About the Calgary Stampeders’ psyche…a Blue Bombers-RedBlacks Grey Cup game…brutal blunder by Postmedia…a tough crowd at the Little Hockey House Of Horrors…Puck Finn the underachiever?…a dingbat in the Tranna media…unbreakable records…and voting “no” in Cowtown

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.

Dave Dickenson

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.

Adam Bighill

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?

Jeremiah Masoli

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.

Auston Matthews and AWOL Willy

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?

Puck Finn

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.

Edith and Archie

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.

Mr. Goalie

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.

What are the Winnipeg Jets afraid of…Big Buff a man of many words…no Sun in Twang Town…and a non-diving Dane

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

It’s almost Groundhog Day. Does that mean Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff is about to poke his head out of his hiding hole and do something? Or say something?

chevy
Grand Master Kevin Cheveldayoff

That would be refreshing, since the man who does Saint Mark Chipman’s bidding hasn’t done or said much of anything since shuffling Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian off to Buffalo. For those of you keeping score at home, that was almost 365 days ago.

Chevy is the Howard Hughes of National Hockey League general managers. A recluse. He is the anti-John Ferguson.

When Fergy was at the wheel during the Winnipeg Jets’ initial whirl in the NHL, he took ownership of his deeds. Good (hello, Dale Hawerchuk) or bad (hello, Jimmy Mann). He didn’t hide from the faithful or news scavengers. From the moment he arrived in River City from Gotham until the day he was asked to leave, Fergy was up front and loud. His was the face and voice of the franchise.

What we now have with Cheveldayoff and the present-day Jets is complete non-accountability.

If there is a face and/or voice to this franchise, I can’t see it or hear it. No one can. Cheveldayoff says less than a street mime. The Winnipeg Sun recently requested an audience with the Grand Master for its three-part, state-of-the-union series on the Jets and was told, “Sorry, no can do. Chevy’s too busy doing stuff that is none of your business or anybody else’s business.”

That is so lame.

What I find myself wondering is this: Is Cheveldayoff standoffish by nature, or is he under some sort of gag order issued by team co-bankroll Saint Mark? I mean, it’s one thing for Chipman to operate a secretive society that suckles at the public teat in the form of tax advantages/subsidies and gaming revenue, but this isn’t about True North Sports & Entertainment profits. It’s about a hockey team, one in which the community has invested deeply, whether through ticket/merchadise sales or emotions. What is he afraid of?

If Chipman hasn’t instructed Cheveldayoff to keep his lips zipped, what is the GM afraid of?

Answering a few questions in advance of a looming NHL trade deadline ought not be an option. It ought to be an obligation.

big buff
Big Buff

On a similar theme, it was interesting to read dispatches from this weekend’s NHL all-star hijinks in Twang Town, Tennessee, because we discovered a side of Dustin Byfuglien seldom, if ever, seen in Winnipeg. Turns out Big Buff is humorous, witty, glib and an all-round nice guy who seemingly enjoyed his 25-minute parry-and-thrust with hockey scribes on media day. That Nashville scene, of course, would never take place in River City, because the Jets are so freakish about controlling the message that they shield their players from prying eyes and ears. News scavengers aren’t granted the opportunity or time to get to know players like Byfuglien as people and, by extension, Joe and Josephine Phan are also left out of the loop. Shame, that.

Not surprisingly, the Big Buff chin wag referenced his contract negotiations with the Jets. The all-star rearguard and pending free agent was asked point blank if his desire was to remain in Winnipeg, and, while he had some favorable comments about good, ol’ Hometown, part of his reply likely left a few in Jets Nation a tad uneasy. “I just want to put on a jersey, to be honest with you.” He didn’t say a Jets jersey. Apparently, any NHL jersey will do. He later said, “I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else, but business is business.” Reminds me of the answer Evander Kane delivered in July 2014 when Team 1040 Radio in Vancouver quizzed him on his status with the Jets: “Well, I think, um, I’m a Winnipeg Jet right now and, um, you know there’s been speculation and rumors for the three years since I got there. You know, we’ll see what happens, and we’ll carry on as if I’m a Winnipeg Jet.” We all know how that ended.

Sad, but not surprising, that there’s no Winnipeg Sun presence in Nashville. The tabloid was served by the Toronto-based Michael Traikos of Postmedia and Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun. Get used to it, people. Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Free Press has its own man, Tim Campbell, on site. Score one for the Freep.

