Well, the Winnipeg Jets have laid waste to the Nashville Predators, winning 5-1 in Game 7 of their National Hockey League playoff series, so it’s time to check in with my two Hens in the Hockey House, who’ve come out of hibernation to join the rabid rabble as the Jets continue on their Stanley Cup crusade.
Take it away, ladies…
Question Lady: Oh, happy day! I’m so giddy! It’s the merry month of May and the Jets are still playing hockey! Round 3 of the playoffs coming up! Can you believe it, girlfriend?
Answer Lady: Yes, I’m a believer. I also now officially believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, that Donald Trump really is president of the United States, and there are now skating rinks in hell. For sure, hell has frozen over.
Question Lady: Is that the best you can do? Sarcasm? Can’t you at least show some enthusiasm for the city and the Jets?
Answer Lady: Hey, I’m as happy as a cottage owner on the May long weekend. The Jets paddywhacking the Predators is the best thing to happen to Good, Ol’ Hometown since the Guess Who did that Pan-Am Games gig in 1999. Which reminds me: I still can’t believe those boys aren’t in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Question Lady: Oh, I know. Totally criminal. I mean, Bon Jovi…Journey…Isaac Hayes…those slugs are in the Rock Hall and it’s still on Randy, Burton, Jimmy and Garry’s bucket list? That’s like leaving the meat out of a Sals cheese nip. Do you think it’s true what Jets captain Blake Wheeler was saying last month: Everything flies under the radar when you play in Winnipeg?
Answer Lady: That’s total bunk if you’re talking about the Jets. But apparently it applies to rock bands.
Question Lady: Okay, enough of the Guess Who. We’re here to talk NHL playoffs. Who and what has impressed you during the Jets’ march to the third round of the NHL’s spring runoff?
Answer Lady: Start with Stacey Nattrass. Sorry to keep it on a music theme, but she kicked some high-priced country bumpkin butt as an anthem warbler during the Nashville-Winnipeg series. Can you believe Lady Antebellum gagging on the words to the American anthem down there in Twang Town last week? Talk about your Star-Spangled Bummers. Tells me all I need to know about today’s crop of country crooners. Brutal. But I digress. I’ll answer your question with a question: What’s not to like about the local hockey heroes?
Question Lady: Nice to finally hear you singing from a different page in the song book.
Answer Lady: What’s that supposed to mean?
Question Lady: Let me refresh your memory, girlfriend…one year ago, I made this bold prediction for the Jets—and I quote: “I think they’ll have a clear path to the playoffs next year. What’s to stop them?” You rejected me like an overcooked steak at 529 Wellington. Your answer was—and, again, I quote: “One, coaching. Two, goaltending.” You wanted Paul Maurice canned. You called him Coach Potty-Mouth and a snake oil salesman. You also submitted that Connor Hellebuyck was a backup goalie at best. As I recall, you said Bucky was to goaltending what Homer Simpson is to quality parenting. You also wanted Dustin Byfuglien traded. What say you now? Other than “D’oh?”
Answer Lady: Just my luck. I’ve got a girlfriend with a memory like an elephant and she takes great glee in pointing out that I’m Dumbo the elephant. We’ll have to rethink our living arrangement. Anyway, I’ll tell you who made Maurice a better head coach—Pekka Rinne.
Question Lady: Are you off your nut? Did somebody spike your latté? I mean, how in the name of Georges Vezina did the Predators goaltender make Maurice a better bench boss?
Answer Lady: Were you not paying attention? Rinne sprung more leaks than Wiki. He got the hook not once, not twice, but three times. In seven starts vs. the Jets. That has to be a first. NHL general managers are going to have a four-egg omelette on their faces when he’s handed the Vezina Trophy next month in Las Vegas.
Question Lady: So you still aren’t sold on Maurice?
Answer Lady: I’ll give him this: He somehow convinced Byfuglien and the others to stop playing dumb-dumb hockey vis-a-vis undisciplined penalties. That’s huge. This Jets outfit plays with, as Brian Burke describes it, anger and hostility. They can be very belligerent. They’re tough. They’re defiant. They have a subtle arrogance that I really like. They swarm. They’re the go-go gang. They win the one-on-one skirmishes. Skill overrides all else, and they seldom come mentally unhinged. Very impressive. That, and Hellebuyck’s emergence as an elite goaler, are the reasons why there’ll be another meaningful match at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie on Saturday night.
Question Lady: That’s it? Discipline and goaltending?
Answer Lady: No, major tip of the bonnet to GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. And his bird dogs—especially his bird dogs. Chevy has talked, ad nauseum, about the draft-and-develop blueprint, and his amateur scouts have done boffo business from the day they told him to select Rink Rat Scheifele with their first shoutout at the entry draft in 2011. But it’s Chevy’s bartering that has rounded off this roster. Look who scored in the 5-1 win over Nashville in Game 7 on Thursday night: Tyler Myers, reeled in as a major piece in the Evander Kane trade; Paul Stastny, two goals, brought in on deadline day. Chevy worked at a glacial pace, which was frustrating, but when he was motivated to make bold strokes they were the right strokes.
Question Lady: What do you see for the Jets going forward?
Answer Lady: A Stanley Cup parade.
Question Lady: Really? You’re saying the Jets will win the Stanley Cup?
