About Major Junior hockey and Benny’s pie in the sky…put that WHL name on Ice…Barnum & Bailey & Mayhem on Maroons Road…Jeff Hamilton racing a woman…Jake and les Leafs…open season on Puck Finn…and good reads from Teddy Wy and Mike M.

A midweek smorgas-bored…and it’s a good day for stepping into the Junior shinny Way Back Machine to a time when some hockey coaches wore fedoras…

Major Junior hockey. Winnipeg.

Some of us are old enough to recall the days when those two went together, like Johnny Carson and late-night laughter.

That’s right, kids, once upon a brief time Major Junior worked in Good Ol’ Hometown.

Bobby Clarke, Chris Worthy and Reggie Leach

Oh, they didn’t exactly sardine-can them into the old shinny barn on Maroons Road every night, but it wasn’t just family and friends who surfaced to watch the Winnipeg Jets. Especially when the Flin Flon Bombers of Bobby Clarke and Reggie Leach rode into River City with a sneer and something to prove to the big-city boys.

Logically, the Brandon Wheat Kings, being just a hoot and a holler down the road, should have been cast in the role of the Jets’ antagonist in what was then known as the Western Canada Hockey League. But no. It was the bunch from the northern Manitoba mining town named after the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin who wore the black hat.

The dreaded Bombers were piloted by Paddy Ginnell, a rascalish head coach given to filling news snoops’ notebooks with goading, in-your-face candor.

Paddy Ginnell

In the spring of 1969, for example, the Jets evened a playoff joust with the Bombers at 2-2-1 (yes, there was a tie game), which meant the eight-point series was heading back to intimidating Whitney Forum in Flin Flon.

“How the hell are they going to win up there?” a cocksure Ginnell scoffed. “They’ve never won there. If I was Ben (Hatskin, Jets bankroll), I’d forfeit the series and save the money.”

Turns out Paddy was right.

The Jets couldn’t quite figure out a way to win in the Flin Flon Forum, which provided cozy comfort for the Bombers but served as a chamber of horrors for the Winnipegs in ’69 and the following spring.

Pistol Dorohoy

The thing is, whatever pre- and post-game hype Ginnell and his counterpart, Eddie (Pistol) Dorohoy, were selling to anyone with a notebook or microphone, the rabble was buying. The Jets topped out at a head count of 7,326 and totaled 20,516 for three home dates in ’69, and upped that in 1970 with a WCHL single-game record of 9,043 and 33,206 for their four home dates vs. Flin Flon.

Queen Liz looked down approvingly from the north end of the barn.

That all changed, however, when the aforementioned Ben Hatskin saw two bigger pies in the sky. One was called the World Hockey Association. The other was Robert Marvin Hull.

Five years after Benny and the WHA Jets reshaped the local shinny landscape in 1972, Major Junior hockey disappeared, despite the earnest intentions and heavy sledding of people like Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson, Gordie Pennell, George Dorman and so many others.

Ben Hatskin

My perch in the press box allowed me to witness the slow, steady decline of a franchise that morphed from the Jets to the Clubs to the Monarchs, and customers disguised as empty seats was not only a bad optic but a killer on the bottom line.

“I don’t understand why people won’t come out to watch us,” Brisson would lament the day after a home assignment would attract an audience numbering no more than 1,200 diehards.

It didn’t help, of course, that Brisson did some goofy things, like replacing his head coach with the team trainer in the middle of a game and later demoting the same head coach to assistant coach, to scout, then firing him via Canada Post. Correct. He sent George Dorman a Dear John letter. And, in general, Brisson iced outfits that could scarcely lick their lips.

Bottom line, though, was the WHA and the Jets. That was the nut nobody could crack.

I’m guessing that Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell are aware of this unfortunate history (not to mention the aborted re-entry of the WHL in the early 1980s), yet they’re still planning to pitch their tent in the boonies (RM of Macdonald) and swim upstream next autumn. Their Kootenay Ice will become the Winnipeg Ice, and Fettes/Cockell seem convinced they can make a go of it in a hockey pool that includes the NHL Jets and American Hockey League Manitoba Moose. You can take them for fools if you like, but, hey, it’s their coin.

