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About the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Model…the Blue Bombers and soccer…the Puck Pontiff going into hiding…and what the women on the tennis tour think of our Genie

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

Mark Chipman, the Puck Pontiff.

When the Puck Pontiff, Mark Chipman, purchased his new play thing in 2011, he turned his eyes due south, directly toward Twang Town U.S.A., and found himself a role model for his team to be named later.

The Nashville Predators,” he mused. “I wanna be just like those pesky Predators.”

Now, it’s quite unlikely that the Puck Pontiff spilled those exact words, but he did confirm that the plan for the outfit he later named Winnipeg Jets was (still is?) to follow the blueprint laid out by Nashville, now in its 18th National Hockey League season and still winners of exactly nothing.

That may sound strange to people in Winnipeg,” he supposed.

Yup. Strange like hiring Justin Bieber as a life coach strange. Strange like wanting to dress like Don Cherry strange. I mean, Nashville is like that Dwight Yoakam song—guitars, Cadillacs and hillbilly music. With a whole lot of Hee Haw and the Grand Ole Opry tossed into the mix. But hockey? Come on, man.

They’ve done it methodically,” the Puck Pontiff advised news snoops in springtime 2012, “they’ve done it by developing their players and they’ve done it with a consistency in management and philosophy…I think but for a couple of bounces that team could have a Stanley Cup banner hanging under their rafters.”

That team” he spoke of so fondly failed to qualify for the next two Stanley Cup tournaments, but let’s not let facts get in the way of a misguided notion.

The point is, the Puck Pontiff likes to think of his fiefdom as Nashville North sans Dolly, Carrie and Little Big Town, so, with the Predators awaiting a dance partner in the Western Conference final for the first time in club history, let’s take a look at them to see if they tell us anything about the Jets.

  • The Predators were built from scratch, as a 1998 expansion team. They missed the playoffs their first five crusades.
  • The Jets were a pre-fab outfit built in Atlanta, but the Puck Pontiff operated it like an expansion franchise, gutting the management side down to the studs. They’ve missed the playoffs in five of their six seasons.
  • The Predators have known just one general manager, David Poile, who learned at the knee of Cliff Fletcher in Calgary then earned his chops as GM of the Washington Capitals for 15 years.
  • The Jets have known just one (official) general manager, Kevin Cheveldayoff, who apprenticed under Stan Bowman in Chicago and has done the Puck Pontiff’s bidding for six years.
  • The Predators have had two head coaches, Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette. Poile didn’t ask Trotz to leave the building until 15 years had passed.
  • The Jets have had two head coaches, Claude Noel and Paul Maurice. It only took about 15 months before Noel was asked to leave the building, but it’s apparent that the Puck Pontiff is prepared to stay the course with Coach Potty-Mouth for 15 years.
  • The Predators, under Poile’s direction, preached the draft-and-develop mantra from the outset.
  • The Jets talk about nothing but draft-and-develop.
  • The Predators can be found in the lower third of the pay scale.
  • The Jets can be found in the lower third of the pay scale (if not at the bottom).

So there are your commonalities: Methodical, consistent, patient, steady-as-she-goes, loyal (to a fault for the Jets) and frugal.

Where do the Predators and Jets part company? In the GM’s office.

David Poile

Poile is unafraid to deliver bold strokes. He dared to send a first-round draft pick, defenceman Seth Jones, packing in barter for Ryan Johansen, the top-level centre he required. He shipped his captain, Shea Weber, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for flamboyant P.K. Subban. He somehow pried Filip Forsberg out of Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and Michael Latta. His captain, Mr. Carrie Underwood, and James Neal came via trade. Yannick Weber is a free-agent signing.

By contrast, Cheveldayoff is only allowed to make significant troop movements when backed into a corner (see: Kane, Evander; Ladd, Andrew).

