The River City Renegade


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About Paul Wiecek feeling the wrath of the rabble…the Toronto-ization of the Winnipeg Sun…missing Kirk Penton’s work…and talking heads dreaming of Genie

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

It occurs to me that a large portion of the rabble consider Paul Wiecek to be a complete doofus.

Matter of fact, Wiecek might have supplanted Paul Friesen as resident rabble-rouser among River City jock journalists, essentially because the Winnipeg Free Press columnist has the bad manners to critique the local sporting heroes.

It’s always about the dark clouds with Wiecek, isn’t it? Never the silver linings. He’s grand poobah of the Royal Order of Negative Nellies, right?

Except, here’s the deal: The greatest percentage of Wiecek’s scribblings focus on a hockey outfit that has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup derby five of six springs and has won exactly zero playoff matches, and a football team that has never failed to fail for more than a quarter century. The shinny side is coached by a smooth-talking man destined next winter to become the losingest bench boss in National Hockey League history, and the gridiron gang is coached by a blood-and-guts guy who, four years in, has a 25-34 record and still makes the boneheaded decisions of a Canadian Football League fledgling on training wheels.

And what? You expect glad tidings from Wiecek?

Look, when Mike O’Shea continues to cough up hair balls and then tells you that the cow did, in fact, jump over the moon and the dish really did run away with the spoon, you don’t look the other way and pretend it’s like a tree that falls in the forest. You call him on it. Which is what Wiecek does. Repeatedly. Because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach repeatedly trips over his own feet and tells fairy tales.

The most recent example of Wiecek’s slicing and dicing was delivered in the wake of a ghastly blunder by O’Shea in the Bombers’ 45-42 loss to the B.C. Lions on Friday night in Vancouver. At the most inopportune time, Coach D’oh thought it a swell idea to give his kicker, Justin Medlock, the green light to hurl a pass instead of punting the football, a gob-smacking decision that Wiecek described as “a monumentally stupid play call.” I thought he was being kind.

Paul Wiecek

But what’s the first reader comment under the article?

Give it a rest Wiecek.”

Others showed Wiecek some love. This time. In general, the fangirlz and boyz who live in a rose-colored tea room usually skewer him when he pokes and prods their sacred cows in cleats or on skates. He’s “bitter” and “garbage” and “stupid” and “a pillar of negativity” and “anti-Jets” and “sour grapes” and “meaningless” and “Jekyll and Hyde” and he should “just go write for the National Enquirer.”

Look, I don’t always agree with what Wiecek writes. I thought he was terribly unfair in his commentary about Jacob Trouba when the young Winnipeg Jets defenceman went AWOL during the club’s training camp last autumn and bailed on the first month of the season. The criticism seemed creepily personal, which is never a good thing. He appears to harbour a peculiar mania for the matter of pro sports franchises limiting access to mainstream media and, instead, delivering their propaganda via in-house flacks, a number of whom have fled the falling house of cards that is the rag trade for the security of a gig with an NHL or CFL club (hello Ed Tait, Tim Campbell and Gary Lawless, all late of the Freep). And describing talented scribes like Tait and George Johnson as “hacks” because they went to the other side was hopelessly ignorant.

Wade Miller

Overall, though, Wiecek does solid work and, should the mood and need strike, he’s not shy about tossing scud missiles in the direction of movers and shakers in ivory towers, like Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and Bombers CEO Wade Miller, who seems to have built himself a nice, little fiefdom in the club’s bunker at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.

More than once, Chipman and Miller have declined interview requests from Wiecek, which, of course, only makes them come across as petty little men and tells me he’s doing his job.

I like his work (mostly) and I doubt the slings and arrows from the rabble cause him a moment of shuteye at night, nor do I think they have any influence on the way he goes about his business. If the Jets and Bombers insist on stinking, he has no choice but to say they stink.

It’s a shame what the Postmedia chain has done to Winnipeg Sun sports. I swear there are days when I’m convinced I’m reading the Toronto Sun, because there’s more Republic of Tranna tripe than local content. This morning, for example, I called up the Sun and there were six articles on the Toronto Blue Jays, two on Toronto FC, and one on the Toronto Raptors on the sports front. Meanwhile, I thought Paul Friesen was the main sports columnist, but apparently he’s not. It seems to be the Tranna-centric, Argonauts tub-thumping Steve Simmons, whose shtick is crapping on everyone and everything including Winnipeg. It’s not just a shame, it’s a sham.

I used to enjoy the weekly CFL Blitz feature in the Sun. Kirk Penton did a boffo job. The article was full of anecdotal insight, insider tidbits and biting, caustic commentary from coaches and executives across the land. Alas, Kirk has decided to give another side of life a try and, since his departure, CFL Blitz has basically become a collection of items that induce yawns.