Answer Lady: Oh ya, baby. As sure as Puck Finn has a really, really bad beard, it’s a done deal. Like Eddie Olczyk said about Stanley on the Day of the Long Faces in 1996—“It’s coming back to Winnipeg!” Nashville was the big nut to crack. Now the Jets have home-fans advantage the rest of the way. The Little Hockey House On The Prairie will be a graveyard for the Vegas Golden Knights and the Eastern Conference survivor.
Question Lady: You’re not convinced that Vegas is the real deal?
Answer Lady: Sure they are. They’re jitter-bugs on ice. But the local lads will overwhelm them. The Jets are too fast on the puck, too hard on the puck, they bring too much back pressure, they’re too hostile, they’re too much of everything. And they’ll have a better anthem singer.
Question Lady: I’m not so sure about that. Apparently country crooner Carrie Underwood has offered to sing the anthems at one of the games in Las Vegas. Can’t beat that, can you?
Answer Lady: Ha! Fat lot of good she was for the Predators. The Golden Knights can have her. We’ll stick with Stacey…or maybe drag Burton Cummings and the Guess Who out of mothballs. Maybe Neil Young. Maybe Bif Naked. Maybe Chantal Kreviazuk. Maybe Jennifer Hanson in her little red dress!
Question Lady: So how many games will it take the Jets to give Vegas a paddywhacking in the Western Conference final?
Answer Lady: Six. Jets in six. Then you and I will party at Portage and Main.
I cannot survive in a 140- or 280-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
I didn’t think anyone would buy the “everything goes under the radar when you play in Winnipeg,” bunk that Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selling last week. Other than the gullible, fawning faithful, that is.
But along comes Paul Wiecek and he’s actually swallowing that cup of Winnipeg Jets Kool-Aid.
Right to the very last drop.
Here’s what the Winnipeg Free Press columnist wrote about Wheeler’s “under the radar” malarkey: “That might have been true before this season. In fact, it almost certainly was true.”
In fact, it almost certainly was not true.
Which National Hockey League outfit, the Jets (versions 1.0 and 2.0) or the mega-market Tranna Maple Leafs, do you suppose has produced more individual regular-season award winners and more all-stars since River City was invited to join the fun for the 1979-80 season (excluding, of course, the years when Winnipeg was dark)? I’ll give you a hint: It isn’t the team that skates in the shadow of the CN Tower.
Here are the facts, ma’am…just the facts (they aren’t hard to find):
Winnipeg Jets 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Dale Hawerchuk 1981-82, Teemu Selanne 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Tom Watt 1981-82, Bob Murdoch 1989-90 King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Kris King 1995-96 All-star teams (1st or 2nd): Hawerchuk 1984-85, Selanne 1992-93, Keith Tkachuk 1994-95, Phil Housley 1991-92, Alexei Zhamnov 1994-95 Rookie all-star team: Selanne 1992-93, Bob Essensa 1989-90, Iain Duncan 1987-88, Boris Mironov 1993-94, Patrik Laine 2016-17 Total: 5 individual awards, 5 all-star teams, 5 rookie all-stars—15.
Tranna Maple Leafs 1979-80 to 1995-96; 2011-12 to 2016-17
Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews 2016-17 Frank Selke Trophy: Doug Gilmour 1992-93 Jack Adams Trophy: Pat Burns 1992-93 All-star teams: Borje Salming 1979-80 Rookie all-star team: Felix Potvin 1992-93, Wendel Clark 1985-86, Dan Daoust 1982-83, Kenny Jonsson 1994-95, Jake Gardiner 2011-12, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews 2016-17 Total: 3 individual awards, 1 all-star team, 7 rookie all-stars—11.
We all know les Leafs fly “under the radar” like Donald Trump is subtle on Twitter, yet voters have ignored them season after season after season.
Consider the Calder Trophy as an e.g. Until Auston Matthews was anointed the NHL’s leading freshman last spring, do you know how long it had been since a member of les Leafs won the top frosh bauble? Fifty-one freaking years! Half a century! When Brit Selby accepted the trinket, Lester Pearson was Prime Minister of Canada. Neil Young had just joined Buffalo Springfield. Hockey Night in Canada was still televised in black and white.
But two Jets—Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne—copped the Calder after Selby and before Mathews. And a third, Patrik Laine, was runnerup last year.
This whole Winnipeg is “under the radar” thing is a total copout. It’s such a lame lament. It sounds like the theme of an “Oh, woe are we” pity party. I can hear Leslie Gore singing “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” as I type. Rodney Dangerfield should be their poster boy. No respect, I’ll tell ya…no respect. Look, I get the drill. Winnipeg is mocked, maligned and ridiculed as a backwater burg. It’s so remote, you have to drive 500 miles just to get to the Middle of Nowhere, also known as Regina. But I invite anyone to provide evidence in support of the notion that a Jets player or coach has been cheated out of an award due to locale.
Wiecek didn’t stop at one swig of the Jets Kool-Aid. He doubled down on the conspiracy theory in a follow-up essay: “There has been some loose talk in recent weeks about Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler having an outside shot at taking down this season’s Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player,” he wrote. “That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons, beginning with the fact the Hart Trophy is voted upon by the media and Wheeler plays in the smallest media market in the entire NHL.” He wants to talk about size? Like size matters? Okay, let’s talk size. If Winnipeg is the nail on your little toe, Edmonton is the nail on your pinky finger. Yet the Oilers won 30—count ’em, 30—individual awards that are voted on (mostly by the media), 10 of them going to players not named Wayne Gretzky (in the years Winnipeg wasn’t dark). There were also 32 first- or second-team all-star selections, including six chosen to the rookie team. In the National Football League, tinytown Green Bay can boast of eight Associated Press MVP awards from five players, dating back to the early 1960s. The Goliath known as New York City, with two teams since 1970, has had just two NFL MVPs. Size doesn’t matter, performance does.