Someone please tell me that Fettes and Cockell plan to rename their franchise. Ice doesn’t work for me, nor does an angry Sasquatch as a team logo. We haven’t seen anything resembling a Sasquatch in Good Ol’ Hometown since Jimmy Mann was dragging his knuckles around the freeze.

Wild Bill Hunter

Among the selling points of the old WCHL were the owners/operators. Guys like Brisson, MacPherson, Ginnell, Pistol Dorohoy, Punch McLean, Scotty Munro and Wild Bill Hunter were Sideshow Bobs, equal parts Barnum, Bailey and Ringling Bros. Some, notably McLean and Ginnell, were maestros of mayhem. It wasn’t uncommon for all hell to break loose on any given night, and the lads really frothed at the mouth with Flin Flon in town. Then it was Mayhem on Maroons Road, and much of it seemed orchestrated. Neither Fettes or Cockell strikes me as a carnival barker, and I somehow doubt their head coach, homeboy James Patrick, is inclined to hurl garbage cans onto the ice when his universe isn’t unfolding as it should. Oh, the good, old days.

Here’s how popular the Junior Jets of Ben Hatskin, Pistol Dorohoy and coach Nick Mickoski were: Some fans actually purchased passage on the team charter to attend playoff skirmishes in Flin Flon.

Jeff Hamilton

Young Jeff Hamilton of the Drab Slab writes this about the Ice’s entry into the River City shinny glut: “A WHL franchise in Winnipeg, together with the unprecedented investment in hockey development, would create a unique sports marketplace and position Winnipeg as the hockey capital of North America, home to teams in the NHL, AHL and the Canadian Hockey League.” Whoa there, young fella. There’s this little burg I call the Republic of Tranna that trumps Good Ol’ Hometown. The ROT has the Maple Leafs, the Marlies, the Mississauga Steelheads, plus the Furies and the Thunder. Unless young Jeff is one of the many men who pooh-pooh the distaff side of the game, The ROT’s two Canadian Women’s Hockey League franchises give it the edge. If young Jeff isn’t convinced, let’s see him beat Kendall Coyne Schofield in a foot race and then we’ll talk.

Leafs GM Harry Potter

Something tells me the Maple Leafs made a trade this week. And I think it involved Jake Muzzin. I could be wrong, though. I mean, maybe I was just dreaming when I saw those 12 headlines about Muzzin on the front page of the Leafs blog known as the Sportsnet website on Wednesday. They usually reserve that kind of over-the-top coverage for Auston Matthews’ grooming habits (film of toenail clipping at 11). So I guess I’m mistaken and Muzzin is still working the Los Angeles Kings blueline.

Let’s be clear about something: Les Jets do not have to make a significant move just because les Leafs snared Muzzin. This isn’t tit-for-tat. The Muzzin transaction has no impact on Winnipeg HC unless they’re the last two National Hockey League clubs standing in the Stanley Cup runoff. If that’s how it shakes down, it won’t be because general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was prodded into action by Leafs GM Harry Potter.

Puck Finn

Tough week thus far for Patrik Laine. The young Jets winger still can’t score, he spent most of Tuesday night in Beantown glued to the pine, and the natterbugs in print and on air went off on the kid. According to my scorecard, Ted Wyman, Jason Bell, Tim & Sid, Noodles McLennon and Jeff O’Dog all had a go at Puck Finn and, to sum up their deep, penetrating analysis, Laine “isn’t moving his feet.” Tough to move your feet when you’re sitting on the bench.

I’m not saying coach Paul Maurice was wrong to plop Puck Finn on the plank vs. the Bruins, but there’s more at play here than the moving of feet. I say Laine’s issues are at the opposite end of his lanky body—between the ears.

If you’re looking for a good read, check out Mike McIntyre’s piece on former U.S. Navy SEAL James Hatch in the Drab Slab. Hatch is in town as part of a dumb bet he made against les Jets last year, and Mike M. hits it out of the park with his yarn. Also worth a look is Ted Wyman’s feature on former Jets forward and all-round good guy Randy Gilhen in the Winnipeg Sun. Good stuff.

And, finally, I have personal links to two of the main players in the old WCHL. Pistol Dorohoy is the only coach who ever cut me, and I played for Gerry Brisson. So, ya, I feel the warm and fuzzies for Junior shinny and I hope it works for Fettes and Cockell.