Much fawning on display in the Republic of Tranna on Tuesday, with struggling tennis player Genie Bouchard in the 416 for some face time with the talking heads on The Fan 590 and Sportsnet’s Tim and Sid. Genie, of course, has more glam than game, which no doubt explains why Elliotte Friedman was swooning. I thought he was actually going to ask her for a date. Tim and Sid were captivated by Her Long-Leggedness, as well, and spent precious little time talking about Genie’s tennis, which is not good. She’s been a first-round loser in eight of 11 events since leaving Australia, she’s beaten just two world top-20 players, and her season record is 11-14. But, hey, she has cover girl good looks, so why let the facts get in the way of all that long, blonde hair and those smoky eyes?

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling mostly about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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About Steve Mason and platooning puck-stoppers…a coach’s wish list…the Maple Leafs and Oilers supposedly all-in…the Oilers and Connor McRichkid…hocus-pocus from the CFL commish…and a bummer for the Bombers

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

Steve Mason vows that he’ll play nice. It sounds like the Winnipeg Jets newly minted goaltender is a team-first dude who’s keen on sharing the blue ice with Connor Hellebuyck.

Well, maybe. Maybe not.

Steve Mason

In a conference chin-wag with newsies scant minutes after he had agreed to accept a two-year contract from the Jets, Mason talked a good game, suggesting he’ll happily work with incumbent Connor Hellebuyck and the two men would be “pushing one another” in the name of the greater good.

That, however, isn’t what he was saying in Philadelphia. In the world according to Steve Mason, there’s room for only one main man in the blue ice. Him. The other guy is his caddy.

Every single team needs a defined starter and backup goalie,” Mason told csnphilly.com in April, at which time he still harbored hope, albeit faint, for a contract offer from the Philadelphia Flyers. “It’s shown throughout the league, (job sharing) doesn’t work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. You can’t be in and out, in and out. You have to have the flow. I believe, given that flow, I’ve done well with it.”

So there.

Don’t run off with the notion that the Jets will enter the 2017-18 National Hockey League fray with a No. 1 and No. 1A puck-stopping platoon. The new kid on the block expects to play Batman to Hellebuyck’s Robin. He’s Johnny Carson. Hellebuyck is Ed McMahon.

If general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice try to sell it any other way, pay attention to their noses. They’ll be growing.

We never really talked about what the work load is going to be,” says Cheveldayoff.

Really? You make one of your rare expeditions into the NHL free-agent market to address your outfit’s most-glaring flaw and you forget to mention to Mason that he’ll be expected to handle the heavy lifting?

Not only is Cheveldayoff’s nose longer than a telephone wire, his pants are on fire.

It’s a load of rubbish because Mason wasn’t lured to River City with the promise of playing wet nurse to Hellebuyck. Barring something freakish this summer—or a massive brain fart from Coach Potty-Mouth—Mason will be in the blue ice Oct. 4 when Auston Matthews and his supporting cast with the Toronto Maple Leafs come calling at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie. He’ll start 60 games. Minimum.

There can be no other way.

Last week I mentioned that Maurice was sitting on the hottest seat in Jets Nation. Either the local lads qualify for the Stanley Cup derby next spring or he’s looking for work. In case there’s any doubt, consider this comment about the Jets defence from Cheveldayoff: “All the things on a coach’s wish list are there.” Well, Erik Karlsson or Drew Doughty would be on my wish list, but I hear what Chevy is saying. Translation: Coach Potty-Mo has run out of wiggle room.

Connor McDavid

Interesting take from Paul Wiecek on the Jets, Maple Leafs and the Edmonton McDavids. The Winnipeg Free Press scribe laments Chevy’s roster tinkering, describing the acquisitions of Mason and blueliner Dmitry Kulikov as “modest moves” compared to the bold strokes of his counterparts in the Republic of Tranna and the Chuck. “To use a baseball analogy,” he writes, “the Oilers and Leafs have decided to swing for the fences in 2017-18, while Cheveldayoff is squaring up to bunt.” Well, I’m not a Chevy apologist. I find his methods—mostly management by paralysis—irritating and frustrating in the extreme. I’d much rather he be more Jim Nill and less Kevin Cheveldayoff. But, hey, he needed a starting goaltender. He got one. He needed a defenceman who shoots from the left side. He got one. He needed to unload a truckload of deadwood. He did it. Aside from botching the entry draft, he’s done what was required this off-season to get the Jets back into the playoff discussion.

I’m not convinced that Chevy is afraid to use bold strokes. I submit that when it comes to lavish spending and derring-do on the trade market, the GM doesn’t make the call. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, does.

So here’s what I find myself wondering in the wake of that $100 million McWhopper contract the Oilers gave Connor McDavid: Will the Puck Pontiff and his deep-, deep-, deep-pocketed partner, David Thomson, be willing to part with that kind of coin were they to land a generational player of the McDavid or Sidney Crosby ilk?

Sorry, but I don’t see how Edmonton signing Connor McRichkid to an eight-year contract is a special stroke of genius. It’s more like, well duuuh. I mean, the Jets did the same thing last summer with their franchise centre, Rink Rat Scheifele, securing him for eight years at the bargain-bin price of $49 million. And, given that McDavid will still be working at his original rate of pay come October, I fail to see how a contract that doesn’t kick in until the autumn of 2018 means they’re all-in for 2017-18.