So, the mighty Jets juggernaut couldn’t put a puck past a bean counter who plays goal in a beer league at Johnny’s Ice House West in Chicago. They tried for 14 minutes and one second. They tested him seven times. Nada. Scott Foster, the Blackhawks backup goaltender to the backup goaltender, was perfect on Thursday night at the United Center. His NHL career goals-against average is 0.00. I swear, there hasn’t been a better emergency replacement story in sports since Lou Gehrig took over at first base for Wally Pipp and the New York Yankees. Difference is, Gehrig hung in there for another 2,130 consecutive games. Bean Counter Foster didn’t quit his day job. He went back to his spreadsheets the following morning, knowing he’s the NHL’s feel-good story of the year. Brilliant stuff.
Speaking of Chitown goaltenders, does the name Al Rollins mean anything to you? Didn’t think so. Well, he tended goal for Chicago in 1953-54. The Blackhawks occupied the cellar in the NHL that season. They won just 12 of 70 assignments, missing the playoffs by a whopping 43 points. Rollins’ 3.23 goals-against average was worst in the league. Guess who was NHL MVP. Yup, Al Rollins. So don’t tell me Connor McDavid shouldn’t be considered for the Hart Trophy simply because his Oilers teammates suck and didn’t qualify for this spring’s Stanley Cup tournament. History records that numerous outriders have been MVP, in all leagues. Andre (Hawk) Dawson, for example, was MVP on a Major League Baseball bottom-feeder. Ditto Alex Rodriguez. Here’s a partial list of non-playoff MVPs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Los Angeles Lakers,1975-76; Larry Walker, Colorado Rockies, 1997; Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2001, 2004; Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 2003; Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies, 2006; Albert Puhols, St. Louis Cardinals, 2008; O.J. Simpson, Buffalo Bills, 1973; Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts, 1967; Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs, 1987; Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals, 2015; Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins, 2017; Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2016; Robin Yount, Milwaukee Brewers, 1989; Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles, 1991; Ernie Banks, Chicago Cubs, 1958-59; Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1987-88; Andy Bathgate, New York Rangers, 1958-59.
If I had a vote, I’d be inclined to give serious consideration to Brad Marchand as MVP in the NHL, because the Boston Bruins would be in Nowheresville without him. But I’d have to hold my nose if I included him on my ballot, because he’s a skunk. A total dweeb. People say Marchand plays “with an edge,” but I disagree. He plays dirty. He’s also a diver. Ultimately, I’d have his name on my ballot, but not at the top. I’d put Nathan MacKinnon and his 93 points/11 game-winning goals for the Colorado Avalanche first, followed by McDavid. Yup, possibly two non-playoff participants one-two. I’d have Blake Wheeler of les Jets third (he plays an honest game as opposed to Marchand’s shenanigans), then Sidney Crosby (Evgeni Malkin has marginally better numbers, but Sid the Kid still makes the Pittsburgh Penguins tick) and Marchand.
I’m not a hoops fan. Never have been. But it’s boffo that Victoria’s Steve Nash will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in part because he was a two-time National Basketball Association most valuable player. Mind you, his former sidekick with the Phoenix Suns, Shaquille O’Neal, figures Nash’s two MVP awards were a rob job. “(I should have won) three, easily. (I should have won) the two that Steve Nash got over me. It pisses me off. (Nash) knows,” Shaq once told SI.com. Get over it, Shaq.
How unusual, also refreshing, to hear an all-female broadcast team work a hockey game. Sportsnet pulled it off with Leah Hextall handling the play-by-play, Cassie Campbell-Pascall providing the backup vocals in the booth, and Nikki Reyes standing at rink-side for the Clarkson Cup, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League title match between the Markham Thunder and Kunlun Red Star. Wonder how long it will be before we hear three women working an NHL game? No doubt the very thought will make a lot of men cringe and feel like they’ve been gelded. Well, it’ll happen one day. Deal with it, boys.
Le Grand Orange has left the building. That would be Rusty Staub, who died Thursday, three days before his 74th birthday. I have one vivid memory of Staub—he stole a base in the first Major League Baseball game I witnessed live. An original member of the Montreal Expos, Staub was with the Detroit Tigers at the time and I was sitting in the first base bleachers at old Exhibition Stadium in the Republic of Tranna. Because he had the foot speed of an ATM, the Blue Jays thought it unlikely that Staub would bolt. Yet away he went. It was like watching a man pull a milk wagon. I could have poured back three pints by the time he arrived at second base. But he got there safely. Standing up, no less. Staub stood there, smiling, like a schoolboy who’d pulled the perfect prank. A nice memory.