So what do the Predators teach us about the Jets? Well, if the locals follow the Nashville Model to the letter, we can expect to see meaningful springtime shinny at the Little Hockey House on the Prairie as early as next season. As for arriving in the Western Conference final, put in a wakeup call for 2030.

In rooting through archives, I stumbled upon a most interesting discovery: Once upon a time, the Puck Pontiff spoke to his loyal subjects. Honest. Chipman actually stood at a podium and did the season-over, chin-wag thing with news snoops in April 2012, at which time the city was still in swoon and the rabble didn’t much care that there’d be no playoffs. He has since become Howard Hughes, hiding himself in a room somewhere, no doubt eating nothing but chocolate bars and drinking milk. I found one remark he made at the 2012 presser to be rather troubling: “I don’t want to give the impression that I’m managing our hockey team, ’cause I’m not. That’s what our professionals do.” I wish I could believe that he allows the hockey people to make the important hockey decisions, but I can’t.

I note the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are looking to branch out into another sport and secure a franchise in a proposed Canadian pro soccer league. Ya, that’s just what Winnipeg needs—more dives.

Carolina Hurricanes have had goaltending issues. Ditto the Dallas Stars. Double ditto the Jets. So ‘Canes GM Ron Francis uses a third-round draft choice to acquire the rights to Scott Darling, then signs him to a four-year contract. Stars GM Jim Nill uses a fourth-round pick to secure the rights to Ben Bishop, then lock him in for six years. The Puck Pontiff and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, do nothing. Don’t you just hate the sound of crickets?

I look at the Ottawa Senators, who ousted the New York Rangers from the Stanley Cup derby on Tuesday night, and I mostly see smoke and mirrors. Yes, they have Erik Karlsson, the premier player on the planet at the moment, and Craig Anderson often provides the Sens with stud goaltending. But beyond that, it’s largely a ho-hum roster. Where is the stud centre? You don’t win championships without a stud centre. At least not since the New Jersey Devils. My guess is that the Senators’ fun is soon to end.

Here’s one way of looking at this year’s Stanley Cup tournament:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genie Bouchard proved nothing with her win over Maria Sharapova at the Madrid Open this week, except that she can beat a player who had been away from elite tennis for almost a year and a half. And that she can’t win gracefully. I don’t like rooting against Canadian athletes, but our Genie has become increasingly difficult to embrace. Branding Sharapova a “cheater” and suggesting she ought to be banned for life due to a drug violation is good copy, but surviving a second-round match and acting like you’ve just won Wimbledon because you have a hate-on for your opponent is bad form.

Bouchard claims that a number of players on the Women’s Tennis Association tour approached her on the QT prior to her match with Sharapova, wishing her bonne chance. Simona Halep of Romania was not among those women. “I didn’t wish good luck to Bouchard because we don’t speak, actually,” Halep advised news snoops. “She’s different, I can say. I cannot judge her for being this. I cannot admire her for being this. I have nothing to say about her person.” Ouch.

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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About raw sewage and Paul Maurice…the Freep recruiting Shakey Johnson…a herd of Buffalo Girls at the Scotties…and idiocy in print

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

I see where the city of Winnipeg allowed five million litres of raw sewage to pour into the Red River earlier this month. That’s nothing compared to what Paul Maurice keeps pouring over the boards.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Maurice has lost the plot. Totally. Or he’s gone into tank-for-Auston mode.

Coach-Maurice-post-game-Dec-29-609x291

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

I mean, really. The Jets are down two goals vs. the New Jersey Devils, Maurice instructs his goaltender to vacate the net in favor of a sixth attacker in a final, frantic push to get a puck past Cory Schneider at the far end of the freeze, and one of his half-dozen wannabe heroes is Chris flipping Thorburn?

What am I missing here?

The last time Thorburn scored, the Prime Minister of Canada was a guy named Trudeau. Pierre, not Justin. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Thorburn actually has five snipes this winter. Trouble is, that’s his average over eight National Hockey League crusades. His career high is nine goals. He lights the lamp about as often as Adam Sandler makes a good movie. Thus, expecting Thorburn to come up with a big goal is like expecting Caitlyn Jenner to win a war of wits with Ricky Gervais.