Nice to see someone from Good Ol’ Hometown get the top job in the Canadian Football League, but, unless Randy Ambrosie is holding back on administrative skills that include hocus-pocus, I don’t see how anything short of hypnosis can convince folks in the Republic of Tranna that the Argonauts are a good buy. Right now, the Boatmen are No. 6 on the pecking order in the Centre of the Universe, behind the Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Raptors, Toronto FC and Drake, and it shows in the pews. When the soccer side plays, BMO Field is alive and full. When the Argos are the main event, it becomes Empty Seats Stadium.

Matt Nichols

Quick thoughts on the heels of the 29-10 paddywhacking the Calgary Stampeders delivered to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday night at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry: Bombers running back Andrew Harris insisted that he and his mates in blue-and-gold “are better than this.” Okay. Prove it…Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea is “not interested in historical data of whatever number in a row.” We are, Mike. Like, Winnipeg has been a Grey Cup-free zone for 26 years in a row. Do something about that and the rest of us will ignore historical data, too…Oh no. Is Matt Nichols becoming the new Henry Burris without the Grey Cup rings? You know, Good Hank, Bad Hank? I mean, what we saw Friday night definitely was Bad Matt. Really Bad Matt. End zone interception and pick-six Bad Matt. You aren’t going to beat anyone, let alone the Stampeders, with that level of quarterbacking.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Winnipeg Jets: No more excuses for head coach Paul Maurice

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

Top o’ the morning to you, Paul Maurice.

Well, now that Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman and once-inert general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff have addressed two of the Winnipeg Jets’ specific wants and needs, guess where the focus shifts? That’s right, Mr. .500 standing behind the bench. It’s squarely on you.

Paul Maurice

You know that annoying laundry list of excuses that you made a habit of trotting out during the Jets’ latest crusade that ended, once again, without a playoff whisker sprouting from your players’ chinny, chin-chins? Sorry, but whinging about the schedule, injuries, youth and the price of petrol won’t cut it anymore. Probably not even with mainstream news snoops, a number of whom actually bought your bunk.

Time to deliver the goods, Coach Potty Mouth.

You’ve got your goaltender and, even though I don’t expect Steve Mason to be the second coming of Terry Sawchuk, I’m guessing (hoping?) that he and the work in progress known as Connor Hellebuyck won’t be the second coming of Pokey and the Bandit either.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Pokey and the Bandit, Coach Potty-Mo. Two interesting, young dudes from the back half of the 1980s. One, Daniel Berthiaume, was mostly a cheery sort and the other, Eldon (Pokey) Reddick, had a tendency toward the sullen, with gusts up to sourpuss. Together, they combined to provide Winnipeg Jets 1.0 with the sort of goaltending that will cost a National Hockey League coach his job. Matter of fact, two head coaches and one GM drew pink slips during their tour of duty in the blue ice.

So, no Coach Potty-Mo, you don’t want your tandem of Mason-Hellebuyck to be Pokey and the Bandit II.

But, again, even if they bottom out, it’s going to be on you and your system(s).

Meanwhile, the Puck Pontiff and Chevy added one-vowel-short-of-a-full-load Dmitry Kulikov to shore up the left side of your blueline brigade. They’re telling you he’s an upgrade on Mark Stuart. You might not agree, given your fascination with greybeards of sketchy skill, but a left flank of Josh Morrissey, Toby Enstrom and Kulikov sounds better to me than Morrissey-Enstrom-Stuart.

On the down side, Coach Potty-Mo, they took away your favorite play thing, Chris Thorburn. I’m not convinced that means you’ll be less of a street busker with your forward combinations—your juggling Thorbs from fourth to first line and the two slots in between truly was annoying—because you’re apt to adopt a new teacher’s pet to infuriate the faithful.

You have your way of doings things, curious as they are, Mr. .500. They’ve seldom worked, but now they must work. If there are no meaningful matches being contested at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie next April, you’re the fall guy.

Still no contract extension for Maurice, whose lifeline has been reduced to one more season as the ice-level puppet master. Not that I think he deserves a new deal, but Cheveldayoff repeatedly insists that he and his head coach are joined at the hip. So what’s the hangup? Could it be that the Puck Pontiff has grown iffy about Coach Potty-Mo? Naw. He won’t let Maurice go into the season as a lame duck. I say it gets done this month.

Paul Henderson and Yvan Cournoyer celebrate the iconic goal.

I get a chuckle out of young people who weren’t even an embryo in 1972 telling those of us who were there that their goal in 2010 was more iconic than our goal. Our goal, of course, is Paul Henderson sliding a shot under Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak, in a hostile, corrupt environment a world away to win a signature, culture-shifting series that was as much about politics as pucks. Their goal is Sidney Crosby whipping a shot through Ryan Miller’s legs to win an Olympic gold medal against a southern neighbor in front of friends and family in the cozy confines of our own back yard. Only someone who lived both can compare both, and there is no comparison. Yet Emily Sadler of Sportsnet submits that Crosby’s 2010 golden goal is the most iconic moment in Canadian sports history. I submit that Emily is showing her age.