And, finally, this week’s Steve-ism from Steve Simmons of Postmedia Tranna: Not so long ago, he described the induction of Pedro Martinez to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame as a “ridiculous choice. He spent four seasons in Montreal. That’s all.” Apparently, that made the Hall “look cheap.” And “Do you honestly believe a player with four years service belongs in a Hall of Fame? Any Hall of Fame?” Ah, but now he writes glowingly of Staub as “the baseball player in Canada so many of us cared about. The first who mattered across the country.” Staub actually spent less time with the Expos than Martinez, just 3 ½ season with the Expos, but he was inducted into the CBHF in 2012 and I don’t hear Grandpa Simmons shouting that it was a “ridiculous choice.” Nor should he. So shut up about Pedro, Steve.
I cannot survive in a 140-character world, so here are more tweets that grew up to be too big for Twitter…
That was quite the 1960s-style love-in the Winnipeg Jets held on Thursday.
It was hockey does Woodstock. Made me want to dig my hippy clothes out of the tickle trunk and put a flower in my hair. Maybe write a protest song like Neil Young or Stephen Stills. I swear, love was all around and the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, was definitely tripping on something.
You think I’m kidding? Check it out.
“I think, frankly, getting in is harder than winning it,” he said.
He was talking about the Stanley Cup tournament. Perhaps believing the rabble to be easily swayed or totally whacked out of their minds, the Jets co-bankroll actually stood before news scavengers and proposed that qualifying for the National Hockey League post-season was a more daunting task than taking ownership of the great silver goblet. And he didn’t have his tongue in his cheek.
That’s some serious, mind-blowing blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda. What next? He’s going to tell us training camp is moving to Max Yasgur’s farm upstate from New York City?
Chipman’s belief doesn’t merely disagree with basic math, it totally suspends reality. It’s newspaper taxis, tangerine trees, marmalade skies and rocking horse people eating marshmallow pies. Ya, that’s right, it’s Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Fantasy. Each spring, 16 outfits (more than half the league) earn the right to compete for the Stanley Cup. Since 2010, all 30 NHL clubs have qualified for the playoffs at least once, yet only four have won the big prize. What part of that equation does the Puck Pontiff think we’re too stupid to understand? Only someone trying to excuse five failing seasons in six would insult his fan base by making such a patently absurd statement.
The good news is that Chipman, once he stopped hallucinating, stepped outside his safe zone and made at least one rather significant comment. To wit: “Our expectation is to take a step forward this year in a meaningful way.” That means playoffs, baby. Finally, meaningful matches at the Little Hockey House On The Prairie in April and perhaps May. Or not.
This is worrisome. The Jets potty-mouthed head coach, Paul Maurice, did the chin-wag thing with Bob McCown and John Shannon on Prime Time Sports in the Republic of Tranna, and he was asked if he could name his No. 1 goaltender. “No,” Coach Potty-Mo admitted. “The honest answer is it isn’t hard stamped. We think…we know that Steve Mason can put together blocks of high-end, high-end hockey. And we also firmly believe that Connor Hellebuyck will be (a starter). Where that leaves them both in terms of number of games this year, in complete honesty, I don’t have a hard number on that. We firmly believe that either one of them can establish themselves very early as the No. 1 guy and that’s the way it stayed the whole year, but we’re also aware that they’ll probably give it back and forth to each other. As long as we get average to above average goaltending we’re gonna be a very good hockey team. We think we have a talent level now that we haven’t had in the past.” Excuse me, but Hellebuyck was part of the problem last season. How is he now part of the solution? Sounds like someone else was tripping.
So, how long will Maurice and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff be sticking around after accepting contract extensions? Anyone care to let us in on the secret? Nope. “We have confidence in these people on a multi-year basis and that’s sufficient,” said the Puck Pontiff. Coach Potty-Mo, meanwhile, advised McCown and Shannon that the deal he signed a few weeks ago was for “a hundred years, a hundred million.” Cheeky boy.
Here’s the Puck Pontiff on his head coach: “I don’t think he’s been mediocre at all. It doesn’t really matter what I think or what Kev thinks. I think the most important criteria in bringing Paul back is what our players think. The level of respect that our captain has for him, and it is unanimous across our team how much he’s admired as a leader. When you get that you want to embrace it, you want to hang onto it as long as you can.” Well, for as long as you can or 100 years, whichever comes first.
Here’s the Puck Pontiff on his GM: “He’s exactly what we thought we were hiring six years ago. He has that rare combination of very high degree of competence and a very high degree of character. We landed that in Kevin on day one and he hasn’t disappointed.” I can think of at least one group of people who might disagree. They’re called fans.
Actually, I get the vibe that more among the rabble are quarreling with the re-upping of Maurice than Chevy. I can’t say that I disagree with them. The GM didn’t take his normal summer-long nap this year and Coach Potty-Mo…well, apparently the players love him. Note of caution: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers loved coach Jeff Reinebold and that didn’t work out so well, did it.
Here’s how Cheveldayoff described pitching woo to free agents Steve Mason and Dmitry Kulikov: “Those conversations were fun, they were exciting, they were exhilarating. We didn’t have to sell as much as what people might think, because the outside sold itself. It’s interesting, in both of the conversations, and other conversations that we had, one of the things that always comes up is how exciting it is to play in our building. How intimidating it can be. When the fans are on their game and they’re at the top-fever pitch, it’s a tough building to play in because, again, it’s the smallest building in the league and that means you’re right on top of everyone. Those are some of the things that they had intimated would be great to be on the other side of it. But, ultimately when it comes to free agency, the players want to know that they have a chance to win, they want to go to a place where they feel that not only can they make a difference but that they’re going to make a difference in a positive type environment.” Translation: Both Mason and Kulikov had run out of options.
