Let’s take a trip down memory lane on Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day

This being Manitoba Hockey Heritage Day, it puts me in a reflective mood, pondering my former life as a rink rat.

It began as a wobbly, Bambi-legged urchin on the outdoor freezes at Melrose Park Community Club, Bronx Park and East End, then moved to shinny shacks both primitive and elegant, from Transcona to Texas, from Sargent Park to Stockholm, from the Old Barn On Maroons Road to the Forum in Montreal (best hot dogs, ever) and Maple Leaf Gardens.

It was a lengthy trip, 30 years of it scribbling for the Winnipeg Tribune and Winnipeg Sun (with a couple of brief pit stops in the Republic of Tranna and Calgary), and there were highs and lows and in-betweens. This is what’s on my mind today:

  • The Old Barn On Maroons Road, when it had that new-rink smell.

    I’m thinking about Mosie and the Winnipeg Warriors. I attended my first live pro game in the mid-1950s, a Western Hockey League skirmish featuring Billy Mosienko in the twilight years of a boffo career that included a 1952 record that stands uncontested to this day in the National Hockey League—three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. Mosie left the Chicago Blackhawks to wind it down with the Warriors in Good Ol’ Hometown, and it was a treat beyond description for a six-year-old kid to observe hockey royalty in person, in a swanky, new Winnipeg Arena.

  • I’m thinking about Father David Bauer and our national men’s team, based in River City during the 1960s. Our amateur Nats faced insurmountable odds in a quest to wrestle global supremacy from the U.S.S. R. “amateurs.” We all knew the Soviets were “amateurs” like cherry Kool-Aid is Russian vodka.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin and the original Winnipeg Jets, a Junior outfit in the Western Canada Hockey League that engaged in epic battles with the Flin Flon Bombers of coach Paddy Ginnell. Come playoff time, they’d pack the joint.

  • I’m thinking about Bill Addison, longtime commissioner of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. As a journalist and rink rat, I can’t think of anyone with whom I enjoyed talking all things puck more than Bill, a true gentleman in an era when a fellow would wear a necktie and a fedora to the rink.

  • I’m thinking about Frank McKinnon, the first sports figure I ever interviewed for the Trib, and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association was the subject matter of my first byline article on June 14, 1971. It was buried on the back pages of the sports section, surrounded by Harold Loster’s horse racing copy, and it included a ghastly error—I wrote the MAHA had elected Frank president of the “1871-72” executive. What can I say? I’m an old soul. And, hey, I was only out by 100 years.

  • I’m thinking about Benny Hatskin signing Bobby Hull at Portage and Main in June 1972. I was a few blocks away in the Trib building when it all went down to change the shinny landscape forever. A younger generation might suggest Mark Chipman and David Thomson bringing the National Hockey League back to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2011 was a bigger story, but no. Everything flowed from Benny getting Hull’s signature on a World Hockey Association contract.

  • I’m thinking about the Jets introducing Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg to the masses in May 1974. Some of us were convinced that Benny and his minions had lost the plot because Swedes, thought to be cottony soft, couldn’t possibly survive vs. the barbarians who occupied too many roster spots on WHA outfits. Well, we now know they didn’t simply survive, they excelled, and served as Pied Pipers to numerous Europeans who found their way to the Jets.

  • Kevin McCarthy

    I’m thinking about Junior hockey. I remember my first road trip, a milk run from Winnipeg to Dauphin for MJHL playoffs, and there were other junkets on the iron lung with the Winnipeg Clubs and Monarchs. Kevin McCarthy was the most talented local kid I ever covered, and watching him and Doug Wilson anchor a powerplay was special. My old coach Gerry Brisson, who owned the Junior Jets/Clubs/Monarchs before whisking the WHL franchise to Calgary, was a different head of lettuce, and my favorite character was Muzz MacPherson, coach of the 1973 Centennial Cup champion Portage Terriers before moving behind Brisson’s bench with the Clubs.

  • I’m thinking about the many hours I spent in the company of scouts, guys like Bob Goring, Bruce Cheatley, Jimmy Walker, Bruce Southern and Dino Ball, who made the down time more enjoyable.

