About Jennifer Botterill breaking into the old boys club and lighting the way for young female hockey players in Manitoba…old friend Barry Bonni from The Bronx in the Hall of Fame…and old friend Vic Grant getting the last laugh about Bobby Hull

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

Bathgate, Broda, Belfour and now Botterill…as in Jennifer Botterill. Female. Alongside the giants in the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. As a player.

Step aside, boys, your old club ain’t what it used to be.

Jennifer Botterill

The historic significance of Jennifer Botterill’s nomination as the first female inductee to the MHHofF’s players roll call seemed lost on Tuesday when the class of 2017 was introduced. The focus was on Michael Gobuty. And for good reason.

Gobuty, to be enshrined in October as a builder, is a very nice man who long ago secured his place in local shinny lore by a) tossing the Winnipeg Jets a $250,000 lifeline when the World Hockey Association flagship franchise was about to go glub, glub, glub, and b) assuming one of the lead roles in the Jets’ move from the WHA to the National Hockey League.

Quick digression: We’re duty bound to point out that Gobuty, a mover and shaker in the local rag trade back in the day, also is the man who looked a gift horse in the mouth and balked at spending another quarter of a million dollars (chump change in today’s inflated market) on a scrawny kid named Gretzky.

Wayne spent two days in my house,” Gobuty was saying on Tuesday. “I had the opportunity to get him.”

Except Rudy Pilous, a learned man with a rich pedigree that included coaching Memorial Cup and Stanley Cup champions, wasn’t keen on this Gretzky kid. Believed him to be “too skinny.” Thus, the Jets general manager counseled Gobuty to consider better ways to spend $250,000. D’oh! We all know how well losing Wayne Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers worked out for the Jets. But, hey, let’s not be too hard on ol’ Rudy. I mean, someone at Decca records once rejected The Beatles, so there’s been at least one bigger gaffe.

So we won’t hold the Gretzky thing against Gobuty, who, not for the first time, also debunked the folksy myth that he lost the Great One at a backgammon table.

We played backgammon,” he confirmed in recalling a rendezvous with Nelson Skalbania during which the Indianapolis Racers bankroll offered up Gretzky for the sticker price of $250,000, “but it was not for Wayne.”

Anyway, as much as Gobuty’s tales make for terrific copy and get gums flapping, it’s about Jennifer Botterill.

I’d like to say that the Harvard honours grad (psychology) and much-decorated member of our national and Olympic women’s shinny side is keeping great company with legends like Andy Bathgate, Turk Broda, Ed Belfour, Bobby Clarke, Mosie and the rest of the boys who’ve been inducted since the creation of the MHHofF in 1985, but it must be said that they are in great company, as well.

Jen Botterill’s bona fides are exceptional:

* Five times a world champion.
* Three times an Olympic champion.
* The only two-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top female player in NCAA hockey.
* National champion with Harvard.
* MVP at the 2001 and 2004 women’s world hockey championship.
* Best forward at the 2001 women’s world hockey championship.
* Leading scorer in the 2007-08 Canadian Women’s Hockey League season.
* Manitoba’s female athlete of the year in 2001.

The Botterill induction in October won’t be all about the trinkets, decorations and records, though. It’s a message. The Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame no longer is an old boys club for players. It’s an anybody’s club. And young girls playing hockey in Manitoba can follow Jen Botterill’s path. She lit the way for them.

It should be emphasized that there are other female members of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. Referee Laura Loeppky, for example, is enshrined in the Officials wing, while Dianne Woods and Jill Mathez are honored as Builders. Jen Botterill, however, is the first to go in based purely on her playing cred.

Barry Bonni (front row, third from right) and the 1981-82 MMJHL champion River East Royal Knights.

So pleased to see old friend Barry Bonni get the nod in the MHHofF Builders category. Both Barry and I froze our tootsies more than once on the outdoor freezes at Bronx Park in East Kildonan, but we survived to tell tales about Dunc the Rat and other oddball characters in The Bronx. Barry went on to build a dynasty with his River East Royal Knights in the Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League.