I am Canadian. Let me count the ways on our 150th birthday…
I walked before I could skate, but only by about a day or two.
I believe that Lanny McDonald’s mustache is one of the seven wonders of the world.
I’m politely bitter that the Guess Who and BTO are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I mean, Journey gets into the Hall and the Guess Who and BTO don’t? Who did Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings tick off?
If I hear “Coo-roo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo-coo” I know the McKenzie Brothers are on TV and I’m going to laugh myself silly.
Our pet was Juliette.
I still know the sweater numbers for all the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs from the 1960s.
I’m convinced that our real national anthem is the theme music for Hockey Night in Canada, not O Canada.
I feel embarrassed every time Justin Bieber does something stupid.
I cheer every time Perry Mason kicks Hamilton Burger’s butt in court, because Raymond Burr is one of us.
I know that former Prime Minister Lester Pearson’s middle name was Bowles and that people also called him Mike.
I remember Diefenbunkers, Cold War government hideouts so-named in reference to former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker.
I know the Neil Young tune Long May You Run is about his hearse, Mort.
I stuck my tongue on a metal pole in winter, scant seconds after my mom warned me never to stick my tongue on a metal pole in winter.
I wore two pair of socks and plastic bags over my feet so they wouldn’t freeze solid while skating on the outdoor rinks in Winnipeg.
I know what playing spongey is.
If you tell me you have a new pair of garbos, you’re good to go for a game of spongey.
The plaintive cry of “Car!” can only mean one thing—road hockey.
I know a road apple is something you don’t eat.
I know the difference between prairie oysters (bull’s balls) and Prairie Oyster, a terrific country band that doesn’t appear to be making music anymore.
I can’t parlez vous fluently in both of our official languages, but I can converse enough well en francais to order a beer and some poutine in Quebec.
I don’t really believe Toronto is the Centre of the Universe.
Yeehaw! I know the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is all about horses, doggies, cowboys, cowgirls and Wrangler jeans, and everybody in Calgary dresses in character during the Stampede.
I know people who are being white-hatted in Cowtown are putting a Smithbilt on their heads, not a Stetson.
I remember corn brooms and the poetic sound they made on a sheet of pebbled ice.
I can tell you that the Trail Smoke Eaters were a world champion hockey team from beautiful British Columbia, not a bunch of cowboys choking on trail dust.
I still get teary-eyed when I hear Foster Hewitt cry out “Henderson has scored for Canada!”
I remember when Americans would come to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League and stay for the rest of their lives (hello, Kenny Ploen and Jackie Parker).
I know Ol’ Spaghetti Legs and Twinkle Toes were CFL players, not contestants on Dancing with the Stars.
I know Bobby Orr’s middle name. And Bobby Hull’s. And Guy Lafleur’s. And Wayne Gretzky’s. And Donald S. Cherry’s.
To me a flower isn’t something you grow in the garden…Flower wore No. 10 for les Canadiens.
I like my temperature in Fahrenheit and my distances in feet, yards and miles.
I always wish hockey players would put their teeth in before a TV interview.
To me, winter headwear is a toque, not a knitted cap.
I know Butch Goring’s hockey helmet was a SPAPS.
When I see someone with a watermelon on her or his head, I know their favorite football team is the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
I know who Youppi, Gainer the Gopher, Buzz and Boomer, Ralph the Dog, Harvey the Hound and Crazy George are.
I’m still politely bitter about the Montreal Expos leaving.
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.
Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.
Does Winnipeg get a bad rap, or are the good citizens of River City a tad too touchy? Lord knows we have a fragile psyche, because we get our knickers in a knot at the mere suggestion that our burg is not fit for man, beast nor professional athlete. Well, here’s one person’s four-part take on what makes Pegtown tick.
PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)
PART TWO: Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)
PART THREE: Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)
PART FOUR: Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)
PART ONE: It’s okay if you don’t like us (but we aren’t anybody’s arm pit)
It was the winter of 1998 and I was standing beside Ross McLennan in the Winnipeg Sun newsroom.
We peered out the window as an angry winter storm began to bare its fangs and growl, and we both knew that if we didn’t leave the building in the next half hour, or so, there existed a very real probability that we were hunkered in for the night.
“Ross,” I said to him as I stared at the white stuff swirling about outside, “why do we live here?”
“I don’t know,” he answered.
There was a pause for silence. We just stared at the snow.
“You know something,” I finally said, turning to my right and looking up at Ross. “We don’t have to live here. No. We don’t have to live here.”
So I don’t. Live there. But I do. Live there.
I have come to realize, you see, that I don’t live where I live. I live where I used to live. Where I’ve always lived. Where I always will live.
It’s just that I’m now approximately 2,300 kilometres to the left of Portage and Main. I have an ocean view. And a mountain view. There are palm trees, 365 days of golf, a wet rather than a white winter, nobody plugs in their car, and I’ve discovered uses for my arms other than swatting at mosquitos 24/7.
I hang my bonnet in Victoria, but, trust me, I live in Winnipeg.
I mean, I’m ashamed to admit this (and probably shouldn’t admit it), but I can’t tell you the name of Victoria’s mayor. I believe it’s Dean Fortin, but I’m not positive. Yes, I agree, shame on me.