Among other things, Sadler allows that the Crosby goal has earned “Where were you when…” status. I’ve got news for her. I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing when the red light behind Miller flashed. But I do know that I was sitting in my living room on Wayoata Street in Transcona, with my young son Tony on my lap, when Foster Hewitt yelped, “Henderson has scored for Canada!”

I get the drill. The Sadler piece was meant to stir conversation and debate, which it no doubt did. But, geez, someone at Sportnet might have clued in and had a writer who was at least knee high to Yvan Cournoyer in ’72 scribble that story. A 30something simply cannot relate to the Cold War intrigue of the times, any more than they can provide a first-hand account of what it was like when John, Paul, George and Ringo arrived on our shores. Heck, most of them don’t even know who John, Paul, George and Ringo are.

How intense was the eight-game, us-vs.-them ’72 series between our guys and the Soviet Union? Here’s what Team Canada leader Phil Esposito offered years after the fact: “I’ve said this publicly and I’m not too proud of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that I would have killed those sons of bitches to win. And it scares me.” Can you imagine Crosby saying that about the Americans? After losing the opening skirmish, 7-3, head coach Harry Sinden detected a shift in attitude among the Canadian players. “They switched to a war mentality,” he said. “They understood the politics at play, the Cold War backdrop. Imagine a team playing the Germans in the middle of World War II—that’s what it was like.”

Moving to present-day topics, I note that a group of 40 guys in Buffalo have set a new world record for marathon shinny by playing an 11-day hockey game. Yes, 11 days. By happy coincidence, Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane has now gone 11 days without being in trouble with the law.

Just wondering: Would you want a field goal kicker who’s last name begins with the letters C-R-A-P? That’s what the Saskatchewan Roughriders have in Tyler Crapigna, whose wonky right leg has failed Gang Green twice when they needed it most. The Riders are already 0-2 on a new Canadian Football League season, leaving us to wonder what the before/after is on head coach Chris Jones being asked to leave that swanky, new building on the bald Saskatchewan prairie? I say he’s gone by Labour Day, especially if he doesn’t find a leg that aims straight.

Theoren Fleury

For those of you puzzled because Theoren Fleury isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame, here’s the reason in his own words (from his book, Playing with Fire, in which he details his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing, his heavy gambling and his bar brawling): “The whole league reacted to my leaving the way you would feel after having a big, happy dump. There were a lot of guys like me in the game, but they didn’t want anyone to know that. My presence kept the bad news on the front of the sports pages. Hockey wants to be known as the school’s good-looking, clean-cut jock, and I was really fucking with that image.”

Here’s proof that sports scribes carry no influence on the public: Steve Simmons of Postmedia pleaded with his readers to support the Toronto Argonauts prior to their home-opener vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats, writing: “Please, pretty please, pretty, pretty please, buy a ticket and take in the game against Hamilton.” Let’s ignore the deeper issue, that being a prominent Canadian columnist serving as a screaming shill for the Argos and the CFL. I’m actually okay with that because, like Simmons and most others who have covered three-down football, I love the CFL. As for Simmons’ sway with readers, the head count was only 13,583 for the opener and even less, 11,219, for their encore performance against the B.C. Lions. He has more than five times that many followers on Twitter.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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My Two Hens in the Hockey House deliver the goods on the Winnipeg Jets and Kevin Cheveldayoff’s addition by subtraction

Well, look who’s dropped in for an unexpected chit-chat about all things Winnipeg Jets. That’s right, it’s the Two Hens in the Hockey House, who, when last seen, were breaking away to enjoy summer. Turns out they delayed their good, ol’ summertime frolic to discuss the most recent goings-on with their fave National Hockey League outfit and its general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: What gives, girlfriend? I thought we were going to give our jaws a rest until October. What happened to a summer sans chit-chat about the Jets?

Answer Lady: Kevin Cheveldayoff happened, that’s what.

Question Lady: How so?

Answer Lady: Well, once they put the NHL entry draft to bed, I was convinced he’d become Rip Van Chevy and snooze the summer away, like he always does. Remember? Way back in April, I predicted this would be Chevy’s seventh annual Summer of Nothing. So what does the guy do? Instead of heading to the cottage to dip his fishing line into the lake, he dips his toes into the free-agent pool. He goes all GM on us. Go figure.

Question Lady: So, what are you telling me, that you were wrong?

Answer Lady: Yes, I was wro…I was wro…geez, I’m like the Fonz on Happy Days. I can’t say the word wro…oh, pooh. I was mistaken about Chevy. This time. Every other time I was unmistaken.

Question Lady: Actually, you weren’t wrong, girlfriend. You predicted that Chevy would be active once the free-agent bell rang. You said he’d sign at least one player. Remember which player?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, Chris Thorburn. D’oh! Can you believe the St. Louis Blues actually reeled that sluggo in for two years, at 900K per? Were they not paying attention? Thorbs is a five-minutes-a-night forward with zero upside.

Question Lady: Aren’t they buying his bare knuckles? You know, to replace Ryan Reaves? One goon for another?