Best reads this week were delivered by the Freep’s Paul Wiecek, whose piece on Saint Mark Chipman is superb. It’s Wiecek at his best and a prime example that the Free Press is well-served with him in the columnist’s seat. Meanwhile, the much-maligned John Scott told it like it is in a Players Tribune article that offers insight and humanizes one of the NHL’s dying breed—the enforcer.

Tell me if this is coincidence or an attitude adjustment: On Jan. 7, the NHL dinged Nikolaj Ehlers $2,000 for diving/embellishment. It meant he was a repeat offender. To that point in time, the diving Dane had scored six goals and 13 points in 40 games. Since the NHL dipped into his pay envelope, the Jets freshman winger has scored six goals and collected nine points in nine games. Apparently, Ehlers has concluded that staying on his feet is more productive than flopping around like a European soccer player. Skating alongside linemates not named Chris Thorburn likely helps, too.

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.

 

The Drab Slab recruits Scott Campbell…nothing new at the Sun…still a hate-on for Shane Doan…and why not Anthony Peluso in the NHL all-star game?

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

So, how does one improve upon the toy department of a daily newspaper? Why, you recruit a non-writer to write, don’t you know? That, at least, is the thinking of the madcap minds at the Winnipeg Free Press, which now has more sports scribes than Donald Trump has critics.

Scott Campbell
Scott Campbell

Latest to join the Drab Slab’s stable of thousands is old friend Scott Campbell, who, when last seen, was helping the Winnipeg Jets wrestle the final World Hockey Association championship away from the Edmonton Gretzkys, then, sadly, he fought a losing battle with asthma that ended his National Hockey League career at the tender age of 25.

Scotty was one of the good guys, one of my all-time fave Jets. A raw-boned rearguard, he was friendly, witty and quick with a laugh. He took his game seriously but not himself.

And what will he bring to the Freep sports pages commencing Friday? Honesty. Bluntness. I hope.

I say that based on Scotty’s scribblings at Mitch Kasprick’s pride and joy, Winnipeg Hockey Talk. He doesn’t write with the smoothest pen (copy editors, please take note: punctuation is not Scotty’s strength), but he offers unvarnished critique, fair analysis and the voice of someone who has been there, done that.

My main concern is this: Given that the Freep is in bed with the Jets (official newspaper and all that rot), will Scotty be writing in a harness or given free rein? If he’s expected to be a True North Toady, it shall become a wasted exercise. If allowed to ruffle feathers, it’s game on.

Go get ’em, Scotty. I’m root, root, rooting for you.

So now the Drab Slab has one ex-jock, Campbell, scribbling hockey, and another former play-for-pay guy, Doug Brown, prattling on about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and all things Canadian Football League. How do they compare as writers? Scotty is meat-and-potatoes. Brown is…well, let’s just say the former defensive lineman is from a school that preaches, “Why use just three words when three dozen are so much better?” Basically, just one thing separates the two—a thesaurus.

In advising readers that the Freep toy department is “upping its game” by bringing a novice on board, sports editor Steve Lyons also invited feedback. Or input, if you will. “How are we doing?” he asks. “Is there something you would like to see more regularly? Is there something you would prefer to not see at all?” Well, now that you ask, Steve…is it too much to expect from your scribes (also copy editors) that they adhere to the basics of writing? You know, the who, what, when, where and why of a story. It’s disgraceful and shameful that Freep writers repeatedly fail to mention the league or sport they’re writing about. It’s an every-day occurrence. This is a pet peeve of mine and I’m not going to let it go until I see them spell it out—every day, in every article.

I keep waiting for the Winnipeg Sun to add a fresh voice to its sports pages, but it remains same old, same old—Paul Friesen, Kirk Penton, Ken Wiebe and cameo appearances by Ted Wyman. Those boys do boffo work, but even following the Freep’s lead and finding someone to do a once-a-week gig would give the Sun a bit of a jolt. As it is, they continue to trot out the weekly Toronto-centric, three-dot ramblings of Steve Simmons each Sunday. Do people in River City really care about the goings-on in the Republic of Tranna? I think not. I enjoy reading quick-hit journalism, but I’d rather it be about good, ol’ Hometown rather than big, bloated Hogtown.

Shane Doan as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets.
Shane Doan as a rookie with the Winnipeg Jets.

It occurs to me that there remains a pocket of people in Pegtown still harboring a fierce hate-on for Shane Doan. Why is that? I mean, it wasn’t his fault that a bunch of carpetbaggers took Winnipeg Jets 1.0 and hightailed it south to the Arizona desert in 1996. Doan went along for the ride, simply because he had no choice, and the fact the Arizona Coyotes’ captain broke Dale Hawerchuk’s franchise goal-scoring record last week ought to be saluted, not scorned. I mean, are we really still bitter about the NHL allowing the Jets to skulk out of town and morph into the Desert Dogs? Are the Jets 2.0 not a suitable consolation prize? Get over it, people.