The thing is, I not only can name the (soon-to-be former) mayor of Winnipeg, I know him. Personally. Mind you, I never was particularly fond of Sammy Katz, nor his smarmy smile. Always thought he was a bit like a soccer injury. You know, phony.
I figure Sammy for one of those soccer players who has been mortally wounded by a kick to the left shin bone, yet, as play continues to swirl about him as he lay clutching at his face, he’s peeking through his fingers to determine if the referee will go to his pocket and produce a red card.
The red card is, of course, the miracle cure of futbol. It has the healing powers of Jesus’s hands. The moment a mortally wounded lad is secure in the knowledge that his assailant has been shown a red card—and thereby banished from proceedings—he makes a Lourdes-like recovery and springs back into the fray with renewed vigor and an exaggerated limp that vanishes the very second play is whistled in. To me, that’s Sammy.
But I digress…
My point was/is, I know Sammy Katz is mayor in River City and I even know the names of some of those who would be mayor come October. Like Gord Steeves, who claims to know how many pot holes it takes to fill the streets of Winnipeg, because, by gosh, he’s going to fill ’em all.
I know these things because I left good, ol’ Hometown 15 years ago, but I never left.
I mean, when I make reference to the “local” paper, I’m talking about the Winnipeg Sun or Winnipeg Free Press, not the Victoria Times Colonist or Victoria News. My first order of business each morning is to call up both the Sun and Freep. I need to know what’s happening. Where it’s happening. When it’s happening. Why it’s happening. I need to know who’s happening and who isn’t happening.
I read it all. News, entertainment, sports, arts, Miss Lonelyhearts. Everything. I even stop by Mr. Sinclair Jr.’s neighborhood in the Freep on occasion, just to check out Gordo’s most recent exercise in name-dropping self-indulgence. (Quick question: Does Gordo ever eat at home with his bride, or does he always eat out with somebody who’s a somebody?)
At any rate, I care about Winnipeg. I care about its people. I am, after all, of them. Born and raised. Spent the largest segment of a 30-year career in jock journalism there.
That, however, doesn’t mean I’m under obligation to do the rah-rah, siss-boom-bah thing about all that is River City, and neither are the professional athletes we adopt.
Keep in mind that many of our adopted jocks are not in Winnipeg by choice. The sports system forced them to drop anchor in Pegtown, so it could be that they feel the system is holding them hostage, which could lend itself to no small level of bitterness about a burg.
None of us wishes to be where we don’t want to be, and there are hundreds—correction: thousands—of people living and working in Pegtown who don’t wish to live and work in Pegtown. Some of those people edit copy at a newspaper. Some flip cheese nips at The Sals. Some serve tables in pubs. Some are university profs. Some collect your garbage. And, yes, some are in the employ of the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
There is mounting suspicion that Evander Kane is among those people. That he wants to hop on the next stagecoach out of Dodge. Well, the Jets left winger should know that it’s okay if he doesn’t like us. It’s okay if he wants out of Winnipeg. That doesn’t make him O.J. or Willie Pickton or Paul Bernardo any more than it makes me Karla Homolka because I dialed up a new area code in 1999.
And it doesn’t make our burg Toronto’s, Montreal’s, Calgary’s or Vancouver’s arm pit, either. So who gives two dumps if an athlete doesn’t like us?
PART TWO:Snub us and we won’t drink your beer (and it’s all Harold Ballard’s fault)
Winnipeg has many favorable qualities to offer. A self-deprecating sense of humor is not one of them.
Winnipeg is…it’s…well, it has Napolean Complex. Small man syndrome, if you will. Its skin is thinner than the margin of error on an Angus Reid poll.
A space cadet like Ilya Bryzgalov makes a flippant statement about our burg’s parks, the frigid climes and no Russian playmates for his kids and it’s as if he’s climbed atop the Legislature building and gelded the Golden Boy. Or replaced it with a bronze statue of Joseph Stalin.
Shane Doan is tarred and feathered (figuratively) for saying he doesn’t wish to uproot his family from Phoenix when the possibility exists that the Coyotes are about to become buzzard bait in the Arizona desert. Not once does Doan utter a disparaging remark about Winnipeg, though. Nary a discouraging word. He says he doesn’t wish to move his family anywhere. Not to Vancouver. Not to Calgary or Edmonton. Not to New York or Chicago. Yet many in Thin Skin City get their knickers in a knot, in part because of a jingoistic media that includes at least one prominent True North Toady who misrepresents Doan’s feelings in a column that falsely accuses the Coyotes captain of slander.
Dieter Brock cracks wise about the Assiniboine Park Zoo three decades ago and, to this day, there are many among the rabble who would lock him in a cage with the rest of the skunks.
We get our frozen noses out of joint at the slightest suggestion we aren’t where it’s at, don’t we? How dare these filthy rich, pampered ingrates not like us. The nerve. Don’t they know we have The Forks, Folklorama, the French Quarter, Festival du Voyageur, a thriving arts and entertainment community that includes a world-renowned ballet and symphony orchestra, the Museum of Asper, affordable real estate, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda?
And, hey, it’s the Slurpee capital of the planet. No place sucks like Winnipeg. Literally. So if you slag our city, no Slurpees for you!
I can’t say with absolute certainty when we developed our Napolean Complex, but I do believe we should point an accusing finger at Humpty Harold Ballard. And the Molson family.