About scary, creepy things in sports that make me want to scream…bravo to Joe Daley, Jeff Stoughton and Jim Kyte…second-guessing in the Drab Slab…CFL power rankings…and a WHL franchise for River City?

In a salute to the spookiest day of the year, I present a dozen things/people in sports that I find scary, creepy or make me want to scream…

1. Connor McDavid: He’s scary good.

2. Mike O’Shea: Be afraid, kids. Be very afraid. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers enter the Canadian Football League playoffs in another 11 days, so you just know that Mad Scientist Mike is already concocting potions and notions that include smoke, mirrors and much hocus-pocus, all designed to disable his foes. Trouble is, Coach Mikey’s sorcery has turned his own team into a toad the past two Grey Cup runoffs.

3. Don Cherry on Coachless Corner: Still? Really?

4. TSN’s Cult of Johnny: On the creepy scale, TSN’s infatuation with Johnny Manziel is right up there with your grandmother French kissing you. The gushing groupies in the TSN Tower of Babble On make any Montreal Alouettes game either must-mute or must-avoid TV.

5. The Republic of Tranna media infatuation with Drake: He’s cast a spell on them. They become blithering idiots the moment he arrives at a Raptors game. He gets more ink than Dennis Rodman’s upper body. And for what? Acting like an ass-clown at a basketball game?

6. Conor McGregor: I feel an urgent need for someone to hose me down every time he opens the sewer that passes for his mouth. Easily the creepiest, most repugnant man in sports.

7. Serena Williams: When Mommy Fiercest became unhinged during the U.S. Open women’s singles final, I ran for cover. I feared she was about to crash through my flatscreen and shove an effing tennis ball down my effing throat.

8. Tiger worship: Similar to TSN and its Cult of Johnny, American TV networks fawn over Tiger Woods like he’s Gandhi in Nikes. The difference, of course, is that Tiger has actually accomplished something on the golf course, whereas Johnny Rotten has done squat in the CFL. Still, when Woods is 15 swings off the lead, you’d think gab guys like the totally insufferable, swooning Gary McCord would find something better to talk about than Woods’ latest gaffe.

9. The rabble shouting “True North!” during the singing of O Canada at Winnipeg Jets games: This is also must-mute TV. I mean, I get it. The locals are grateful that the National Hockey League returned to Good Ol’ Hometown. But turning part of O Canada into a corporate rallying cry is totally creepy.

10. Damien Cox on Hockey Central at Noon on Sportsnet: You know that wet-dog smell? Ya, Cox is that pungent. He is fingernails on the chalk board. He is smarmy. And those eyebrows…positively ghoulish.

11. Jock journos in mainstream media who look down their snobbish noses at bloggers and podcasters: Hey, we have something to say and we have the right to say it. Some of the most honest, critical commentary I read or hear is on blogs and podcasts. Some of the worst and weakest is in MSM.

12. Fancy stats geeks who think the numbers tell the entire story: Sure there’s value in the number-crunchers. No argument there. But I still trust my eyes more than their charts and graphs. They make my eyes bleed.

Big tips of the bonnet to Joe Daley and Jeff Stoughton, both among the class of 2018 to be inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Joe, the one time Holy Goalie, is a Jets original, and if you want to know anything about the three World Hockey Association titles the local lads brought home to River City, he’s the guy to ask. Joe was there for all three of them, and he has the championship rings to prove it. Stoughton, meanwhile, is only the best curler ever produced on the pebbled ice in the Keystone province, and that’s saying something. Like Daley, Jeff was a quote fountain for news snoops. I know he filled my notebook more than once. Both terrific guys, both well-deserved honors.

And, hey, let’s hear it for old friend Jim Kyte, recently inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame. The former Jets defenceman is the only legally deaf person to play in the NHL, and he entered the CDHF with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Jeff Hamilton

Found this interesting in the aftermath of the Blue Bombers’ recent victory over the Calgary Stampeders.

In an objective analysis of the skirmish, young Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote that Mike O’Shea was a goof (my word, not his) for gambling on third down deep in his own section of the football field, the Bombers in front by 11 with 4:36 remaining. For that, Jeff gets BBQ’d by readers.