  • Billy Robinson

    I’m thinking about my favorite hockey people, in no particular order: Jeep Woolley, Tom McVie, Terry Hind, Earl Dawson, George Allard, Don Baizley, Gordie Pennell, Bill Addison, Frank McKinnon, Barry Bonni, Spider Mazur, Julie Klymkiw, Rudy Pilous, Teddy Foreman, Mike Doran, Sudsy, Aime Allaire, Bill Juzda, Bones Raleigh, Ed Sweeney, Billy Robinson, Aggie Kukulowicz, Marc Cloutier, Gordie Tumilson, Bill Bozak, John Ferguson, Peter Piper, Brian Gunn, Adam Tarnowski, Andy Murray, Teddy Green, Laurie Boschman, the Swedes (all of them), Portage Terriers.

  • I’m thinking about covering both the Jets final skirmish in the WHA, vs. the Edmonton Oilers (a 7-3 win), and their NHL baptism, in Pittsburgh vs. the Penguins (a 4-2 loss). Reyn Davis and I were the beat writers of the day for both those games, and Friar Nicolson was the play-by-play guy on radio. Sadly, Reyn and Friar left us long ago.

  • I’m thinking about the 1975 World Junior tourney, with a group of WCHL all-stars facing off against the elite of the Soviet Union, Sweden, Finland, Czechoslovakia and the U.S. The lads from Mother Russia ruled the day, besting the our kids 4-3 in the final game, prompting this rather peculiar observation of the comrades from Bobby Hull: “I’d like to see those guys in the shower, I’ll bet they’re all muscle.”

  • I’m thinking about Aime Allaire, the hard-luck case of my time covering shinny in Good Ol’ Hometown. Aime did everything possible to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home, but his St. Boniface Mohawks always came up a day late and a dollar short. I rode the iron lung with the Mohawks one winter, and Aime once hired me to handle stats for the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League.

  • I’m thinking about refereeing Winnipeg Colts tryout scrimmages for Stan Bradley and Harold Loster before they departed on their annual junket to a PeeWee tournament in Goderich, Ont.

  • I’m thinking about the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national side, 5-3, and Ulf Nilsson telling me in a noisy changing room that he was “proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

  • Mikhail Smith

    I’m thinking about Mike Smith, the egghead scout/coach/GM of the Jets who shall long be remembered for two things: 1) his make-work-for-Russians project; 2) running Ducky Hawerchuk out of town. The man I called Mikhail had a degree in Russian studies and a maniacal obsession with every Vladimir or Igor who laced up a pair of skates, and he attempted to transform the local shinny side into the Central Red Jets. The plan was a colossal flop and Hawerchuk became a casualty, moving to Buffalo.

  • I’m thinking about Billy Bozak, a very nice man known as Magic Fingers. Boz was responsible for healing the lame and halting among the Jets, and there wasn’t an owie the longtime team trainer couldn’t cure. How his healing hands made Terry Ruskowski suitable for combat in the 1979 WHA final I’ll never know.

  • I’m thinking about the day of the long faces, which is to say the final farewell for the original Jets, who packed up and skedaddled lock, stock and jock strap to Arizona. There weren’t many dry eyes in the joint on April 28, 1996, and it had nothing to do with a 4-1 playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. It had everything to do with a funeral. The NHL was dead in Good Ol’ Hometown. It took 15 years for many among the rabble to recover from the Jets’ departure. Many still mourn the loss.

  • I’m thinking about piggy banks and pucks and Peter Warren of CJOB roaming the landscape on a flatbed truck, accepting donations from the young, the old and the in-between in a bid to Save the Jets from extinction. It worked once or twice, but kids emptying their piggy banks and little, old ladies signing over pension cheques was never going to be the solution.