Also pleased to know another old friend, Winnipeg Tribune colleague Vic Grant, will be enshrined in the Media category in October. Whenever I think of Vic, I retreat to the spring of 1972, when he’d arrive in our sports department bunker on the fifth floor of the now-vanished Trib building in downtown River City. He was usually wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jacket, a gift from scout Jimmy Walker I believe, and he’d advise us that Ben Hatskin was about to take Bobby Hull hostage and sign him to a Jets contract. We guffawed. As history records, however, Vic had the last laugh.

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.

Dinner with the Stapletons…the Gospel According to Grapes…and Toronto’s bootlicking media

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

It was early in the final World Hockey Association season and there was concern that the Indianapolis Racers might not make it to U.S. Thanksgiving, which was only four days away when they arrived in Winnipeg for a joust with the Jets.

whitey3Already, team bankroll Nelson Skalbania had begun to liquidate, selling his scrawny rookie, Wayne Gretzky, and a couple of tag-alongs to old pal Peter Pocklington and the Edmonton Oilers in a cash grab designed to keep the Racers operational. Even at that, the life expectancy of the Indy outfit was measured in weeks, if not days. Players, coaches, managers and support staff soon would be out of work.

Yet if the weight of pending unemployment preyed on the mind of Racers head coach Pat Stapleton, it didn’t show.

“Whitey’s invited us to Thanksgiving dinner with his family when we’re in Indianapolis later this week,” Jets play-by-play voice Friar Nicolson advised me scant seconds after Winnipeg had beaten the Racers. “The guy’s about to lose his job, and he’s invited three media guys to his home for Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Whitey’s good people.”

Sure enough, when the Jets were in Indy the next Thursday, Nicolson, Reyn Davis of the Winnipeg Free Press and myself broke bread with the Stapletons. It was delightful.

So when I hear that news scavengers today must beg, borrow and steal access to athletes, coaches and management, I simply cannot relate. Whereas we sometimes were welcomed into their homes and had their home phone numbers, scribes and talking heads today are supposed to be grateful and grovel when granted a five-minute audience with a team’s hand-picked jock du jour. The Canadian Football League locker room, we’re told by Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun and others, has become the Cold War Kremlin revisited.

Naturally, the guy on the street doesn’t give a damn about media moaning. They’re viewed as overpaid, pampered prima donnas. But the CFL ought to give a damn.

Much as those of us who covered the WHA cared about its well-being and the people involved, the boys and girls on the football beat are CFL fans. There exists a special bond that is rare between jock and journalist. For the CFL to allow coaches, managers and spin-doctors to disturb that alliance is not only counter-productive, it’s just plain dumb.

jesusWell, thank you Donald S. Cherry for solving a mystery that has caused considerable head-scratching among scholars, theologians and historians for centuries. That’s right, they can stop quibbling about Jesus’s actual birth date. The debate is over. Whereas most experts pooh-pooh the notion that Christ was born on Dec. 25 and, instead, submit more likely and logical times such as autumn or spring, Grapes sat in his pulpit during the Curmudgeon’s Corner segment of Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday and said, “Remember, it’s merry Christmas. December 25th, Jesus was born, all right?” So there. The scholars, theologians and historians now can move on to more pressing matters, like how many donkeys were at the barn birth (probably the same number as on Curmudgeon’s Corner—one).

Bootlickers. He called them bootlickers. Actually, when Paul Wiecek called out the “always hysterical” sports media from the Republic of Tranna he used the word “sychophants,” but a bootlicker is a bootlicker is a bootlicker by any name. Wiecek branded the Toronto sports media “a notorious bunch of sycophants who have for years drank the Blue Jays Kool-Aid every spring training.” As much as I applaud Wiecek for having the junk to call out other news scavengers, it seems to me that the bootlickingest media can be found in River City, notably at his own newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press, which is in bed with the Winnipeg Jets. I don’t include Wiecek among the True North toadies at the Freep. I quite like his work. But others haven’t stopped polishing Mark Chipman’s or Kevin Cheveldayoff’s apple since the National Hockey League franchise arrived in River City in 2011. Apparently, certain Freep scribes, past and present, have failed to notice that Chipman-Cheveldayoff operate the club on the chintz and the Jets never fail to fail.

From the department of dumb headlines, this from the Sportsnet website after Toronto Maple Leafs’ much-maligned goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, put up a zero against the Los Angeles Kings: “The shutout heard around the world.” Oh, please, Toronto. Get over yourself.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.