“Man do I hate the second guessing of this column,” wrote one. “Come on…the Bombers should always get a yard on any down. If it had worked Jeff, you wouldn’t say a thing. Easy to criticize after it fails and, hey lets (sic) trot out every gamble that hasn’t worked in O’Shea’s tenure. Disgusting Jeff and I expect better than that from you.”

Another reader gave that comment “1,000 thumbs up!!!!”

Yet when former Bombers D-lineman Doug Brown writes basically the same thing as Hamilton, scolding O’Shea for his ill-advised risk, it’s “Well said Doug” and “I can’t really disagree with either the decision or your argument.”

Here’s the deal: Unlike Brown, Hamilton never played three-down football at the highest level. I don’t know if the Drab Slab scribe even collected football cards. But that doesn’t disqualify him from second-guessing the Bombers head coach. More to the point, it’s part of his job. His takeaway of O’Shea’s unharnessed impulse for reckless, risky business was not only appropriate but spot on.

Randy Ambrosie

Why were so many pundits and fans outraged that CFL game officials and concussion spotters were out to lunch when Odell Willis of the B.C. Lions rocked Zach Collaros’ world with a violent, illegal wallop to the head last weekend? This, after all, is the same league that trumpets its policy on domestic violence yet welcomes the woman-beating quarterback Johnny Manziel with open arms. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s apology after the Willis-Collaros hit was nothing more than weak PR posturing.

This week’s CFL power rankings…

Winnipeg (10-7): On a roll, baby.
Saskatchewan (12-6): QB health the big question.
Calgary (12-5): Stumble, stumble, stumble.
B.C. (9-8): Go east, young men.
Ottawa (10-7): On cruise control.
Hamilton (8-9): No Speedy B, no hope?
Edmonton (8-9): Disastrous season.
Toronto (4-13): Whatever.
Montreal (4-13): Ditto.

And, finally, I have fond memories of riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs/Monarchs in the 1970s, so the prospect of the Western Hockey League returning to Good Ol’ Hometown is intriguing.

I’m skeptical about it working, though.

If you missed it, Mike Sawatzky reported in the Winnipeg Free Press that the Kootenay Ice are having a rough go of it in Cranbrook, B.C. Average attendance is 2,307, lowest in the WHL, and the town’s mayor, Lee Pratt, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman this: “With the fan support they are getting right now it’s not a viable operation.”

The Green Bay Committee held a town hall meeting in support of the Ice last Thursday, and they’ll gather again tomorrow night in the hope they can corral 500-600 new season-ticket subscribers to save the franchise. Failing that, team owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell might be inclined to pull up stakes and head east.

That begs questions, though. To wit:

Would they be better off in River City?
Would a WHL franchise operating out of the University of Manitoba attract 2,000 or more customers?
If an average head count of 2,307 can’t work in Cranbrook, how can it possibly work in Winnipeg?
Would the arrival of a WHL outfit strike the death knell for Winnipeg Blues of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League?

Remove the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League and I’d say Fettes and Cockell might have a chance in Good Ol’ Hometown. As it is, I don’t see it happening. But I hope I’m wrong.

About 49 years from Day One at the Trib…good for Ted Wyman…good reads in the Drab Slab…a TSN WTF moment…CFL power rankings…Serena unhinged…and other things on my mind

It occurs to me

If you’ll permit me a personal note right off the top (and you must, because this is my blog), this morning marks the 49th anniversary of my start in the rag trade.

Yup, it all began in the mail room on the second floor of the Winnipeg Tribune building on Sept. 10, 1969, me an 18-year-old, know-nothing kid fresh out of Miles Madonell Collegiate working at what had always been my newspaper of choice.

After a brief time running incoming and outgoing mail to the various arms of the Trib operation at the corner of Smith and Graham, directly across the street from the main post office, I was shuffled up to the fifth floor, whereupon I became a midnight-to-8 a.m. copy runner and began scribbling non-byline Manitoba Junior Hockey League rewrites in 1970.

Legendary sports columnist and editor Jack Matheson was somehow struck with the notion that I might be a suitable replacement for a departing sports scribe, and my first byline appeared in print on Page 16 of the Trib on June 14, 1971.