  • I’m thinking about Tuxedo Night and how snazzy all the luminaries and the Zamboni driver looked in their monkey suits. The promo was the brainchild of marketing guru Marc Cloutier, who wanted Good Ol’ Hometown to look its spiffy best for the first appearance of NHL royalty, the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur and Savard and Robinson and Gainey and Shutt et al were greeted by a gathering of 15,723 on Dec. 15, 1979, and the Jets faithful feared the worst. But a rag-tag roster filled with hand-me-downs rag-dolled the Stanley Cup champions, winning 6-2, with Willy Lindstrom scoring three goals and Peter Sullivan collecting five points.

  • John Ferguson

    I’m thinking about Bobby Hull and how he was greeted with such pomp and pageantry at Portage and Main in June 1972, and how he left the building in such an undignified manner seven years later. The Golden Jet was scheduled to be in the lineup for Tuxedo Night, nationally televised on Hockey Night in Canada, but he was confused about faceoff time and arrived late. Coach Tommy McVie, not one for bending rules, informed Hull that he’d be sitting this one out. When advised of Hull’s punishment, GM John Ferguson pitched a fit, kicking a hole in a dressing room door. Didn’t matter. Hull, one of the team owners, was out. He never wore Jets linen again.

  • I’m thinking about Teemu Selanne’s astonishing 76-goal rookie season, in 1992-93, and GM John Paddock trading the Finnish Flash to the Disney Ducks three years later. D’oh!

  • I’m thinking about doing color commentary to Friar Nicolson’s play-by-play on Jets radio broadcasts, in the WHA and NHL, and I’m sure I was awful.

  • Valeri Kharlamov

    I’m thinking about tossing back vodka and beer with the Russians at the Viscount Gort during the Winnipeg portion of the 1981 Canada Cup tournament. They couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Russian, but we managed to conduct an impromptu and teary-eyed wake for legendary Soviet forward Valeri Kharlamov, who was buried that day back home in Mother Russia.

  • I’m thinking about all the good guys no longer with us, too many to list.

I’m no longer a rink rat. I haven’t attended a live hockey game since 1999, when I put Good Ol’ Hometown in my rear view mirror after 30 years in the rag trade. But it was a rush. Some might even think of it as a bit of a charmed life, and I suppose watching hockey and writing about the game for a living was every bit of that.

The only thing missing was girls/women’s hockey, and I hope Ponytail Puck receives more ink in the local dailies once it’s back on the ice. Ditto Junior, university and high school shinny. I realize readers can’t get enough of their Jets, but they weren’t the only game in town during my time at the Trib and Sun, and they still aren’t.

Happy Hockey Heritage Day.

Say what? Here’s what the jocks were saying and what they should have been saying

This is a little segment I like to call: What they said/what they should have said.

In it, we consider the breathless sound bites delivered by sportsmen/women hither and yon and ponder what they should have said, or, in some instances, what I wish they had said.

Let’s begin…

Patrick Roy losing it.
Patrick Roy losing it, as usual.

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic had been hesitant to confirm the return of head coach Patrick Roy, but he made it official on this National Hockey League season’s final weekend that the ever-combustible St. Patrick will, indeed, be stamping his feet and blowing gaskets behind the bench as he guides the Avalanche through another non-playoff journey next year.

What Sakic said: “Yes, he will (be back). We’re in this thing together.”

What he should have said: “Are you kidding me? Have you seen what this guy’s like when he doesn’t get his way? He’s as loonie as a Canadian dollar. I had no choice but to bring him back as coach. You think I want to wake up and find a horse’s head at the foot of my bed one morning?”

  • Mark Scheifele, sitting on a career high 27 goals with just three matches remaining in a long lost NHL crusade, was doing the chin-wag thing with news scavengers when someone mentioned the possibility of a 30-goal season for the Winnipeg Jets centre, who no longer resembles Bambi on ice.

What Scheifele said: “It would definitely be huge. I’m definitely trying to push for it, but the most important part is to continue to play the right way and if they go in, they go in. And if not, I want to be happy with the effort I give each and every night and with a full 200-foot game. I’m definitely going to be going for it. But I’ve got to play the right way first.”

What I wish he had said: “Dude, you must be mistaking me for Evander Kane. I don’t give a shit about personal numbers. Don’t talk to me about 30 goals when we’re not going to the playoffs.”

