franchise ago.
The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff are forever preaching draft and develop, so it makes little logic that they opt to sacrifice 11 positions to keep an overpaid, aging, injury-prone, undersized defenceman with one year remaining on his contract—that’s Enstrom—in the fold at the expense of someone who might have been with the Jets for the next decade.
Silly me. I was hoping the Puck Pontiff and Chevy would do something really bold and daring. You know, like actually move up in the entry draft to take a run at local boy Nolan Patrick. Instead, they move in reverse. All together now—and this time with feeling—sighhhhhh.
How might we view this Jets’ decision a few years from now? Guaranteed we’ll be talking about “the one that got away,” because at least one of the 11 players chosen in the Nos. 13-23 slots on Friday night will become an impactful player in the NHL. Perhaps not immediately, but certainly in two or three years. Here are some of the people chosen 13-23 this century: Erik Karlsson, Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan Kesler, Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Brown, Brent Seabrook, Zach Parise, Devan Dubnyk, Alexander Radulov, Tuukka Rask, Claude Giroux, Max Pacioretty, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jordan Eberle, Jake Gardiner, Dylan Larkin, Jakob Chychrun, Kasperi Kapanen, Sven Baertschi, Joel Armia, J.T. Miller, Oscar Klefbom, Cody Ceci, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Olli Mattaa, Andre Burakovsky, Josh Morrissey, Kyle Connor and Anthony Mantha.
As for the 24th pick, read it and (mostly) weep:
2000: Brad Boyes
2001: Lukas Krajicek
2002: Alexander Steen
2003: Mike Richards
2004: Chris Chucko
2005: T.J. Oshie
2006: Dennis Persson
2007: Mikael Backlund
2008: Mattias Tedenby
2009: Marcus Johansson
2010: Kevin Hayes
2011: Matt Puempell
2012: Malcolm Subban
2013: Hunter Shinkaruk
2014: Jared McCann
2015: Travis Konecny
2016: Max Jones
Brace yourselves, kids: It’s possible that you haven’t seen the last of Chris Thorburn, claimed from the Jets by Vegas. “He was going into being an unrestricted free agent July 1, and I’m not sure where things will be in those regards,” Cheveldayoff said Thursday. “But we haven’t closed the door on him.” Please, please, please George McPhee, sign Thorbs. What’s already in Vegas should stay in Vegas.
Fashion alert: I must say, I’m really digging those Vegas Golden Knights jerseys. Top drawer. And that’s a killer logo. I’m not prepared to say they’re the most boffo set of threads in the NHL, because it’s hard to beat some original six linen, but the Vegas people did it right.
Here’s a real shocker: Steve Simmons of Postmedia has found yet one more thing that he doesn’t like. Blending the NHL expansion draft and awards show is “nonsensical,” don’t you know? He yearns for a stand-alone awards show. Ya, that’s the ticket. Let’s all cozy up to our flatscreens to watch an extremely unfunny host tell extremely unfunny, cornball jokes and watch Connor McDavid walk on stage half a dozen times to receive a trinket. Good grief, man. The NHL awards gala is an exercise in boredom and the addition of the expansion draft provided an injection of interest.
I don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter, and I spend even less time tweeting. So how is it that I have 220 followers and why would anyone follow me? I mean, it’s not like I have anything important to say in 140 characters or less. Or more than 140 characters for that matter. But to those 220 followers, I vow this: I’ll keep cranking out the crap as long as Steve Simmons keeps finding things to bitch about.
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.
I’m not fond of all-time greatest lists because they’re too often compiled by people who are not all-seeing.
Take, for example, the recent anointing of Dave Keon as creme de la Toronto Maple Leafs. As someone who witnessed the wonder that was Keon, initially on the family’s black-and-white TV with rabbit ears and then live and in living color with the New England/Hartford Whalers, I offer no quarrel with the salute to the diminutive, balletic centre-ice man. More to the point, I endorse it. Fully.
I wonder, though: How many among the 30 “experts” and 300,000 fans who gave voice to the Keon coronation actually saw him perform? How many can say they watched Syl Apps or Teeder Kennedy, who finished second and third, respectively, in balloting to select the greatest of the greats who have worn Maple Leafs linen in the past 100 years?
Syl Apps retired in 1948, two years before I was born. Teeder Kennedy hung ’em up in ’57. I don’t have the vaguest memory of him.
Time passed is the flaw in the all-time-greatest ointment, and it explains how a thug like Tie Domi can find himself on the same list as Dave Keon. I mean, seriously? Tie Domi belongs in the same company as Dave Keon? Ya, like I belong in the same ballet as Sophia Lee.
All of which brings me to the Winnipeg Jets. (Yes, I agree, the mention of Domi and ballet in the same breath serves as a rather odd, if not odious, segue to a discussion about the local hockey heroes, but work with me, kids.)
The creaky, old boys and the not-so-creaky Teemu Selanne will be back in town this week to participate in True North Sports & Entertainment’s genuflection to the Jets’ gloried past in the World Hockey Association and its limited achievements during the first go-round in the National Hockey League. Many of them, no doubt, shall arrive in River City greater of girth and with hairlines in rapid retreat, but hopefully old habits kick in when they take time away from the mirth and merriment of their reunion to play some pond hockey with the creaky, old Edmonton Oilers.
Slow-motion cameras won’t be a requirement, of course, because the actual-time speed is apt to be in super slo-mo—save for Selanne—but I’m guessing the Alumni Game on Saturday has as much appeal power as the Heritage Classic featuring the present-day Jets and Oilers on Sunday. (For those of you inclined to place a friendly wager on Team Hawerchuk in the old boys’ skirmish, be certain you get favorable odds because Team Gretzky has them out-Hall of Famed, 5-1, with one inductee-in-waiting.)