When I was a kid, you see, Winnipeg didn’t have an inferiority complex, even though we didn’t have a National Hockey League team to call our own. Only Toronto and Montreal did. No big deal. Besides, there was no need to feel like the ginger-haired stepchild because we had a football club that could kick big-city butt. And that’s what the Blue Bombers did. Every year.
So everything was cool.
It even got better when Ben Hatskin hijacked Robert Marvin Hull. We still didn’t have an NHL franchise, but we had the Jets and the World Hockey Association. More significant, we had Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet. The most dynamic player north, south, east and west of Boston was ours. We could turn in any direction and go “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.”
Our smugness rapidly turned to anger, though, because the hockey establishment refused to play nice. First, they went to court to prevent our Bobby from joining the Jets. Next, they refused to include our Bobby on the Team Canada side that faced off against the Soviet Union in the 1972 Summit Series. They spent the next seven years pooh-poohing our product as paperweight, even as the Jets iced an outfit that could lay a licking on 90 per cent of teams in the NHL. Eventually, most parties realized there had to be a ceasefire between the NHL and WHA, for financial sanity. There were merger talks. And a show of hands on the NHL inviting Winnipeg, Quebec City, Edmonton and New England to the party. The tally was 12-5 in favor, with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which landed an NHL franchise in 1970, Boston and Los Angeles on the nay side of the vote. That was enough to defeat the merger.
The loudest anti-acceptance voice, that with the most huff, puff and bluster, belonged to Humpty Harold Ballard, resident felon and bankroll of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I feel so elated,” Ballard brayed in celebration. “It’s like the North beating the South in the Civil War.”
“As far as Harold was concerned, Winnipeg didn’t exist,” Jets part-owner and governor Barry Shenkarow recalls in the Ed Willes book, The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association.
So, Ballard and his buddies in Montreal and Vancouver were telling us we weren’t big enough. We weren’t classy enough. We weren’t sexy enough. We weren’t sophisticated enough for the NHL.
Well, we were big enough and old enough to drink beer.
The WHA teams needed one NHL outfit to change its vote. Just one. Ballard, ever the curmudgeon, never would be swayed from his position, not as long as it meant receiving a smaller slice of the Hockey Night in Canada pie. So the Molson family, owner of Club du Hockey Canadien, became the target. We stopped swilling their beer. Not just in River City. In Edmonton. In Quebec City. In Calgary. In Vancouver.
The power of the pint won the day and Humpty Harold’s happiness was replaced with a harrumph when Winnipeg, Edmonton, Quebec City and New England were absorbed by the NHL.
I’m convinced, however, that residue remains from that 1970s scenario. It’s why we get our backs up and go all bantam rooster at the mere hint that we can’t run with the big dogs. And, of course, our fragile psyche took a massive wallop when the original Jets loaded up the truck, lock stock and jock strap, and departed hockey’s high country for the Arizona desert in 1996.
But Winnipeg shouldn’t give a damn what anyone thinks or says of us. We can, and should, feel good about what we see when we look in the mirror.
We shouldn’t be afraid to laugh at ourselves, either. We’ve got our quirks. I mean, we want people to love us. To experience us. Yet we build a perimeter highway around our city just so people can avoid us as they make their way across the country. Go figure.
PART THREE:Some athletes we love, some athletes we loath (but we’ll love you more and loath you less if you win)
Carbon dating confirms that I am a relic. A fossil. I am a drawing on a cave-dweller’s wall. The amateurish sketch depicts me sitting in the old barn on Maroons Road in the 1950s, watching Billy Mosienko and the Winnipeg Warriors.
We all loved Mosie. He authored an admirable career in Chicago, where he played on the Blackhawks’ famed Pony Line with the Bentley brothers, Doug and Max, and the highlight for Mosie arrived on the final night of the 1951-52 NHL season when he tallied three goals in the lickety-split time of 21 seconds. It remains an unassailable feat of scoring fury.
It wasn’t just his time in the NHL, nor his name in the record book, that endeared us to Mosie, though. He was a local boy who made good, then came home to us in 1955 to lead the Warriors to a Western Hockey League title. And he never left.
There’s now a hockey rink that bears his name. Also a tournament. And, of course, Mosienko Lanes continues to thrive at the corner of Redwood and Main in the gritty North End.
Ken Ploen is another former athlete we love. Unlike Mosie, he’s an adopted son, coming to us from tiny Lost Nation, Iowa, in the late 1950s to play an unparalled role in the golden years of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Grey Cup parades became commonplace once Ploen arrived to play defensive back and quarterback, and there isn’t a River City athlete, past or present, more revered than No. 11. He is our humble hero. He is to Winnipeg football what Jean Beliveau is to Montreal hockey. His affection for us is genuine. Real. It is not pasted on to gain sway. Once here, he, like Mosie, never left.
“I think when you look back at things, you say do you second guess yourself. I think it was a great decision I made back then and I certainly don’t ever regret that,” is what he said when inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s been a great place to live. One of the reasons I stayed in Winnipeg was warm people.”
“I thought about it a lot today and I said how fortunate we were to play in a city like Winnipeg, with the fans that we had. It was always a great feeling to represent the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg. I think a number of times because of that support we were able to pull off victories that maybe we wouldn’t have pulled off in another circumstance. It was a thrill representing the Blue and Gold, it was an honor wearing their uniforms and we look back at it with nothing but fond memories.”