Answer Lady: Oh, ya, like that’s going to fly with the faithful in St. Loo. Thorbs is a fighter like I’m Jennifer Aniston’s stand-in. He drops his gloves and holds on like barnacles clinging to the hull of a rusty, old ship. He had what, 13 scraps last season? And threw maybe four punches. By the way, they don’t call players like Reaves and Thorbs goons anymore. They’re energy enforcers, don’t you know.

Chris Thorburn

Question Lady: I’ll try to keep that in mind. Meanwhile, won’t Thorbs be missed?

Answer Lady: Ya, like a yeast infection. Thorbs and Anthony Peluso have long been my measuring sticks for the Jets’ progress. I said in June 2015 that the presence of either in the lineup served as a retardant to the development of the young players, and only when Thorbs and Joe Palooka were told to vamoose would we see actual progress. They’re both gone—hallelujah!—so I guess it’s game on.

Question Lady: Is Steve Mason going to be the answer in goal next season?

Answer Lady: I’d feel a whole lot better about Mason if he wasn’t coming over from Philadelphia. I mean, the Flyers know goaltending like Gary Bettman knows the North End of Winnipeg. They haven’t had anyone who could stop a sniffle since Ron Hextall was acting like a one-man SWAT team in the 1980s. Talk about a guy off his nut. And now Ronnie Axe-tall is the Flyers GM. Who’d have thunk that?

Question Lady: Shouldn’t we be concerned that if Hextall has no use for Mason, Cheveldayoff could have done better than a recycled Philly Flyer?

Answer Lady: I’m going to cut Chevy some slack here. Yes, he’s goalie blind. As goalie blind as the Flyers. And it’s of his own doing that he found himself sifting through the dregs of the goaltenders who became available in the past 2½ months. But…at least he did something. Finally. Even a Philly Flyers reject has to be better than what Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson delivered last season.

Question Lady: You don’t think Hellebuyck is the real deal?

Answer Lady: Is Homer Simpson the poster boy for good parenting? Does the Pope skip mass? If Hellebuyck played in New Jersey or Columbus or San Jose, no one in Jets Nation would be talking about him. I mean, it’s not like everyone in the NHL is saying, “Geez, if we could pry that Hellebuyck guy out of Winnipeg we’d be a shoo-in to win the Stanley Cup.” I think Hellebuyck will be an upgrade on Hutchinson as a backup. That’s as half full as I can make that glass.

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Question Lady: What do you know about the defenceman Chevy reeled in, Dmitry Kulikov?

Answer Lady: I know he’s a Russian, he shoots left, he spent an awful lot of time in the repair shop last season, he’s buddies with Blake Wheeler and Rink Rat Scheifele, he’s overpaid, and he could use one more vowel in his first name.

Question Lady: That’s it? That’s all you have to say about him?

Answer Lady: What else is there to say? The guy was a bust in Buffalo, but the Jets believe he’ll be boffo paired with Buff. Now stop me before I OD on alliteration.

Question Lady: So are you giving Chevy a passing grade for his off-season tinkering?

Answer Lady: Mostly, it’s been addition by subtraction. Gone are Thorbs, Peluso, Ondrej Pavelec, Mark Stuart, Paul Postma…that’s all good. Meanwhile, the Jets are better with a Mason-Hellebuyck combo than Hellebuyck-Hutchinson and, if buy-a-vowel Dmitry works out, the blueline is improved. But Chevy gagged at the expansion/entry drafts by dropping 11 slots in the first round just to protect fringe players on a non-playoff roster. And, he still hasn’t dealt with the elephant in the room—Jacob Trouba’s desire to get out of Dodge. Getting Trouba’s signature on a long-term contract ought to be priority No. 1. Overall, I’d give Chevy a passing grade C, for getting the goalie and for what he unloaded. He’s probably earned a week or two of down time at the cottage.

Question Lady: Before we go, what did you think of the TSN and Sportsnet coverage on free-agent day?

Answer Lady: I mostly watched TSN and their talking heads did boffo business, although I cringe every time I see Aaron Ward. Still can’t get past that domestic violence issue. As for Sportsnet, was it bad-hair day on the panel, or what? I mean, what’s up with the mops on Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos? Friedman looked like he had half a head and Kypreos looked like he had his hair cut at Coif du John Deere. I swear, he must have laid down on the lawn and let someone run over his head with a riding mower. And the glare from John Shannon’s coke-bottle glasses blinded me. I’m still seeing double. Other than that, it was all good. Both groups were on their games.

Question Lady: Okay, that’s it. Time to do summer. See you in October.

Answer Lady: Sounds like a plan. Have fun and don’t forget your sunscreen.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.


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Winnipeg Jets: Teemu Selanne’s smile was the real Finnish flash

Back in the day, when I was cheeky and totally irreverent, I would refer to Mike Smith as Mikhail due to his fondness and fascination for Russian hockey players.

Actually, it was more of an obsession for comrade Mikhail.

Considered something of an egghead in National Hockey League circles because he held a doctorate in Russian studies and wrote books (as if that’s a bad thing), Smith collected two things: Native American art and comrades. Under his watch as the mad scientist general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, he turned the town into Little Moscow. It was here an Igor, there an Ivan, everywhere a Vladimir. Trouble was, he didn’t always recruit the best of Mother Russia (hello, Sergei Bautin).