It was back-of-the-section, bottom-of-the-page stuff—a short blurb about a Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association financial shortfall of $8,753—nestled between the Assiniboia Downs form chart and horse racing writer Harold Loster’s graded selections. Humble beginnings, indeed.

My first beat was local tennis, which I totally enjoyed. Then high school football, a good place to earn your chops. But Matty had me mostly on hockey, at all levels and all leagues, at home and riding the bus across the frozen tundra with Gerry Brisson, Muzz MacPherson and the Winnipeg Clubs in the Western Canada Hockey League.

Butch Goring

There wasn’t a hockey league I didn’t cover and, in fact, my final writing assignment at the Trib was to pen a sports-front, up-close-and-personal piece on local lad Butch Goring, weaned on the frozen ponds of Windsor Park/St. Vital and a Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders. Photog Jon Thordarson and I had visited Butch at his home. Spent more than an hour with him. The article and pics were in the can and good to go as a late-summer feature. Alas, the mucky-mucks at Southam had the bad manners to shut down the joint on what we called Black Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1980, and the Tribune was no more.

But, hey, here I am 49 years later, and old bag of bones still scribbling about shinny, football, curling and athletes in Good Ol’ Hometown, albeit from a distance. Don’t know when or how to stop.

Which means you’re right—there’s definitely something wrong with me. Like, does the term ‘get a life’ mean anything to me?

Apparently not. I might actually make it to 50 years.

Ted Wyman

A tip of the bonnet to Ted Wyman, soon to be the latest inductee to the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour. Ted’s been cranking out the good stuff for 26 years, earning his chops at the Moose Jaw Times Herald and Brandon Sun before bringing his act to Good Ol’ Hometown in 2003. He’s been a steady hand on the wheel of the Winnipeg Sun sports department since 2006.

Really enjoyed Melissa Martin’s piece on Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler in the Winnipeg Free Press last week. Melissa doesn’t stray into the toy department too often, but I always enjoy her take on sports and athletes. She’s my favorite scribe at the Drab Slab.

So I’m sitting in my local watering hole, watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders duke it out on Saturday afternoon. They were down to the short strokes, with about three minutes remaining and Gang Green clinging to an iffy lead. The end result was very much in the balance. And what does TSN do? It cuts away to the Calgary Stampeders-Edmonton Eskimos skirmish, which had yet to start. You talk about your WTFTSN moments.

Here are this week’s Canadian Football League power rankings…

1. Calgary (9-2): Bo Levi was brilliant; the defence not so much.
2. Saskatchewan (7-4): Four straight Ws.
3. Edmonton (7-5): Got it done vs. Calgary this time.
4. Hamilton (6-5): Wicked offence, wicked QB, wicked Speedy B.
5. Ottawa (6-5): Continue to be a puzzle.
6. Winnipeg (5-7): A bye week just what the doctor ordered.
7. B.C. (4-6): Still say they’re done like dinner.
8. Montreal (3-8): Took the week off.
9. Toronto (3-8): QB woes continue.

Last week in CFL quarterbacking…

It’s about Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: Wow. Just wow.

Still baffled by Serena Williams bringing motherhood into the equation during her epic hissy fit in the women’s final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I have a daughter and I stand what’s right for her!” she shrieked, in full bully mode, at chair umpire Carlos Ramos. That simply does not compute. It makes no sense at all. What did Ramos’s rulings—questionable or not—have to do with Williams’ little girl? Can you say completely unhinged, kids?

Novak Djokovic

For those of you scoring at home, the last eight Grand Slam tennis tournaments have delivered eight different champions on the women’s side and only three on the men’s side. Meanwhile, the same three guys winning everything now—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic—have been winning everything since Wimbledon 2003, when Federer claimed his first Slam title. The scoreboard reads: Big Three 51, Rest of Guys 11. And who are those Rest of Guys? Stan Wawrinka (3), Andy Murray (3), Andy Roddick, Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro, Marat Safin and Gaston Gaudio. So, 10 champions total. In the same time frame, 24 different women have won Slam tournaments.