Young people unfamiliar with Ploen would be shocked to learn that the great QB actually snubbed the National Football League to ply his trade on the lonesome prairie, in part because the Bombers offered him more money than the Cleveland Browns. I know, that’s hard to imagine, but it’s true. The Browns were willing to give Ploen a $500 signing bonus and a $5,000 yearly stipend to play DB. The Bombers went all-in with $3,000 and $9,000 as a DB/QB.
As an added bonus, Ploen heard that the “hunting and fishing was pretty good up here.”
Winnipeg prefers its sporting heroes to be a product of the Mosienko or Ploen template. Feet firmly on the ground. Genuine. Blue collar work ethic. Confident, not cocky. Community awareness. Little, if any, bling.
And we don’t care about their roots.
For example, Winnipeg probably holds European hockey players closer to the heart than any market in North America, although Mikhail Smith soured us ever so slightly on Soviets/Russians with his ill-concieved and failed attempt to transform Portage and Main into Red Square. We love Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, two of the many Scandinavians who brought titles to River City before departing for Gotham. The super Swedes have not forgotten us, nor we them. Ditto Teemu Selanne, the fab Finn who took us on a magic carpet ride in his NHL rookie season.
It helps to win, of course. Mosie won. Ploen won. Chris Walby won. Bob Cameron won. Hedberg and Nilsson won. Had Dieter Brock brought the Grey Cup home, we’d talk more about what he did on the football field than what he said about the zoo. Hell, we’d let him pull a Kramer and hurl banana peels at the zoo monkeys.
Win and there’s a chance that some will forgive, or look beyond, your trespasses.
Bobby Hull’s name has been, and still is, linked to spousal abuse, which is a most loathsome bit of business. His ex-wife, Joanne, was granted a divorce on grounds of physical cruelty, mental cruelty and adultery. She has spoken of him beating and bloodying her head with the steel heel of her shoe. He has been convicted of assaulting a Chicago police officer. He had a DUI arrest. He drank excessively. But, hey, Robert Marvin Hull put Winnipeg on the pro hockey map. There would be no NHL franchise if not for the him. Thus, many eyes look beyond, or are blind to, his violent, off-ice nastiness.
Personally, I acknowledge what the Golden Jet did for good, ol’ Hometown as a hockey player. Only Ben Hatskin has done more. But Hull the man was a cad.
I don’t harbor any warm and fuzzies for him, but a great many in River City do. And always will.
PART FOUR:Everybody knows this is nowhere (you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave)
This isn’t a news bulletin to anyone who’s spent more than a month in the Manitoba capital, but it must be mentioned: Winnipeg is not Shangri-La.
Let’s ignore the usual suspects of winter, mosquitos, crime, spring flooding, middle-of-nowhere location, etc., because every city has acne (have you ever been to Buffalo?). Let us, instead, focus on sports. Explain to me, in 25 words or less, why a free agent hockey or football player would want to pitch his tent in Pegtown, or why those currently under contract would wish to stay? And, no, a lifetime supply of Slurpees is not enticement enough to lure prime jock stock to the Little Hockey House on the Prairie or Football Follies Field in Fort Garry.
Above all, athletes want to win. Well, a championship parade in River City is as rare as a green winter. Our burg has been a Grey Cup-free zone since Wade Miller was knee high to Buzz and Boomer (come to think of it, Wade’s still only knee high to Buzz and Boomer). Meanwhile, the management-by-paralysis stylings of Jets GM Kevin The Possum means our hockey heroes are always first to the tee box each April.
When a number of the Jets core players (Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane) inked long-term deals, they expressed a fondness for the city, the True North organization and confidence that the club was headed in the right direction.
I do not, however, think they anticipated the general manager going completely comatose.
Winning is not part of the hockey equation in Winnipeg. That, alone, makes the acquisition of Grade A free agents remote, if not impossible. At best, our city and the Jets will land a Grade B player, but the likelihood is that River City is the preferred destination of Grade C and D players. Like Mathieu Perreault, who stands as The Possum’s sole free-agent signing to date this off-season.
Many are geeked up about the arrival of Perreault, who replaces Olli Jokinen. But ask yourself this: Why would Perreault rather be the No. 3 centre on a non-playoff team than the No. 3 centre on a Stanley Cup contender?
Whatever, I don’t think Perreault makes the Jets better. Just younger.
So, again, why would someone like Kane wish to remain in Winnipeg? If he’s going to be a much-maligned man, why not go where he’ll cash a playoff cheque for his trouble?
At any rate, the fact that top-quality players steer clear of Pegtown does not make our city unique. John Elway wanted no part of Baltimore. Eli Manning didn’t dig San Diego. Eric Lindros snubbed Quebec City, which, in my experience, is the most beautiful burg in North America. Ryan Kesler and Roberto Luongo wanted out of Vancouver. Josh Gorges turned his nose up at Toronto. James Reimer wants out of Toronto. Ryan Suter left Nashville. Patrick Roy forced his way out of Montreal. Jason Spezza spurned an entire country.
The reasons, of course, vary, but the sentiment is the same: Nobody wants to be where they don’t want to be.
This all reminds me of the title of a song written by one of our favorite sons, Neil Young: Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That’s what the outside world thinks of River City. But we know better, don’t we? River City is more like the Hotel California: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
I wonder if Evander Kane knows that.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg hockey and the Jets for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of hockey knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old, comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she doesn’t know when to quit. She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for literary contributions to the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C.