Teemu Selanne

That didn’t prevent Smith from pumping their tires, though, and so it was one night in early October 1992 when the comrade and I were standing at the back of the Winnipeg Arena press box, in whispered conversation about two of the five rookies in his lineup.

Selanne is a good one,” I submitted. “You guys didn’t make a mistake with him.”

If you think Teemu is good,” Smith responded, “wait until you see what Alexei can do. He’s better than Teemu. He’ll win the scoring championship in this league one day.”

Oops.

There’s no argument that Alexei Zhamnov was among the most skilled players to ever pull Jets linen over his head and shoulders. He was an artist and a wizard, a sometimes breath-taking magician of the Kent Nilsson ilk. But better than Teemu Selanne? Not so much.

The numbers tell the tale of the two players. Longevity tells the tale. One Stanley Cup ring tells the tale. Induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame tells the tale.

But it isn’t the goals, the dashing and daring, the trinkets that are what I remember most about Teemu Selanne. It’s the joy—unbridled, pure and wide-eyed—that he took from the ice to the people.

Selanne was seldom the biggest player in the room, but he was always the biggest kid in the room. Any room. That’s why we still hear stories about how he’d step outside and join the neighborhood kids in Winnipeg for a rousing game of road hockey. Imagine that. An NHL all-star goofing around on snowy streets and shouting “Car!” whenever they’d catch sight of a Buick, Chevy or Ford rumbling down the road toward goal posts made of the white stuff.

That was Teemu.

We called him the Finnish Flash because of the lickety-split in his stride and the electricity he brought to NHL rinks, especially the Jets’ old barn on Maroons Road, but we should have been talking about his smile. That was the real Finnish flash.

Selanne arrived in River City in 1992, 22 years old and with an innocence that I don’t think he ever lost. He took Jets Nation on a magic carpet ride that winter, scoring a mind-popping 76 goals to remove Mike Bossy’s name from the record book, a freshman achievement that has not been challenged, nor is it likely to be. His rookie points total, 132, is second to only one other first-year player. That guy’s name is Gretzky, Wayne. But, in the eyes of the NHL, No. 99 was an unrookie because he had spent one season getting his feet wet in the World Hockey Association. Thus, the frosh records belong to Selanne.

Now that he has earned entry into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’ll be mentioned that the Finnish Flash was but a passing comet in Winnipeg. Here for a good time, not a long time. And, yes, hockey fans down Disneyland way have every right to claim Selanne as their own, because he spent 15 of his 21 NHL crusades with the Anaheim Ducks compared to parts of four in Jets colors. They even had a special night in his honour, raising his No. 8 to the rafters during a 90-minute salute at the Honda Center.

But we know different. He was loaner. Teemu is ours.

That’s just how it is when a guy lights up all those cold, dreary nights on the frozen tundra with Herculean performances, and when he steps outside to play road hockey with a bunch of urchins who have posters of him taped to their bedroom walls. All the while flashing that smile.

Just like he did on Monday when he took a phone and received the glad tidings from Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Lanny McDonald.

I owe you big time beers, boys,” a beaming Selanne told McDonald.

Yup, that’s our guy Teemu. An absolute joy.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.


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About the Winnipeg Jets being gobsmacked at the NHL entry draft…mama’s boys…a boy with two mamas…Wheat Kings and Flin Flon Bombers power…and everything’s just Ducky

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

Every time I watch the National Hockey League’s annual garage sale of freshly scrubbed teenagers, I think of John Bowie Ferguson, the cigar-chomping, one time maestro of a long gone, but not forgotten Winnipeg Jets franchise that actually made the playoffs.

John Ferguson

It didn’t matter which player Fergy and his scouts had plucked from the entry draft pool, first round or fifth. The same words would gush from his mouth: “We couldn’t believe he was still there.”

It was Fergy’s way of telling us that he and his bird dogs had pulled one over on every other outfit in the NHL. How could all those teams have been so blind as to overlook so-and-so? D’oh!

And so it is with Kevin Cheveldayoff and shinny sleuths in the employ of the present-day Winnipeg Jets, whose sole playoff experience in six years was like bad speed-dating. You know, one and done, don’t call me I’ll call you. GM Chevy and underlings would have us believe that their prize catch in Friday night’s auction of teen talent, Kristian Vesalainen, was among the select group of players they had targeted with their original pick, No. 13 overall. So, imagine their gobsmacked disbelief and delight when the Finn “was still there” at the 24th shout-out.

We were surprised he was there,” insisted director of amateur scouting Mark Hillier. “There were certain guys we were targeting at 13 and then 24, but he would have been in the mix at 13. We were happy to get him for sure at 24.”

It’s worth noting that Hillier’s pants weren’t on fire as he spoke, so I’ll play along and accept that he was telling the truth.