So what is it that Maurice sees that the rest of us don’t?

Understand something here. I have no problem with Chris Thorburn being Chris Thorburn. The guy’s a gamer. Does whatever is asked of him.

My issue is with Maurice not recognizing that Chris Thorburn is Chris Thorburn.

So, after spending a few days to digest the ouster of old friend George (Shakey) Johnson as sports columnist at the Calgary Herald, here’s what I’m thinking: Why isn’t Winnipeg Free Press sports poobah Steve Lyons on the phone, making a pitch to bring Shakey home? The Freep hasn’t replaced Gary (La La) Lawless, who defected to TSN not so long ago. Since La La took his leave, columnist duties have been shared by the very capable Ed Tait and Paul Wiecek in something of a good cop, bad cop tandem. They’ve been cranking out boffo stuff. But Shakey Johnson is only the best sports writer in Canada (newspaper division). He got his start in River City, at the Winnipeg Tribune in the 1970s. It would be nice if he could finish it off in Pegtown.

chelsea carey

Alberta champ Chelsea Carey.

Can you say Buffalo Girls, kids? There will be a heavy Manitoba flavor to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month in Grand Prairie, Alta. Kerri Einarson and friends, of course, will have the Buffalo on their backs when the Canadian women’s curling championship slides from the hacks Feb. 20, but Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones and gal pals (Team Canada) will join the freshly minted Manitoba queens in the annual rock fest. There’s more. Chelsea Carey of the famed Carey curling clan and a former Manitoba champion is also headed for Grande Prairie as the rep from Wild Rose Country. Chelsea knocked off defending Alberta champion Val Sweeting on Sunday. We’re talking three of the morning-line favorites, all from the Keystone province.

How do you write a story about the provincial women’s curling championship without telling readers that you’re writing about the provincial women’s curling championship? That’s a good question to ask Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun, because he managed to report on Sunday’s Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts final between Kerri Einarson and Kristy McDonald in Beausejour without once mentioning the sport of curling. Tsk, tsk Big Jim.

I have long harbored great admiration for a number of sports scribes in our home and native land. I think of wordsmiths like Jack Matheson, John Robertson, Jim Taylor, Jim Coleman, Milt Dunnell, Dick Beddoes and current-day jock journalists Cam Cole and Bruce Arthur. Giants, each of them. But, in terms of pure writing talent, there are precious few about whom I have said, “I wish I could write as well as him/her.” Atop that list would be the legendary Trent Frayne, whose way with words was unequalled. There has not been a better sports scribe in the True North. Ever. After Trent, my personal fab four includes Allen Abel, Stephen Brunt and Shakey Johnson.

Nothing to admire in this quip from Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun: “The idiocy of social media: Fans arguing online who was the better Leaf, (Dave) Keon or Wendel Clark.” Apparently, no one is allowed an opinion unless it jives with Little Stevie Blunder’s. If he says Keon is the greatest of the Toronto Maple Leafs, cased closed. As if, Stevie. Talk about idiocy.

This from my very own self just 15 days ago: “Prediction: By the end of this month, the Jets will be in a playoff position.” D’oh! What a mook.


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I’m a Winnipeg Jets junkie again…damn them!

I’ve just returned from a fortnight in detox. Had to get the Winnipeg Jets out of my system. Didn’t read anything about them. Didn’t hear anything about them. Didn’t watch them. Went cold gobbler.

Life was good. Nothing like the purified, invigorating air of shinny sobriety.

Then it happened.

I was sitting in my local watering hole on Friday, trying to remain oblivious to the din of post-work week celebrants as I contemplated the events of the past five years of my life, when one of the regulars approached.

“You’re from Winnipeg, right Patti?” he said.