Anyway, this gathering of the clan puts me in mind of the best of the best, Jets version.
Many of my vintage can say we’ve seen them all, from the original Jet, Norm Beaudin, to today’s current flavor of the month, Patrik Laine, and some of us can say we saw more than most because we had the good fortune of an insider’s view home and away. That doesn’t make me an expert. It simply means I saw the Jets from a different vantage point.
It’s with that in mind that I submit some personal “best of” Jets lists…
My Favorites to Watch
1. Kent Nilsson: Pure magic. The most-talented player to wear a Jets jersey. Bar none. 2. Peter Sullivan: Silky smooth. I don’t care if he was defensively deficient. He was dazzling with the puck on his stick. 3. Anders Hedberg: The Swedish Express. His acceleration off the right wing was unparalleled. 4. Teemu Selanne: Ditto what I said about Hedberg. 5. Alexei Zhamnov: Spectacularly subtle. Perhaps that’s a contradiction in terms, but he was supremely skilled without a shred of flamboyance.
1. Ulf Nilsson: The punishment he absorbed and endured in the WHA was barbaric and criminal. 1a. Anders Hedberg: See above. 1b. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: See above. 1c. Ted Green: How he played so well in so much head pain is a mystery. I used to cringe watching the Seed hobbling on and off buses and airplanes, knowing he was in crippling pain. 3. Terry Ruskowski: He finished the 1979 WHA final with one arm.
Tom McVie: He’d always spice his interviews with comments like, “I’ve been fired more times than Al Capone’s machine gun” or “If life made sense, it would be men who rode sidesaddle. Think about it.” Willy Lindstrom: The great prankster. He always made a pit stop at a joke store on our visits to Quebec City, then would toss stink bombs and sprinkle sneezing powder on our flight out of town. Gary (Suitcase) Smith: Smitty seemed to take life with a wink and a nod.
Moments of Madness
1: Mike Smith: Comrade Mikhail, as I called the Jets GM, sold Kris Draper to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 (U.S. currency, one presumes) and used nine of his 12 selections at the 1992 NHL entry draft to claim Russians, the first of whom was the legendary Sergei Bautin. Smith’s make-work-for-Russians project fell flat. Little wonder Dale Hawerchuk got out of Dodge a couple years earlier. 2. Jimmy Mann: The sucker punch that shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw was every bit as bad as Todd Bertuzzi’s assault on Steve Moore. 3. Tom McVie: Taking his teeth out and trying to fight coach Al MacNeil of the Atlanta Flames was comedy gold. 4. John Ferguson: Punching a hole in the wall of his bunker at Winnipeg Arena? Check. Dumping a bucket of ice on to the Buffalo Sabres bench? Check. Kicking a hole in a dressing room door? Check.
1. Andrew McBain: We called him “Fergy’s son” or “Fergy’s kid” because we couldn’t think of any reason he was on the team, except that he must have been GM John Ferguson’s illigitimate kid. Beaner fooled us, though, with 32- and 37-goal seasons before leaving the Jets. 2. Scott Campbell: Asthma did poor Scotty in. His was never able to tap his full potential. 3. Ray Neufeld: Not because he underachieved, but because I silently cheered for him to succeed more than any other Jet. He became a fan whipping boy due to the Dave Babych trade, and I wanted Neuf to be a star. Never happened.
1. Dave Babych: Always gave thoughtful answers. 2. Terry Ruskowski: Honest, emotional, passionate. 3. Dale Hawerchuk: Ducky was the face of the franchise for so many years and he always delivered the goods. 4. Andrew McBain: No matter how hard the media rode him, Beaner didn’t balk on interviews. 5. Eddie Olczyk: I didn’t talk to Eddie O a great deal, but I could tell he had a future in talking. 5b. Barry Melrose: Friar Nicolson and I called him Kelvington after his home town in Saskatchewan. He loved talking into a microphone or tape recorder.
He’s Got Gonads
1. Tom McVie: Anyone who would bench Bobby Hull, one of the team owners, for arriving at the rink late has size XXXL gonads. 2. Morris Lukowich: A bantam rooster with a tiger in his tank. Luke never picked on anyone his own size, because they were all bigger than him. 3. Lars-Erik Sjoberg: Built like Barney Rubble, the Little General shied away from no man, not even Bad News Bilodeau and the rest of the cement heads who would run him through the boards in the WHA.
1. Laurie Boschman: So belligerent on the ice, so soft-spoken and genuinely nice off it. 2. Dave Babych: A big, friendly bear of a man. 3. Terry Ruskowski: A good Canadian Prairie boy. 4. Barry Melrose: Fun guy, always joking with Friar and I. 5. Jude Drouin/Pierre Hamel: They took care of me after I collapsed on a flight home from Toronto.
Curmudgeons Before Their Time
1. Randy Carlyle: Mostly it was an act (I think), but Kitty played the role of the two old farts on The Muppets. 2. Mario Marois: Forever bitching about the heat on the bus.
1. Teppo Numminen: I think he was only appreciated in Winnipeg. Had he played in Toronto or Montreal, they’d still be talking about him. 2. Ron Wilson: Dawg: Subtly efficient.
What Were They Thinking? (When they Drafted this Guy)
1. Sergei Bautin: Still hard to believe that comrade Mikhail Smith squandered a first-round pick on this pylon. 2. Jimmy Mann: Strike one against Fergy. 3. Hannu Jarvenpaa: Scored four goals in an exhibition game. Scored 11 the rest of his career. 4. Evgeny Davydov: Mikhail was kidding, right? 5. Ryan Stewart: Three games, one goal. Say no more.
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.
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.