And, finally, this from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: “I really hope the Maple Leafs pick a captain soon—so everybody can just shut up about it. The captain stuff: Relatively meaningless.” Interesting. In July, Simmons went on Tranna 1050 TSN radio and flapped his gums about the “relatively meaningless” Leafs captaincy for more than seven minutes. But now that he’s had his say on the topic he wants the rest of us to “shut up.” As if.

Forty-seven years of Winnipeg hockey memories from a former rink rat

Forty-seven years. That’s how long it has been, to the day, since I began a newspaper career that brought neither fame nor fortune but provided a fair bit of fun.

That’s why I still scribble about sports to this day, 17 years removed from mainstream media—it’s a hoot.

Winnipeg Arena

The pay as a freelancer/blogger isn’t nearly as good, mind you. It’s mice nuts. It isn’t enough to keep me well watered and fed. I mean, I can’t afford to make spaghetti and meatballs anymore. It’s one or the other. But, hey, the payoff is the giggles I get by poking the bear, tipping sacred cows or tilting at windmills (I promise, no more cliches for today).

One would think that I’d have gotten the Winnipeg Jets out of my system by now. But no. Some habits are hard to kick, if not impossible. I just can’t let the Jets go. And, to a lesser degree, the Blue Bombers.

I don’t know how many hours I spent in the old barn on Maroons Road, but I do know that Winnipeg Arena was my home away from home for a good number of years. As were various other shinny shacks throughout North America, from the story-studded Montreal Forum to Jack Kent Cooke’s Fabulous Forum in Tinseltown to the rickety Corral in Calgary to frost-bitten wooden huts that passed for hockey rinks in numerous Western Canada outposts.

And that’s what I am remembering this morning…

I remember Frank McKinnon, a remarkable, special man and the person I interviewed for my first Winnipeg Tribune byline story in 1971. Frank, president of the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association at the time, was one of those people I always thought I should address as “Mister,” because he commanded such respect. But he would have none of it. “I’m Frank,” he told me early in our initial conversation, “and I want you to know that you can call me any time.” Frank and I talked often, but probably not as often as I would have liked.

I remember the night in Atlanta when Winnipeg Jets coach Tom McVie attempted to scale the glass partition separating the two benches so he could fight his counterpart with the Flames, Al MacNeil. Tommy took off his sports coat, took off his necktie, took off his wrist watch, partially unbuttoned his shirt—then took out his teeth! “When he took his teeth out and started undressing,” said MacNeil, “I knew he was serious.”

Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.
Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers.

I remember riding a bus with coach Muzz MacPherson and his Portage Terriers during their successful 1973 Centennial Cup crusade. Muzz liked his hockey with an edge and there was nothing sissified about the way his lads played. So physical were the Terriers that Humboldt Broncos’ coach Dr. Terry Henning took his puck and went home after five games rather than finish their playoff series with Muzz’s Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions. “Can you believe it?” Muzz asked me. “They quit. The good doctor said my guys are too dirty. He says we’re too mean and nasty. So he quit. I sure as hell wouldn’t want him doing open-heart surgery on me—he’d walk out in the middle of the operation!”

I remember interviewing Vladislav Tretiak at a house on Elm Street in River Heights. I don’t recall who owned the house or why I had to meet the great Soviet goaltender there, but he was in town to promote his book and we gabbed for about an hour at a kitchen table (rather, the interpreter and I chin-wagged for an hour). When we parted, Tretiak said something to the interpreter, who relayed to me that “Vladimir thinks you are a hockey expert.” As photographer Jon Thordarson and I walked toward our vehicle, I said, “Imagine that, Tretiak thinks I’m a hockey expert…sure fooled him, didn’t I?”

I remember being in Indianapolis with the Jets on American Thanksgiving Day and Racers coach Pat (Whitey) Stapleton inviting myself, play-by-play legend Friar Nicolson and Winnipeg Free Press hockey writer Reyn Davis to turkey dinner with his family. It was such a thoughtful gesture, but that’s the kind of relationship media and hockey people sometimes had back then, especially in the World Hockey Association.

I remember Aime Allaire and his never-ending quest to bring Senior hockey’s Allan Cup home to Winnipeg. Alas, Aime’s St. Boniface Mohawks could never get the job done.