  • Kevin Lowe, the former Edmonton Oilers defenceman, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, vice-president and president, is generally viewed as the guy wearing the black hat in The Chuck, because the once-mighty NHL franchise became a running joke under his watch. But that didn’t stop him from standing before a full house and pandering to the faithful post-game when the Edmonton Oilers bid farewell to their old barn, Rexall Place, last week.

What Lowe said: “(Edmonton has) the greatest fans in all of hockey.”

What he should have said: “It was nice of you dipsticks to actually get through another entire season of losing without tossing your Oilers’ jersey on the ice.”

Vladislav Tretiak
Vladislav Tretiak telling lies.
  • Mother Russia backed up the truck and loaded on the entire roster for the world Under-18 hockey championship in North Dakota, replacing it at the 11th hour with the entire Under-17 squad. Speculation, not surprisingly, ran at a full gallop, with most observers believing the Russkies pulled the switcheroo because all of the Under-18s have been on the now-banned drug meldonium, thus they would not have passed drug testing. This left legendary goaltender and Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak with some ‘splaining to do.

What Vlad said: “(This was) a tactical decision by the coaching staff. I ask you not to give in to rumor and to speculate about what has happened.”

What he should have said: “Hands up anyone who believes there are still some clean athletes in the Motherland! But seriously, after Maria Sharipova got caught using meldonium, we knew the jig was up with these kids. It’s not like 1972 when we used all the illegal drugs we could get our commie hands on before we played Team Canada. They would have blown us out if we weren’t on the juice. Now if you’ll excuse me, my presence is requested in President Putin’s chamber and I understand he isn’t very pleased with me.”

  • Major League Baseball players and managers are struggling with the enforcement of a rule that prohibits a base runner from sliding hard into second base with the express purpose of breaking up a double play. Toronto Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons believes it cost his club a win and he used a sexist comment to express his distaste for the ruling.

What Gibby said: “It’s a joke. Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

What he should have said: “Ty Cobb will be spinning like a lathe in his grave. The game’s become a joke. I guess we’ll just have to take off our big-boy pants and play with our little-boy pants from now on.”

Ernie Els
Ernie Els just puttering along.
  • Golf great Ernie Els lived the worst possible nightmare on the first hole in the opening round of The Masters, taking six putts from inside three feet before his ball found the bottom of the hole. Upon arrival at the practice tee the next morning, Els was met with stony silence.

What Els said: “The players and caddies looked at me like I didn’t have any pants on.”

What I wish he had said: “My golf game sounds just like that broken-down jalopy my dad bought me when I turned 16—putt, putt, putt, putt, putt, putt.

  • The Winnipeg Jets finished the season on an impressive run, winning their final four matches, including a California sweep of the playoff-bound Disney Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. Still, it left the Jets in the Central Division cellar at close of business and swimming with all the other bottom feeders in advance of the NHL draft lottery. So what say you, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec?

What Pavelec said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

What he should have said and what I wish he had said: “I don’t think you can be too excited about it because we are where we are.”

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 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 in 2015.

 

Phil Esposito’s words from 1972 ring true today: It isn’t fair to boo athletes who wear the Maple Leaf

To skewer or not to skewer, that is the question.

I refer to our female footy ambassadors, who, at last sighting, were in the throes of a full-pitched bawl fest on the grounds of B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver, where they had found themselves short of the task in a FIFA Women’s World Cup quarterfinal joust with an England outfit that had been there for the taking. In their valley of tears, those among the Canadian flag bearers not weeping had the carriage of a pall bearer—ashen-faced, mournful and spent.

In the wake of that 2-1 loss to the English 11 and their ouster from the global tournament, which concluded this Sunday past with the United States’ ascention to the mountain peak, much has been said and written about our soccer side, a good portion of the reviews featuring a favorable theme while others carrying a darker, less charitable hue.

Most notably, Lauren Sesselmann and Melissa Tancredi have been caught in the crossfire of critical commentary, the former for flubbing a pass and an accompanying pratfall that gifted England with its opening score, and the latter for failing to reward teammates whom had provided her with gilt-edged scoring possibilities.