The question then becomes this: Why was Vesalainen still available to Cheveldayoff on his first trip to the podium at the United Center in Chicago? Has the kid got leprosy? The cooties? Beats me. I suppose we’ll have to ask GMs and bird dogs in Las Vegas, Tampa Bay, Calgary, the Republic of Tranna, Boston, San Jose, St. Louis, New York, Edmonton and Arizona, because they’re the D’oh boys who took a pass and left the big Finnish forward to Chevy’s pleasure.

So, if we are to take the Jets’ braintrust at their word (and we all know that hockey people never, ever, ever tell fibs), here’s what they pulled off in the past week or so: They convinced veteran defenceman Toby Enstrom to waive his no-movement clause to shield one of Mathieu Perreault, Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, Tyler Myers and Andrew Copp from the clutches of the Vegas Golden Knights; they surrendered 11 places in the entry draft queue (No. 13 down to 24) and a third-round pick to protect Enstrom and/or Marko Dano in the Vegas expansion draft; and they still—still!—landed the guy they would have chosen at No. 13.

That’s pure genius, craphouse luck or someone’s nose is growing.

Here are 11 names to keep in mind for future reference: Nick Suzuki, Callan Foote, Erik Brannstrom, Juuso Valimaki, Timothy Liljegren, Urho Vaakanainen, Joshua Norris, Robert Thomas, Fliip Chytil, Kailer Yamamoto and Pierre-Olivier Joseph. We’ll never know what Cheveldayoff would have done had he held on to the 13th choice, because he and Puck Pontiff Mark Chipman don’t make their business our business, but if any one of those 11 players chosen in the 13-23 slots has a better NHL career than Vesalainen, then flipping positions with Vegas to preserve a non-playoff roster must be judged a mistake. Unless, of course, Vesalainen scores a Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2020. Then it’s pure genius.

Apparently, hockey players are a bunch of mama’s boys, because mom almost always gets the first hug after her son’s name is called at the entry draft. And I think that’s wonderful.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan with his two moms, Fran and Nancy.

Speaking of moms and wonderful, Jaret Anderson-Dolan has two wonderful moms, Fran and Nancy, and it’s a wonderful story. Drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings, the Spokane Chiefs forward has been subjected to anti-gay comments and roadblocks (some Western Hockey League clubs wouldn’t touch Anderson-Dolan because of his family makeup), but the Kings were having none of that. “If anybody had a problem with his family situation, they should go screw themselves and find another job,” L.A. director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t care if it’s two moms, I don’t care if it’s two dads. What I know is the reason he is the kid he is, is because of his upbringing. It’s that nature versus nurture thing. We certainly weren’t scared off by it. You see where we took him. For me it’s nothing. It’s a matter-of-fact thing. It’s just a detail. It was nothing we ever discussed. He has two loving, wonderful parents that raised him to be a certain way, which is why he is the player he is today. We got a kid we coveted and I’m happy that he was raised the way he was and I’m happy he’s the player that he is.” Amen to that, brother Mark.

Bobby Clarke, Nolan Patrick and Ron Hextall.

My favorite visual during the entry draft was the sight of one Brandon Wheat King standing on stage with another Brandon Wheat King while a Flin Flon Bomber looked on approvingly. I refer, of course, to former Wheatie Ron Hextall, the Philadelphia Flyers GM who selected Nolan Patrick with the second overall pick. If young Nolan develops into the second coming of Flin Flon’s Bobby Clarke, the Flyers will be a force.

I don’t know who chooses the inductees to the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame (I imagine the Puck Pontiff has the final say), but whomever certainly got it right with Dale Hawerchuk. Ducky goes into the Hall later this year, joining Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and the ingrate Bobby Hull, who refused to attend his own party last year. Next up should be Ben Hatskin and Lars-Erik Sjoberg. What say you, Mark Chipman?

I swear, I heard a talking head say one of the kids drafted Saturday morning in Chicago weighs 141 pounds. One hundred and forty-one pounds! Cripes, man, Dustin Byfuglien’s late-night snacks weigh more than that.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she’s old and probably should think about getting a life.

 


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Dial 1-800-UR-5HOLE if you know a goaltender who can help the Winnipeg Jets

They’re baaaack! And one of them is totally PO’d with the Winnipeg Jets.

I refer, of course, to my two Hens in the Hockey House, who know all and aren’t afraid to tell all about the only National Hockey League club that apparently believes quality goaltending is an afterthought.

Take it away, ladies…

Question Lady: I’m kind of nervous about getting into a discussion about the Jets with you…you look really sour. Kind of like the way Melania Trump looks every time The Donald tries to hold her hand. Are you not fond of general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff’s handiwork?

Answer Lady: Does a vegetarian order a double Whopper with cheese? Is the White House fond of fake freaking news?

Question Lady: Oooooh, you are some kind of owly. But, hey, now that you’ve mentioned the White House, I note that the Pittsburgh Penguins say they’ll accept an invitation to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if President Trump tosses down the welcome mat to celebrate their Stanley Cup victory. Do you think Trump actually knows any of the Penguins by name?

Answer Lady: Probably just Evgeni Malkin. If there’s one thing Trump knows, it’s Russians. Actually, Malkin could become the first Russian to visit the White House during The Donald’s era who won’t have to hide in a closet.