“You know I am,” I confirmed. “But I’ve already heard all the Winnipeg jokes about mosquitos, winter, spring flooding, slurpees, the murder capital of Canada, the Blue Bombers and especially the Jets. So save your breath.”

“But people aren’t joking about the Jets anymore.”

“Why not? Last time I looked, they were in last place.”

“Not anymore, little lady. They’ve picked up points in seven straight games. They’re only a few points out of first place. They’re winning ugly, but they’re winning.

“What do you mean by winning ugly.”

“They’re doing it without scoring any goals.”

“That’s crazy. You can’t win in the National Hockey League without scoring?”

“The Jets do.”

“What happened? Kevin the Possum (GM Cheveldayoff) finally make a trade for a bonafide NHL goaltender? They get King Henry? Jonathan Quick? Ryan Miller? Dominik Hasek come out of retirement?”

“Nope. Ondrej Pavelec is still the goalie.”

This fellow now officially had my undivided attention. I stopped nibbling on my grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich, put it down and fixed him with a hard look of suspicion. The boys in this bar tend to tease me about all things Pegtown, you see, so I thought perhaps this was another exercise in “Let’s yank Patti’s chain.”

“Don’t do this to me,” I said. “Please, please, please do…not…do…this…to…me. I’m a recovering Jets junkie. I’ve been off them for two weeks. I’m as clean as St. Bernadette’s soul. I no longer suddenly wake up at night in a cold sweat, wondering if coach PoMo really had Chris Thorburn playing on the second line or if I was just dreaming. I’m completely off Thorbs and Bogo and Pavs and Big Buff. I’ve been doing my rehab at Habs Nation. It’s a nice place to be. We have group sessions and talk a lot about the playoffs, because they’ve been there. And Stanley Cups, because they’ve won them. They retire jerseys, because they have Hall of Fame players. Lots of them. So don’t tell me the Jets are winning. I don’t want to go back there. I cannot go back there.”

Thus, I had a tough call to make. My choice on Saturday night was Montreal-Minnesota or Winnipeg-Ottawa.

I held the remote in my right hand. My trigger finger twitched like Charlie Sheen when a police cruiser approaches. Channel 13 or channel 23? P.K. Subban and Carey Price or Thorbs and Pavs? Bob Cole or Dave Randorf (my, but what a lovely set of teeth you have). Either way, I knew there would be pain, because I couldn’t avoid P.J. Stock or Curdmudgeon’s Corner (if Don Cherry spent less time whining about not having enough time to say what it is he has to say, he’d have plenty of time to say what it is he has to say), and I also knew that I’d be seeing that pudgy, quasi-annoying A&W guy out on the streets pestering people about the non-use of steroids, hormones or antibiotics in chickens and cows (hey, pal, it’s fast food; it’s not healthy whether you’re feeding the critters caviar or shooting them up like Alex Rodriguez).

At any rate, I’m here to report that addiction won the day over sobriety. I’m hooked on the Jets. Again. I think.

I mean, this was gawdawful hockey. It was borderline unwatchable. If not for Wayne Gretzky surfacing in a pinstriped, mob hit man suit and joining Stromboy in the red chairs during the second intermission, I might have fled back to the serenity of Habs Nation. Seriously. The Jets have morphed into the New Jersey Devils. That isn’t Paul Maurice behind the bench. It’s Jacques Lemaire.

What I saw was a whole lot of same old, same old. Mark Scheifele is still on his knees more than his feet. Thorburn is still losing fights. Dustin Byfuglien is still wandering aimlessly. Zach Bogosian is still fortunate to have Toby Enstrom as an accomplice. Really, the only difference I noted in the Jets, individually, was between the goal posts. Pavelec actually looked good. Really good. Especially in the shootout of this 2-1 victory over the Senators. Imagine that. Ondrej Pavelec, stud goaltender. Who knew? Certainly not me. And he’s the reason the Jets have earned points in eight successive assignments.

So now I need another Jets fix. Damn them!

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