I remember the Jets’ first visit to New York City, to play the Rangers. Friar, Reyn, Sod Keilback and I went for a stroll of Manhattan on game-day afternoon and we ducked into magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a look-see. “I’m going to light a candle for the Jets,” I said. “They’re going to need all the help they can get against the Rangers.” Sod greeted that notion with rude laughter. The Jets beat the Rangers that night, 6-4.

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

I remember another trip to Manhattan. Our bus driver wanted to make a detour down a side street, but he couldn’t navigate the turn because a Volkswagen Beetle was parked too close to the corner. General manager John Ferguson and the driver stepped outside to investigate. Fergy came back on the bus and shouted, “Jimmy! You and a few other guys come with me. We’ve gotta move this car.” Fergy, Jimmy Mann and three or four other players lifted half the Volkswagen on to the sidewalk and away we went.

I remember Muzz MacPherson refusing to talk to me after a Winnipeg Clubs’ game. “I’m too upset,” the gravel-voice coach barked. “I don’t want to talk. Just make up the quotes. You know me well enough by now that you know what I’ll say.” So, for the only time in my career, I made up quotes. The following day, Muzz called me and he was frothing at the mouth. “What are you trying to do to me?” he yelped. “I wouldn’t have said all those things you said I said—I would have done a lot more swearing.”

I remember talking to Ulf Nilsson the night the Jets whupped the Soviet national team, 5-3, and the great Swedish centre saying, “I’m proud to be a Canadian tonight.”

I remember Friar Nicolson allowing me to do five minutes of play-by-play one night when Dave Keon and the New England Whalers were in town. It was a classical gas.

I remember watching the 1973 Belmont Stakes with Muzz and various hockey sorts who had assembled at the Viscount Gort for an annual chin wag. As the great Secretariat romped down the home stretch, about 30 lengths in front of the field, Muzz stared at the TV and shouted, “Don’t break a leg! Don’t break a leg!” Big Red didn’t even break stride and became horse racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.

I remember Teddy Green’s headaches. I often wondered how a man could be in such crippling pain and still go out and perform so admirably on the Jets blueline.

I remember riding the iron lung with Gerry Brisson and his Winnipeg Clubs on a junket that took us to Brandon, Regina, Swift Current, Calgary and Kamloops and back. Kevin McCarthy was on that team. He was the most-talented Junior I ever covered.

I remember covering an MJHL that included four Winnipeg teams—the Winnipeg Monarchs, St. James Canadians, St. Boniface Saints and my alma mater, the West Kildonan North Stars. (That’s right, I played in the MJHL and covered it. I believe Doug Lunney is the only other person to do so.)

I remember taking pride in the championship work of Barry Bonni with his River East Royal Knights of the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League, because his team represented my old ‘hood.

Morris Lukowich
Morris Lukowich

I remember Morris Lukowich barking at me after the Jets’ initial NHL game, in Pittsburgh. Luke had been credited with the team’s first NHL goal, tipping in a Peter Marsh shot. “Where did that shot hit you?” I asked him. “Friar and I never saw it change direction.” He shot me with a stone-cold stare and said, “Are you calling me a liar?” I was doing nothing of the sort, of course. “No, Luke, I’m not calling you a liar,” I said. “I have a game story to write and I need to know where the puck hit you so I can describe the goal accurately.”

I remember being part of a media team for Schmockey Night. Ray Jauch was our coach and Eddie (Clear the Track) Shack, the clown prince of the National Hockey League, was my left winger. Jauch, head coach with the Blue Bombers at the time, wouldn’t let Shack or I come off the ice in the final five minutes because we needed a goal to tie the game. Neither of us scored.

I remember wonderful conversations with hockey lifers Bruce Cheatley, Ed Sweeney, Bill Addison, Julian Klymkiw, Aggie Kukulowicz and Billy Robinson, who, along with Dr. Gerry Wilson, was responsible for bringing the first wave of Swedes to North America and transorming the Jets into a WHA power.

I remember defenceman Tim Watters buying Friar and I beer when he came in after curfew one night in Vancouver. “You don’t have to do that, Tim,” Friar told him. “We’re not going to rat you out. You’re good people.” I never ratted out any of the Jets. Neither did Friar. What they did on their time was their business.