The Sesselmann gaffe was especially slap-stickish. Writer Michael Farber on TSN’s The Reporters aptly described the much-maligned defender’s faux pas as negotiating the ball “like a racoon negotiates a garbage can.”

Farber, a senior scribe whose main portfolio with Sports Illustrated is hockey, later engaged in an interesting exchange of philosophy with Steve Simmons, the loud-barking Toronto Sun jock journalist whose suggestion it was to take a look at the big picture the World Cup offered vis-a-vis the growth of women’s soccer in Canada.

“This is not about 54,000 people in the stands. That’s wonderful. Women are empowered, women are inspired. That’s not the issue,” Farber lectured “This is a national team, playing at home, and if this were, say, the men’s hockey team they would be eviscerated for that kind of performance. These women have to face the same kind of scrutiny. John Herdman, the coach, has to face the same kind of scrutiny and Sesselmann can’t say, ‘I’ll only answer positive questions.’ She has to face the music. If you want to empower women, if you want to inspire women, they have to be held to the same standards as any other professional athlete.”

“We’ve never done that in this country for almost any sport,” insisted Simmons. “We don’t do it with the women’s hockey team when they lose…”

“You’re gonna pat them on the head…nice try, girls.”

“No, I agree with what you’re saying. I’m just saying, the broad view is we don’t treat them the same way. We probably should, but historically we have not.”

So, two of the top jock journalists in our country believe it should be open season on our soccer girls, or any athlete who wears the Maple Leaf at home and abroad. Both men and women. If they soil the sheets, carve ’em up. Eviscerate them!

Well, I’m sorry, we don’t want to go there.

Thought-provoking analysis and hard-edged opinion is one thing, but to advocate the slicing and dicing of our flag-bearers satisfies nothing but the sports media’s morbid preoccupation with blood-letting. Unless one of our athletes pulls a Ben Johnson/Charlie Francis and earns the country a reputation as a nation of syringe-packing cheaters, we do not take them to the figurative woodshed.

I am reminded of the events of September 1972, and I know both Farber and Simmons are old enough to recall the legendary Summit Series between our band of National Hockey League players and the best shinny stars from the Soviet Union.

The universe was not unfolding as we thought it should through the first four skirmishes, with the comrades holding a 2-1-1 advantage as the sides prepared to leave our shores for the Mother Russia portion of the engagement. In the post-Game 4 fallout—a 5-3 Soviet victory in Vancouver—our overwhelmed, exhaustive troops trudged off the ice to a chorus of booing and nasty catcalling which inspired an epic rant and scolding from Team Canada leader Phil Esposito.

“For the people across Canada, we tried. We gave it our best,” a sweat-stained Espositio told a live national TV audience. “For the people who booed us, jeez, all of us guys are really disheartened and we’re disillusioned and we’re disappointed in some of the people. We cannot believe the bad press we’ve got, the booing we’ve gotten in our own buildings. If the Russians boo their players like some of the Canadian fans—I’m not saying all of them—some of them booed us, then I’ll come back and apologize to each and every Canadian. But I don’t think they will. I’m really, really, I’m really disappointed. I am completely disappointed. I cannot believe it. Some of our guys are really really, really down in the dumps. We know—we’re trying. What the hell, we’re doing the best we can. They’ve got a good team and let’s face facts. But it doesn’t mean that we’re not giving it our 150 per cent because we certainly are.

“Every one of us guys, 35 guys that came out to play for Team Canada, we did it because we love our country and not for any other reason. They can throw the money for the pension fund out the window, they can throw anything they want out the window—we came because we love Canada. And even though we play in the United States and we earn money in the United States, Canada is still our home and that’s the only reason we come. And I don’t think it’s fair that we should be booed.”

Espo’s sermon rings true to this day.

Our women’s soccer players were devastated after their loss to England. They had hoped for so much better than a quarterfinal finish. Not for themselves, for the flag. Still, clinical analysis of offensive shortcomings, player deployment and the national team program is appropriate.

The suggestion that they ought to be “eviscerated,” on the other hand, is irresponsible and shameful.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.