Question Lady: So much has happened since the Penguins were feted for their championship. I don’t even know where to begin. I…

Answer Lady: Sorry to interrupt, but I guess that makes you just like the Jets—they don’t know where the hell to begin either! So far, their off-season has been brought to us by the letters W, T and F!

Question Lady: Ouch. That’s harsh.

Answer Lady: Harsh? You want harsh, girlfriend? Harsh is jacking up ticket prices at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie—and probably the cost of hot dogs and beer, too—and then doing sweet petite to improve a roster that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. That’s harsh. And flipping ballsy.

Question Lady: Okay, but what makes you think Chevy’s finished giving the club a makeover?

Answer Lady: Oh, get a grip, girl. He’s going to give his roster a makeover like Johnny Depp is going to break bread with the Trumps.

Question Lady: Geez, that’s your second or third Trump reference already. What’s up with you and The Donald?

Answer Lady: What can I say? I get a kick out of real life cartoon characters.

Question Lady: Okay, back to the Jets. What were you saying about Chevy?

Answer Lady: Chevy does the same thing every…freaking…summer. His scouts instruct him what pimple-poppers to claim in the NHL entry draft, then he does the Howard Hughes thing and becomes a recluse. He hides out at his cottage. But I don’t blame it all on Chevy. The Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, is the commander-in-chief. Most people know that, even if mainstream media won’t mention it. Chipman is just like that new goomer in Phoenix who’s running everyone out of town. The only difference is that the Puck Pontiff isn’t as obvious as Andrew Barroway.

Question Lady: Were you surprised that Barroway got rid of Shane Doan, the last surviving member of the Jets original NHL franchise?

Answer Lady: Doan’s best-before date expired about the same time as Jaromir Jagr’s. But why is a guy who’s owned an NHL franchise for less than a month making that decision? What’s Barroway’s hockey background? What’s his hockey expertise? Don Cherry’s empty beer bottles have seen more shinny than Andrew Barroway. Shouldn’t Doan’s status be a general manager/head coach’s call? Whatever, a guy like Doan, who’d been the face of the Coyotes franchise for two decades, deserved better than an eight-minute chin-wag and a handshake from GM John Chayka in a coffee shop.

Question Lady: With Dave Tippett now the former head coach in Arizona, do you think Paul Maurice should be looking over his shoulder?

Answer Lady: Name me an NHL head coach who shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder. Other than Mike Backcock, that is. If the local lads soil the sheets in the first couple of months next season—and if Tippett is still available—cries of impeachment shall ring out from the rabble. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if Vegas bookies list Maurice as the odds-on favorite to be the next head coach fired, especially given that the Puck Pontiff and Chevy don’t seem interested in providing the poor sap with any new weapons. Like a freaking goaltender!

Question Lady: Come on, girlfriend. You don’t really believe the Jets will do nothing, do you?

Answer Lady: Here’s my prediction—their big free agent signing will be Chris Thorburn. Yes, that Chris Thorburn. Chevy gave credence to that possibility the morning after the Vegas Golden Knights laid claim to Thorbs’ bare knuckles in the expansion draft. Thorbs will be back. Remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: Yikes! I think the rabble will be lighting torches and brandishing pitch forks if that happens. It’d be like a scene out of an old John Wayne western movie where the angry mob storms the sheriff’s office to get the bad guy and string him up.

Answer Lady: Like I said, little lady, remember where you heard it first.

Question Lady: What about that tall drink of water from Finland that the Jets plucked in the first round of the entry draft on Friday night? Can he help?

Answer Lady: Does Kristian Vesalainen play goal? Negative. Does he play defence on the left side? Negative. The Jets need goaltending help STAT. But the way other NHL outfits are gobbling up the available talent, they’ll have to settle for any old schmuck wearing a mask.

Question Lady: Hey, Batman wears a mask! Maybe he can play goal for the Jets!

Answer Lady: It’s even too late to get him. Batman just died.

Question Lady: Holy five-hole and kaPOW! I guess Chevy will have do it via free agency or trades.

Answer Lady: Trades? Chevy isn’t allowed to make trades without pontifical blessing. All he does is talk about the trades he almost made.

Question Lady: Is there anything about the Jets that you like?

Answer Lady: Of course. Absolutely. This isn’t a hot mess like in Vancouver. I like the Jets’ incredible young talent. Boffo kids. They’ve got game. Unfortunately, the decision-makers don’t. They’re afraid of their own shadows. That’s why I’m frustrated and PO’d. I see GMs in other NHL towns plugging holes, filling gaps and fleshing out their rosters, but all we hear in River City is the sound of crickets.

Question Lady: Well, I must take my leave. Time to travel and enjoy summer. You?

Answer Lady: No plans. I guess I’ll see you in October. Until then, don’t forget your sunblock and, if you stumble upon anyone wearing a mask in your travels, tell him to call 1-800-UR-5HOLE pronto. That’s the Jets’ goaltender hotline.

Patti Dawn Swansson has been scribbling about Winnipeg sports for 47 years, which means she is old and probably should think about getting a life.