I remember covering the Jets rookie training camp in Sainte Agathe, Que., in 1979 for the Winnipeg Tribune, and Fergy asking me to play in the final exhibition game because Patrick Daley had pulled a groin during the morning skate. “Are you serious? You want me to play tonight?” I asked him. He did. So I did. Assisted on the first goal, too. All the players at Sainte Agathe moved on to the Jets main training camp in Winnipeg, then some were assinged to the Tulsa Oilers. I went back to the Trib with a grand total of one assist in my only pro game. And I never got paid.

I remember the Jets first visit to the Montreal Forum. Friar and I walked in with Fergy, who was still a hero in Quebec, and he directed us to the concession stands. “Troi chien chauds,” Fergy ordered. He looked at us and said, “These will be the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat.” They were. To this day.

I remember bringing beer to former Soviet referee Anatoli Segelin, who was part of the U.S.S.R. traveling party for the 1981 Canada Cup. Upon his arrival at the Viscount Gort, Anatoli, who loved Canadian journalists, begged me to bring some beer up to his room on the second floor. I asked Stew MacPherson if he could spare a couple of 12-packs from the media hospitality room for Anatoli and comrades, and he agreed. Upon seeing me at his door with 24 beer, Anatoli flashed a smile as wide as Mother Russia and said, “Canada! Come! Come! We drink!” Segelin, myself and two other comrades did just that.

Willy Lindstrom
Willy Lindstrom

I remember Willy Lindstrom’s pranksterism. Every time the Jets’ travels would take us to Quebec City, Willy would visit a joke shop not far from the Chateau Frontenac and load up on stink bombs and sneezing powder. He would then unleash them on our airplanes. Go to sleep during a flight and it was guaranteed you’d wake up in a sneezing fit, because Willy would sneak up from behind and sprinkle powder on you. And the stink bombs were absolutely paralyzing.

I remember sitting in an airport, listening to Mike Smith deliver a 10-minute oration on the methodology of the Richter Scale after an earthquake hit the West Coast. As he spoke, I thought, “Man, this guy is a different head of lettuce.” I didn’t realize exactly how different Smith was until the day he drafted Sergei Bautin.

I remember going to the draft in Montreal the year Fergy chose defenceman David Babych second overall, ahead of Denis Savard and Paul Coffey. More interesting, however, was the fact Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran were next door, prepping for the Brawl in Montreal, the first fight in their boxing trilogy.

I remember feeling sorry for Ray Neufeld, a truly nice, young man who came to the Jets from Hartford in exchange for David Babych. It was recognized as Fergy’s worst transaction and fans took out their frustrations on poor Ray. That wasn’t fair.

I remember the first time I ever saw Peter Sullivan play hockey and asking, “How is this guy not playing in the NHL?”

I remember Jimmy Mann trying to convince me that he was “not an animal” after his sucker punch had shattered Paul Gardner’s jaw into a dozen pieces. It wasn’t me Jimmy had to convince…it was everyone else in hockey.

I remember Laurie Boschman’s on- and off-ice personalities. He was such a nasty bit of business when they dropped the puck, yet so soft-spoken, sincere and genuinely nice once the final buzzer sounded.

friarI remember a pilot delaying takeoff from Atlanta when we realized rookie broadcaster Sod Keilback was AWOL. Turns out the big lug had gotten lost in the airport, which was larger than his hometown of Yorkton, Sask., and he heard some serious braying once Friar Nicolson had located him and brought him on board. Sod made a feeble attempt to explain his wandering ways, but we were having none of it. “You’re just a big sodbuster,” I said. The name stuck. He was known as Sod thereafter.

I remember my traveling partners in the WHA, Friar and Reyn Davis, two terrific guys. Both of them are in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame, and rightly so. Sadly, both of them are also dead. I’m neither in the Hall of Fame nor dead, but it’s only a matter of time before I arrive at the Pearly Gates (I probably haven’t been good enough to get in there either).

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.

Winnipeg sports: 45 years later, a look in the rear view mirror

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.)

Matty
Matty

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.”

John Ferguson
John Ferguson

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.

Tommy McVie
Tommy McVie

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.”

Best 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.

Cal Murphy
Cal Murphy

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 in booing the singing of O Canada en francais, a man called my home later that 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.

Vic Peters
Vic Peters

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.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti 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.