I can think of a few things that would put my nose out of joint, but John Scott appearing in the NHL all-star game isn’t among them. Sure it’s farcical that the Arizona Coyotes’ resident rottweiler will be part of the glittersome gathering in Twang Town, Tennessee, at the end of the month, but what is the NHL all-star skirmish if not farce? Seriously. A hockey game with a football score is not a purist’s idea of quality shinny, which is why it’s no longer a single farce but a series of little farces. So why not let the goons in on the fun? What the hey, had Jets loyalists been on the ball, they would have stuffed the ballot box and sent Anthony Peluso to Nashville, whereupon both he and Scott could lay a hurtin’ song on the real hockey players.

Unless there is a dramatic change in fortune, we soon shall hear much talk of tanking in Jets Nation. For the record, I don’t believe that team co-bankroll Mark Chipman will instruct grand master Kevin Cheveldayoff to deliberately tank in order to better position the Jets to win the right to bark out the name Auston Matthews at the 2016 NHL entry draft. If the Jets get first shout at the June garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, they’ll do it the old-fashioned way—bad management.

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.

Winnipeg Jets: Hee haw! Bring on Nashville for a first-round foe in the NHL playoffs

Why the continued angst? Why the hand-wringing? Why the gnashing of teeth? Why so many fretsome furrows on so many foreheads?

Oh ye of little faith.

It is no longer a matter of “will” the Winnipeg Jets qualify for the Stanley Cup tournament. It has become an issue of “who.” As in: Who will serve as their first-round foe?

Yes, I realize there remains some heavy lifting before the curtain drops on the National Hockey League’s regular-season exercises and the Jets are officially invited to the big dance, but, as I scribbled on March 3, “You can make book that meaningful matches shall be staged at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie post-April 11.”

To refresh:

Surely, the Jets will finish no worse than fifth in the Central Division,” I wrote. “That will qualify them for the tournament, because it would take too much smoke and too many mirrors for either the Calgary Flames or San Jose Sharks to overhaul good, ol’ Home Team for a Western Conference wild-card spot.

The Flames, of course, have been a feel-good story this season, but it’s been hockey hocus pocus. An illusion. Reality is about to bite. The Sharks, meanwhile…they’re chronic underachievers.

The Jets are in. Trust me.”

The focus of discussion, therefore, should shift to their foe and, at this precise moment in time, the likelihood is that the Jets shall face off versus one of three outfits: The Disney Ducks of Anaheim, the St. Louis Blues or the Nashville Predators.

Pick your poison, right? Not necessarily.

I would submit that a first-round throw-down with the Blues is to be avoided at all costs. Not that Team St. Loo can’t be beaten. It’s just that the Blues are a playoff-hardened outfit that comes at you with a punishing, relentless, unflinching merger of talent and resolve. Taking them out in a seven-game series would be a highly taxing and burdensome bit of business. A Herculean task, if you will.

A date with the Blues surely would carry the greatest risk of a dash-away, one-and-done special for the Jets.

Not so with the Ducks or Predators.

Were the stars to align favorably for the Winnipegs, they would commence playoff proceedings in Kornfield Kounty, otherwise known as Music City or, officially, Nashville, where a song don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that twang. Can you say “Hee Haw!” kids?

Although the Predators have hit the century mark and enter weekend activity as the No. 2 seed for all NHL points west of the Grand Ole Opry, I’m not convinced of their bona fides. Certainly they have a stud backliner in Shea Weber, a stud goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a fab freshman in Filip Forsberg. That’s considerable oomph down the middle. The Jets have no one to match Weber or Rinne, but, by the same token, the Predators have no match for the hybrid beast that Dustin Byfuglien has become. And surely Bryan Little is a superior centre-ice man to Forsberg.

Goaltender is, and always will be, the X factor for the Jets. If Ondrej Pavelec can replicate in mid-to-late April what he’s produced in March, the Jets move on. If not…fore!

The same would apply in a joust with the Disney Ducks.

The point is, I can see the locals getting past the Ducks or Predators in an opening-round skirmish, but I believe the Blues to be of too-tall timber.

Thus, if you’re a card-carrying member of Jets Nation, hope for either Nashville or Anaheim, but buckle up for a real rough ride if it’s St. Louis.

 

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.